Ma Bessie and her Blues Troupe 

Bessie Smith was America’s most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and ’30s.  She is often regarded as one of the greatest singers of her era, and along with Louis Armstrong, a major influence on subsequent jazz vocalists.

As a way of earning money for their impoverished household, Bessie and her brother, Andrew, began performing as a duo on the streets of Chattanooga in the heart of the city’s African-American community, she singing and dancing, he accompanying on guitar.

In 1904 her oldest brother, Clarence, covertly left home by joining a small traveling troupe owned by Moses Stokes. He returned to Chattanooga with the Stokes troupe and arranged for its managers, Lonnie and Cora Fisher, to give Bessie an audition. She was hired as a dancer rather than a singer, because the company also included Ma Rainey.

By the early 1920s, Bessie had starred with Sidney Bechet in “How Come?” a musical that made its way to Broadway.  She spent several years working out of Atlanta Georgia’s 81 Theatre, performing in black theatres along the East Coast then returned to live in Philadelphia where she met and fell in love with Jack Gee, a security guard whom she married in 1923.  This was just as her first recordings were being released by Columbia Records. The marriage was a stormy one, with infidelity on both sides. During the marriage, Bessie became the biggest headliner on the black Theater Owners Booking Association ( T.O.B.A.) circuit, running a show that sometimes featured as many as 40 troupers and made her the highest-paid black entertainer of her day. Her husband was impressed by the money, but never adjusted to show business life, and especially not to Bessie’s bisexuality. In 1929, when Bessie learned of Jack’s affair with another performer, Gertrude Saunders, she ended the marriage, but never sought a legal divorce.   Bessie eventually found a common-law husband in an old friend, Richard Morgan.  It was Richard who was driving the car with Bessie as passenger, when, in the early hours of September 26 1937 they were involved in a road accident on Route 61 which tragically ended her life.

Ma Bessie (Julia Titus) and her blues troupe (internationally acclaimed drummer, Sam Kelly with Musical Director, Paul Jobson on piano, Tony Qunta on acoustic guitar, Marianne Windham on upright bass, Clare Hirst on saxophone/clarinet and Kevin Davy/Claude Deppa on trumpet) perform to a narrated show, featuring music from the era and showcasing many of Bessie’s songs.

Show Details

Date of event:

19th October 2019

Event details:

8pm   £14/£16