Our Top 10 Bessie Smith Songs list takes a look at a jazz and blues singer. She was nicknamed the Empress of Blues. She was one of the most popular female blues singers of the 1920s. She was also considered one of the greatest singers during that time. You can hear her influence through many jazz and blues singers. Her life and her career ended abruptly when she died in a horrific car crash at the age of 43. Bessie Smith sang around 160 recordings, The jazz and blues hitmaker sold over six million records. Some of her hits include “Down Hearted Blues,” “St. Louis Blues,” “Careless Love Blues,” “After You’ve Gone,” “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” as well as other hits.
Bessie Smith was born on April 15, 1894 – September 26, 1937. She got her start in music early on when she performed in a group with Ma Rainey. She became a solo artist and began her music career in 1923. Her music was about independence, fearlessness and freedom. She thought working women shouldn’t have to change the way they act to get respect. People didn’t take too kindly to her type of music. She was considered rougher than Maime Smith. Bessie Smith had a contralto vocal range. She had a powerful voice that would blow your mind.
Bessie Smith had several hits throughout her short career. She had the midas touch. Three of her songs were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame posthumously. “Empty Bed Blues” was inducted in 1983. “St. Louis Blues” was inducted in 1993. “Down Hearted Blues” was inducted in 2006. “Down Hearted Blues” was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s songs that shaped rock ‘n’ roll. In 1994, Bessie Smith was on a postage stamp. There were tribute albums dedicated to her as well as a movie about her life. The movie focused on her life as well as her sexuality.
Bessie Smith may have had a short career in music, but her talent lives on through other jazz artists. She wasn’t the stereotypical celebrity. She was a plus-sized singer and wasn’t pencil thin. She was a major influence for a lot of female jazz and blues singers. Our Top 10 Bessie Smith Songs list will feature her best songs.
# 10 – Alexander’s Ragtime Band
The first song on our Top 10 Bessie Smith Songs list is “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” The song has a blues sound. The scandalous song is about a well-to-do man who brings scandal to his family’s name by not performing serious music. He chose to do ragtime music. The family wanted him to do classy music. They didn’t want him to do ragtime music. They didn’t want him to perform African American music.
The song is unique because it tells a story about a wealthy family who was against a member of the family doing the music they want. It has the makings of a soap opera. The song is symbolic because he performs the music he wants to record instead of what they want him to do. He puts his own needs first. People don’t always have the courage to do that.
The music has a classic blues sound. It has a down home feel to it. The horn section is fire. There is a musical solo that will allow you to embrace the music. The song could use drums for tempo, but the horn section is impressive. Bessie Smith’s interpretation of the song is earnest and sincere. She gives the track her all. Her voice is warm and powerful. Her voice sounds like an instrument. When she sings with the horn section her voice blends right in with the band. She sings with grit in her voice when she starts belting. She knows how to command your attention with this song. The song was also covered by Willie Nelson of course many years later.
# 9 – Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out
The next song on our Top 10 Bessie Smith Songs list is “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.” The track has a blues beat. This is a song that would ramin a favorite among rock and roll bands of the modern era being covered by acts such as the classic version by Derek & The Dominos, Eric Clapton, and Tedeschi Trucks Band. The reflective song is about a person who has people around when the money is rolling in, but they disappear when the money’s gone. The song was recorded during the Prohibition era, but it can still stand true today.
People want to be around you when you have something, but they are quick to walk away when you don’t have anything. Who would have thought that something recorded so many years ago would resonate now? If you have people in your life that use you when you have something to offer, then you can relate to the dilemma in the song.
The music is fascinating. The music is soft and it gives you a chance to focus on her voice, Bessie Smith had so much depth in her voice. She had raw passion in her voice. You will be amazed by the talent that she had. You will be in awe when you listen to her beautiful voice. Her voice is soulful and she had a lot of grit in it. You will feel it in your heart. She showed the world that she was one of the best blues singers in music. If you weren’t a fan of her music before, this song will make you become a fan of her work. You may find yourself singing the lyrics along with her especially if the song hits close to home to you.
# 8 – A Good Man Is Hard to Find
The informative song has a blues beat to it. The cautionary tale is about a woman who gives other women advice on how to keep a faithful man. She advises them to show their men some affection. She informs them that a good man is hard to find. The woman discovered this lesson after finding out that her husband cheated on her. This is excellent advice to give women everywhere.
