The Online Roots of Rock

The Online Roots of Rock
Robert Johnson - I Believe I'll Dust My Broom

Robert Johnson
May 26, 1883 – August 16, 1946

"First Lady of the Blues"
— Okeh Records Promotion

mamie smith
crazy blues label
Mamie Smith and her Jazz Hounds
mamie smith
LEFT: Mamie Smith began performing at the age of ten, in 1893, and toured the country numerous times before settling in Harlem, where she sang and danced in clubs and cabarets in the early 1900s. In 1918, at the age of 35, she sang the title song, Harlem Blues, in Perry Bradford's musical, Made in Harlem. LEFT CENTER: Bradford was impressed and felt that Mamie might be the singer to help him sell the idea that there was a market for Blues recordings sung by blacks. He arranged for her to record Crazy Blues on the Okeh label in 1920, and the rest is history. RIGHT CENTER: With the success of Crazy Blues, Mamie Smith and her Jazz Hounds toured America and Europe. RIGHT: Mamie Smith's historic recording opened the door for commercial black music in America. She will always be remembered as the "First Lady of the Blues."

"Mamie Smith was the first black singer
to record a vocal Blues."

Mamie Smith
Mamie Gardener was born on May 26, 1883, in Cincinnati, Ohio.
She started dancing with travelling acts at the age of 10, and by 1913, at age 20, she was a singing in Harlem clubs. It's here she married William Smith.
Mamie Smith was noticed by black pianist/composer/ impresario, Perry Bradford, who placed her in his 1918 musical revue, Made in Harlem, in which she sang a Bradford song, Harlem Blues.
Bradford saw a market for black music sung by blacks,1 and was convinced Mamie could help him sell the idea.
He arranged a recording session for Mamie to sing Crazy Blues 2 on August 10, 1920. Singing this vaudeville show tune, backed by a Jazz band, Mamie Smith entered music history by becoming the first black singer to record a vocal Blues.3 Blues song or not, it was a monster hit, selling 75,000 copies within a month, and becoming a million-seller for OKeh Records within a year.
Bradford was right. This record changed the recording industry. Not only was black music marketable, but it also showed there was an untapped audience of black Americans. It opened the door for the marketing of "race records." 4
All of a sudden, record labels rushed to sign female vaudeville singers — and the Classic Blues era began.
Unlike Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, who developed their earthy Blues styles by working in the segregated American South, Mamie Smith's urban cabaret-style Blues was developed by working vaudeville stages in Northern cities.
Mamie Smith wasn't a great Blues singer, but she was a consumate vaudeville performer who influenced the stage appearance and persona of all the Classic Blues singers who followed.
Mamie continued to record and occasionally chart until about 1931. By then the Great Depression had curtailled black record sales5 and the Classic Blues era had run its course. She toured Europe in 1936, and also appeared in five films.6
She died in near obscurity at the age of 63 in New York City on August 16, 1946.
Crazy Blues was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1994.

Up to this date, 1920, Blues recordings were sung by white singers.
Crazy Blues was a re-named Harlem Blues. Although Perry Bradford, claimed credit for the tune, the melody was derived from an old brothel tune, Baby, Get That Towel Wet. He was sued, but reached an out-of-court settlement, for having sold Crazy Blues to other publishers using different titles, Broken Hearted Blues and Wicked Blues. Undaunted, Bradford kept recycling this song and re-released Harlem Blues as an updated version of Crazy Blues for the 1939 film, Paradise in Harlem.
3 Is Crazy Blues really a Blues song? Like most "Blues" songs of the 1910s qnd 1920s, it contains some Blues elements and some non-Blues elements. In particular, it mixes simple 12-bar Blues verses with complex 16-bar professional-songwriting verses.
4 The term "race records" persisted in Billboard magazine's charts until 1949, when the term "Rhythm and Blues" was introduced because of the growing popularity of black music.
5 Facing collapsed record sales during the Great Depression, the major labels dropped their "race music" catalogs to concentrate on producing white hits with established artists.
6 Jail House Blues (1929), Paradise in Harlem (1939), Sunday Sinners (1940), Murder on Lennox Avenue (1941) and Because I Love You (1942).

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.Featured Sites .

Mamie Smith - Red Hot Jazz website
Mamie Smith - Wikipedia
bio / discography


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Born With The Blues
crazy blues - the best of mamie smith
Autobiography of Mamie Smith's manager
by Perry Bradford

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Crazy Blues
The Best Of
Mamie Smith
Mamie Smith
Complete Recorded Works in
Chronological Order
The Essential
Mamie Smith
The Best of Mamie Smith - Crazy Blues cd
Mamie Smith - Complete Recorded Works cd
The Essential Mamie Smith
1 CDs / 25 tracks
also mp3s
Volume 1 / 24 tracks
Volume 2 / 24 tracks
Volume 3 / 24 tracks
Volume 4 / 23 tracks
also mp3s
2 CDs / 36 tracks

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Mamie Smith was featured in five films,
three of which are available in VHS or DVD

Paradise in Harlem
Sunday Sinners
Murder on Lenox Avenue
Mamie Smith - Paradise in Harlem
Mamie Smith - Sunday Sinners
Mamie Smith - Murder on Lenox Avenue
Mamie Smith
info / order
Mamie Smith
info / order
info / order

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