Bessie Smith analyzed

Bessie Smith 1923

An examination of Bessie Smith’s first two released recordings—Down hearted blues and Gulf Coast blues—demonstrates that her interpretative originality and expressive individuality were evident from the start of her recording career in 1923.

Full transcriptions of her vocal line on each of these recordings combined with detailed descriptions and analysis of the pitch content, the main rhythmic and melodic characteristics, and the melodic-harmonic and text-music relationships reveal the micro-components of Smith’s early vocal tendencies, demonstrating how, although Smith’s phrases display some similarities with each other, they constantly vary in imaginative ways, matching her with the great jazz improvisers.

This according to “Bessie Smith: Down hearted blues and Gulf coast blues revisited by Alona Sagee (Popular music XXVI/1 [January 2007] pp. 117–127).

Today is Bessie Smith’s 120th birthday! Above, the singer in 1923, the year of the recordings; below, the recordings themselves.

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