We wonder if the song is autobiographical because she had a troubled marriage. She also dealt with adultery during the time she was married. There are a lot of songs recorded where men have their backs kicked in so this was a nice change to hear a track where good men are being appreciated. Good men are hard to find and they should be appreciated when you do find them.
The pianist is a maestro. The track is stripped and the piano is featured. The stripped sound gives the song a raw feel to it. We think it was a wise choice to limit the instrumentation of the song to make it sound tender. It has an old school sound, but that doesn’t stop from it being a good track. She has such a beautiful voice. You can be enraptured by the essence of her vocals. Her style and voice are incomparable.
She belted this song in a way that no other artist could have done. This track was practically made for her. You can feel her emotions while she sings the song. Her phrasing is outstanding. You can understand every word she says. She will make you feel every word she says.
# 7 – Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do
The eye opening song has a blues sound. The symbolic song is about the restrictions that were put on black women during the Harlem Renaissance. African American women went through negative stereotypes in American society, especially during slavery times. The message Bessie Smith is trying to convey is that people are responsible for their own actions.
There were organizations that wanted young black females to fit a certain stereotype. This song lets women know they can do what they want and it’s nobody’s business. The song was a trendsetter because it tackles the subject of freedom. The meaning of the track is up to you to interpret because it could be about different things.
The song has a melancholy beat to it. It matches the theme of the song perfectly. The music and lyrics are a perfect marriage because they work so well together. The pianist is incredible. He makes you want to learn to play just so you can try to play like him. If you look at the title of the song, you may write it off as a novelty song. It’s misspelled, but that doesn’t stop the song from being meaningful.
Bessie Smith found a way to make this song sound deep. She can really sing. She sounds like she’s singing it from her point of view. She sings from the depths of her soul. She sings with grit in her voice once again. The way she phrases the words is everything. This is a song you should check out if you are dealing with people who want to be in your business all of the time. You should also listen to it if you are a woman dealing with stereotypes.
# 6 – I Ain’t Got Nobody
The lonesome song has a blues beat. The despondent song is about a woman longing for a man. You can tell what this song is about based on the title. Women can understand what she’s talking about if they have trouble finding men. This song was recorded decades ago, and women are still having trouble finding men.
The time may have changed, but the problem is still the same. If you’re not in a relationship, you can relate to this song. If you are in a relationship, you will be thankful that you have someone in your life. The lyrics may move you to tears. They may make you feel sympathy for her because she doesn’t have anyone.
The music is surprisingly upbeat considering it’s about a lonely woman. The song features the piano and the horn section. It has a big band sound. The music has an old school sound, but you can appreciate it for the talented musicians. Bessie Smith sings the song in a higher pitch than the previous entries on our list. S
he sounds pretty in this song. The song shows off her ability to do runs. This is one of the songs on our list that shows off her vocal strength. She belts and does runs throughout the track. She sings it perfectly. Her voice doesn’t crack while she’s belting out the lyrics. She sings a little behind the beat, but that doesn’t hurt the song at all.
# 5 – After You’ve Gone
The next song on our Top 10 Bessie Smith Songs list is “After You’ve Gone.” The song has a blues beat. The dramatic song is about her telling the person she broke up with to stay. She warns him that he’ll miss her when she’s gone. She is convinced that he will lose everything once he leaves her.
She thinks he will be crying after he’s gone. Bessie Smith believes he will be miserable if he goes. If you break up with someone, you may find yourself warning the person they will be miserable without you. This track was ahead of its time. It’s as if she were inside our heads today and not decades ago. This is an anthem that is perfect for people who are about to be jilted.
This is the ultimate breakup song. If someone is about to break up with you, play this song for them. It may make them think twice about wanting to end the relationship. If they still want to break up with you, it will be their loss. The classic song is ahead of its time. The lyrics still resonate today. Can you honestly say that you haven’t wanted to warn someone what will happen if they break up with you?
This track is the type of song that will hit close to home if you have been dumped by someone you thought cared about you. She has the voice of an angel. She sings the song as if she’s singing it to someone in particular. Has someone walked out on her in the past? She pours her heart and soul out on this track as if she were hurt this way before. We are ready to take the journey she wants us to be on while she’s singing.
# 4 – Baby Won’t You Please Come Home
The sentimental song has a blues beat. The melancholy track is about a woman who gets dumped by the man she loves. She’s feeling lonely and doesn’t know what to do. The song changes halfway through and she wants him to come home because her rent is due. She needs money so she needs him to come back home.
