Mamie Smith (née Mamie Robinson; May 26, 1883 – September 16, 1946)
was an American vaudeville singer, dancer, pianist and actress. As a
vaudeville singer she performed in various styles, including jazz and
blues. In 1920, she entered blues history as the first
African-American artist to make vocal blues recordings. Willie "The
Lion" Smith (no relation) described the background of that recording
in his autobiography, Music on My Mind (1964).
1 Early life
2 Musical career
3 Film career and later years
5 Hit records
7 External links
Robinson was probably born in Cincinnati, Ohio, but no records of her
birth are known. The year of her birth is usually given as 1883,
but the researchers Bob Eagle and Eric LeBlanc state that she was
recorded as 20 years old in the 1910 census. When she was 10 years
old, she found work touring with a white act, the Four Dancing
Mitchells. As a teenager, she danced in Salem Tutt Whitney's Smart
Set. In 1913, she left the
Tutt Brothers to sing in clubs in Harlem
and married William "Smitty" Smith, a singer.
On February 14, 1920, Smith recorded "That Thing Called Love" and "You
Can't Keep a Good Man Down" for Okeh Records, in New York City, after
African-American songwriter and bandleader
Perry Bradford persuaded
Fred Hagar. This was the first recording by a black blues singer; the
musicians, however, were all white. Hagar had received threats from
Northern and Southern pressure groups saying they would boycott the
company if he recorded a black singer. Despite these threats the
record was a commercial success and opened the door for more black
musicians to record.
Smith's biggest hit was recorded later, on August 10, 1920 when she
recorded a set of songs written by Perry Bradford, including "Crazy
Blues" and "It's Right Here for You (If You Don't Get It, 'Tain't No
Fault of Mine)", again for Okeh Records; a million copies of
the record were sold in less than a year. Many copies of the record
were bought by African Americans, and there was a sharp increase in
the popularity of race records. Because of its historical
significance, "Crazy Blues" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame
in 1994 and was selected for preservation in the National
Recording Registry of the
Library of Congress
Library of Congress in 2005.
Although other African Americans had been recorded earlier, such as
George W. Johnson in the 1890s, they were performing music that had a
substantial following among European-American audiences. The success
of Smith's record prompted record companies to seek to record other
female blues singers and started the era of what is now known as
classic female blues.
Gravure of Smith in the New York Clipper, 1921
Smith continued to make popular recordings for Okeh throughout the
1920s. In 1924 she made three releases for Ajax Records, which, while
heavily promoted, did not sell well. She made some records for
Victor. She toured the United States and Europe with her band, Mamie
Smith & Her
Jazz Hounds, as part of Mamie Smith's Struttin' Along
She was billed as "The Queen of the Blues" (a billing soon one-upped
by Bessie Smith, who was called "The Empress of the Blues"). Mamie
found that the new mass medium of radio provided a means of gaining
additional fans, especially in cities with predominantly white
audiences. For example, she and several members of her band performed
on KGW in Portland, Oregon, in early May 1923 and received positive
Various recording lineups of the
Jazz Hounds included (from August
1920 to October 1921) Jake Green, Curtis Moseley, Garvin Bushell,
Johnny Dunn, Dope Andrews, Ernest Elliot, Porter Grainger, Leroy
Bob Fuller and (from June 1922 to January 1923) Coleman
Hawkins, Everett Robbins, Johnny Dunn, Herschel Brassfield, Herb
Buster Bailey Cutie Perkins, Joe Smith,
Bubber Miley and
While recording with the
Jazz Hounds, she also recorded as Mamie Smith
Jazz Band, comprising George Bell, Charles Matson, Nathan
Glantz, Larry Briers, Jules Levy, Jr., Joe Samuels, together with
musicians from the
Jazz Hounds, including Coleman, Fuller and
Film career and later years
Smith appeared in an early sound film, Jailhouse Blues, in 1929. She
retired from recording and performing in 1931. She returned to
performing in 1939 to appear in the motion picture Paradise in Harlem,
produced by her husband, Jack Goldberg.
She also appeared in other films, including Mystery in Swing (1940),
Sunday Sinners (1940),
Stolen Paradise (1941), Murder on Lenox Avenue
(1941), and Because I Love You (1943).
Smith died in 1946, at the age of 63, in Staten Island, New York.
Mamie Smith's performance of Perry Bradford's "Crazy Blues" in 1920.
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"Fare Thee Honey Blues"
"Royal Garden Blues"
"You Can't Keep a Good Man Down"
"Lonesome Mama Blues"
"You Can Have Him, I Don't Want Him Blues"
"You've Got to See Mama Ev'ry Night (Or You Can't See Mama At All)"
^ a b Oliver, Paul, "Smith (née Robinson), Mamie", The New Grove
Jazz (2 ed.), Oxford University Press, retrieved April
22, 2010 (registration required)
^ Tracy, Steven C. (1998). Going to Cincinnati: A History of the Blues
in the Queen City. University of Illinois Press. p. 5.
^ Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues: A Regional Experience.
Santa Barbara, California: Praeger. p. 530.
^ a b Gates, Henry Louis; Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks (2009). Harlem
Renaissance Lives from the African American National Biography. Oxford
University Press US. p. 458. ISBN 0-19-538795-3.
^ Oakley, Gilles (1976). The Devil's Music: A History of the Blues. Da
Capo Press. pp. 83–84.
^ Weisenfeld, Judith (2007). Hollywood Be Thy Name: African American
religion in American Film, 1929-1949. University of California Press.
p. 287. ISBN 0-520-25100-8.
^ Whalan, Mark (2010). American Culture in the 1910s. Edinburgh
University Press. p. 148. ISBN 0-7486-3424-X.
^ a b Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music.
Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 154.
^ Schuller, Gunther (1986). Early jazz: its roots and musical
development. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 226.
^ Gates & Higginbotham, p. 460
^ Grammy Hall of Fame
^ a b McCann, Bob (2010). Encyclopedia of African American Actresses
in Film and Television. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland.
p. 309. ISBN 978-0786437900.
^ Sutton, Allan; Nauck, Kurt (2000). American Record Labels and
Companies: An Encyclopedia (1891–1943). Denver, Colorado: Mainspring
Press. pp. 3–4. ISBN 0-9671819-0-9.
^ Kernfeld, Barry Dean (2002). "Mamie Smith". The New Grove Dictionary
of Jazz, vol. 3 (2nd ed.). London: Macmillan. p. 615.
^ "Broadcasting from KGW", Portland Oregonian, May 5, 1923, p. 11.
^ Gibbs, Craig Martin (2012). Black Recording Artists, 1877–1926: An
Annotated Discography. pp. 73–122. McFarland. Retrieved May 2013.
^ Gibbs (2012). Black Recording Artists, 1877–1926. pp. 88–106.
Retrieved May 15, 2013.
Mamie Smith on IMDb
^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Pop Memories: 1890-1954. Record Research.
Book: Mamie Smith
Mamie Smith African American Registry
Mamie Smith at AllMusic
Blues Online Biography with photos
Mamie Smith on RedHotJazz.com with .ram files of her early recordings
Mamie Smith and the Birth of the
Blues Market. NPR special on the
selection on "Crazy Blues"