"The history of people is found in its songs." -George Jellinek
Mamie Smith was born on May 26, 1883 in Cincinnati, Ohio. She was referred to as the "Queen of the Blues" because she did it all. Not only was she a talented singer, but she danced and acted. She was considered to be more a vaudeville performer more than a blues singer. In 1913, she travelled to New York with a vaudeville troupe, but eventually went to Harlem to sing. Smith recorded the first commercialized blue's song in 1920 which was her hit "Crazy Blue's." She was under the Okeh label and was accompanied by her band known as the Jazz Hounds. She continued to record for Okeh until 1923. Throughout the 1930's and 40's she continued to sing, but also began acting in films. Mamie was the target of gossip during her time. She apparently was known for the many love affairs she had with popular jazz singers. She died in 1946 in her own depressed lifestyle and was shortly forgotten by the general public.
John Lee Hooker
John Lee Hooker was born in Vance, which is about 30 miles outside of Clarksdale, Mississippi. He was one of the eleven children that his parents, William Hooker Sr. and Minnie Ramsey had. In his hometown of Vance is where his music career began, with the help of his stepfather who taught him how to play the guitar. His father was very strict and would now allow him to play his music in the house or drink alcohol. In church, he gained a new respect for music because this was his first exposer to music. At the age of 15, John ran away from home to pursue his music career in Memphis. Hooker is said to have a unique sound and style that is different from other composers because he uses the electrification of his guitar to his advantage. His music style can be divided into two groups which are "furious boogies" and "slow blues." He began to grow recognition in 1948 with the recording of "Boogie Chillen" and "Wednesday Evening Blues," which were well-known throughout the United States, but especially popular in the Chicago and Detroit ghettos. Once his fame began to grow increasingly, he joined Vee-Jay, a company in Chicago. Joining this company only made him more prosporous. In 1960 he participated in the Newport Festival, and in 1962 he travelled throughout Europe in the American Folk Blues Festival. John Lee Hooker eventually began to incorporate rock-in-roll into his music style. In 1970 he recorded a double album with Canned Heat, thus putting him in the genre of rock.
William Christopher (W.C.) Handy was born in Florence, Alabama in 1873. Handy's first introduction to the blues was in 1892 when he was waiting for a train in Tutwiler, Mississippi. He heard a man playing the blues on his guitar and referred to it as "the weirdest music he had ever heard." He is credited for being the "inventor of the blues." He wrote famous songs that include "Memphis Blues,"(1912) "St. Louis Blues"(1914) and "Beale Street Blues." During the twenteith century, Handy was a co-owner of a publishing company in Memphis, Tennessee, and he was the first person to have the idea to transcribe blues songs and publish them. The city of Memphis definitely favors Handy because the city has done several things to honor him for his hard-work. A park has been named after him since 1980 and there is an award named after him called the W.C. Handy Award, which is a recognition of achievement in blues music. The award is an annual one which honors the people who promote a "positive" image of the blues to several different organizations and sponsorships.
Buddy Guy was born on July 30, 1936 in Lettsworth, Louisiana. Buddy began his music career in Baton Rouge during the early 1950's, but moved to Chicago in 1957. After moving to Chicago to get his name out in the popular blues-oriented city, Buddy began to aggressively pursue his career. His music is one of the most successful in terms of modern blues. He tends to have a strong rhythm section in his songs, with even stronger melodramatic singing that has sections of guitar solos. He immediately became well-known with the help of his producer, Eli Toscano. He sold a plentiful amount of records and became the main guitar player for Chess Records, which he signed with in 1960. He spent time in the recording studio with Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and Big Walter Horton. Between 1964-1970, Guy recorded some of the best albums in Chicago including Man and the Blues, This is Buddy Guy and Hold That Plane. After selling his many records, he decided to partner up with Junior Wells and buy a club in Chicago. He also took some time off by taking tours across the globe, especially with the Rolling Stones in their European tour in 1970. He participated in many festivals and concerts, but did not record anything for a while. In the late 70's, Guy began to lose popularity. He opened a club in 1989 which he called Legends. After that, he became a bitter man and pessimistic about his future career because he did not think he could ever become the star he dreamed of becoming.
"Ma" Rainey was born on April 26, 1886 in Columbus, Georgia. Her real name is Gertrude Pridgett, but when she married dancer "Pa" Rainey in 1904, she was given the nickname of "Ma" Rainey. Her and her husband toured the United States together as a duo, but she eventually branched away as a solo singer. Rainey was a star from the second she was born. Starting in 1904, she thrived to be on stage and perform. At a young age, "Ma" sang the blues for crowds that were southern blacks. She always surrounded herself with the best musicians of jazz and the blues. Future woman entertainers thought of her as a role model because she was very outspoken on women's issues and always stuck up for what she believed in. People described her as a gaudy woman with gold teeth and diamonds covering all different parts of her body. Her attire during her performances was always accessorized with everything from sequins to diamonds. A piano player by the name of Jack Dupree said "She was really a dreadful woman . But when she opened her mouth, she was fascinating, and she made you forget everything. What a Character! She was such a great singer." Although Rainey was popular throughout the United States, there was not much hope for women performers succeeding during the time period in which she was pursuing her dream. She did not even sign a recording contract until 1923, which was 25 years after she started performing. "Ma" focused on her music and was known as the "Queen of the South" until about 1930. She then decided to devote her time to the management of two theatres that she bought from her home town of Columbus, Georgia. "Ma" died on December 22, 1939 from heart disease, but she is still honored for all she did for the blues. She was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame in 1983 and she was also placed on a postage stamp in 1994 with her picture and the statement "Mother of the Blues."