She was honest about her feelings. She couldn’t afford her rent and needed him to come back home to her. Anyone who has been in a situation like this will know exactly how that feels. She told a realistic story about someone who was lonely but realized she needed the money just as much as love. She was upset that he broke her heart, but she wanted the money too.
You have to admire her moxie to expect her lover to come back to her because she needed money for her rent. He walked away from her, but she wanted him back. The music sounds sad. The track is stripped down and only features the piano. The piano makes the song hit closer to home. Simplicity says it best so it was the right call to rely on the piano. This is the type of music that would never get old.
Bessie Smith managed to make a simple tune like sound music. Her feelings make the song work. She didn’t need to use big notes to tell her message. She sings this song in a deeper pitch from our previous entries and her pitch makes the song sound emotional. You believe that she wants her man to come home as she sings the track. Her runs will blow your mind.
# 3 – Careless Love Blues
The bitter song has a blues sound. The contemptuous song is about a woman who feels that love did her wrong. She was sent the wrong man to love. She talks about the things she did for love only to be let down. She trusted love for nothing. If you ever felt like you’ve been with the wrong man, you will be able to relate to this song.
Bessie Smith recorded the track so it was told from a woman’s point of view, but men can relate to the track too. Being hurt by love is something most of us know all too well. We have been betrayed after trusting someone for nothing. Bessie Smith doesn’t hold back when she tells her story. This is the type of song that you listen to with the shades down and with a drink in your hand.
The song sounds like it could be played in a jazz club. The horn section will command your attention. You won’t be able to ignore the magnificent music. Louis Armstrong appears in the song. He plays the trumpet. HIs skills are impeccable. Speaking of impeccable, it’s time to talk about Bessie Smith. She is one of the best blues singers there ever was. She knows how to make you feel every pain she feels as she recites the lyrics to her songs.
Bessie Smith is a very talented woman. She sings in her lower register, but she shows so much power in her voice. She belts throughout the song. You can’t help believing that she is in a bitter place while she sings the song. Bessie Smith stays in character throughout the song.
# 2 – St. Louis Blues
The intense song has a blues beat. The heartbreaking track is about a woman who has been dumped for another woman. He left her for a rich and flashy woman. She doesn’t like when it’s nighttime because it reminds her of losing her love. She tells a poignant story about a woman who was betrayed by love.
She tells the story in a way that will make you hate her man. She doesn’t do him any favors as she talks about the way he hurt her. You will find yourself cheering her on as she talks about being left for another woman. This type of song gets recorded now so it’s a timeless subject.
If you are depressed, this is the song to check out. The music is somber and will have you in your feelings in no time. Louis Armstrong appears in another song on our list. He could have taught lessons on how to play music. He knows what he’s doing. He has a solo in the song and it’s breathtaking. Bessie Smith’s vocals are fantastic. There aren’t enough words to describe her vocals. She has the voice of an angel.
Bessie Smith sings in her lower register. Her voice is smoky and gritty and we love it. Her smoky voice works perfectly for the music. She sings in time with the music. You might find yourself falling in love with her voice. She could sing the alphabet and be able to impress you with her tone.
# 1 – Down Hearted Blues
The number one song on our Top 10 Bessie Smith Songs list is “Down Hearted Blues.” The song has a blues beat. The heart-wrenching song is about a woman who has the blues because a man she loves doesn’t love her. She talks about being in love with a man who didn’t treat her right. She wants the next man to promise to be all hers. She has been through enough and can’t take it anymore.
She wants the next man to treat her better than the one she thought she loved. Her man stomped on her heart and didn’t care how he treated her. If you find yourself nodding in agreement, you know how she feels in this song. You will want to listen to this track alone so you can deal with your feelings.
The music is sweet and simple. The song features the piano. You will get lost listening to Clarence Williams tickling the ivories. His playing will drive you crazy in a good way. His piano playing is fascinating. His playing is just as good as the lyrics. This is blues music at its finest. Bessie Smith’s vocals are amazing.
She can sing about anything and make it sound good. She sings this song in her lower register, but she proves she can still soar vocally. She belts her lyrics throughout the song. She is taking everyone to church with her vocals. She sounds like she has a church background because she sings to the heavens throughout the song. She sings in time with the beat. Her phrasing is brilliant. You can understand every painful word she says. We’re not surprised this is one of her biggest hits because the track is flawless. This amazing song was also covered by Ella Fitzgerald.
Top 10 Bessie Smith Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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