Appalachian Classic Blues Singers: Bessie Smith


This pathfinder is intended to be a starting point in research about Bessie Smith. There were some powerful classic blues singers that came from the Appalachian region; Bessie Smith was born and raised in Chattanooga, TN. She became the most outstanding blues singer of the genre. This pathfinder explores her life, character, musical career, and tragedies. This should be used as a guide to discovering more about Bessie Smith and, in addition, locating general works on blues history. The works cited in this pathfinder are limited to English language publications. The works and texts can be found in the WNCLN (Western North Carolina Library Network) system. (University of North Carolina at Asheville, UNCA; Western Carolina University, WCU; Appalachian State University, ASU).

Introductory Text: 

Albertson, Chris. Bessie. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003. Rev. and exp. ed ASU Music Stacks ML 420.S667 A7 2003

Albertson, Chris. Bessie Smith: Empress of the Blues. New York, NY: W. Kane,1975. See p. 7-27 Bessie’s Life. ASU Music Library 75.1.S643 S6033.

Bogle, Donald. Brown Sugar: 80 Years of America’s Black Female Superstars. New York: Harmony Books, 1980. See p. 12-16 Introduction and p. 28-32. Bessie Smith. ASU IMC stacks 790.2.B6 75B.

Harris, Sheldon. Blues Who’s Who: A Biographical Dictionary of Blues Singers. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1979. See p. 462-465 Bessie Smith.
ASU Music reference ML102. B6 H3. (Library use only).

Jackson, Buzzy. A Bad Woman Feeling Good: Blues and the Women Who Sing Them. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005. 1st ed. Pg 37-83, see index. WCU GENERAL ML400 .J24 2005

Jones, Hettie. Big Star Fallin’ Mama: Five Women in Black Music. 1st Edition. New York: Viking Press, Inc., 1974. See p. 41-63 Bessie Smith. ASU IMC stacks 920 J.

Scott, Michelle R. Blues Empress in Black Chattanooga : Bessie Smith and the Emerging Urban South. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008. ASU Special Appalachian Collection ML 420.S667 S36 2008

Library of Congress Subject Headings: 

Highly Relevant:

  • Blues(Music)
  • Blues(Music)—History and Criticism
  • Blues Musicians
  • Women Blues Musicians
  • Smith, Bessie, 1894-1937 -- Criticism and interpretation

Also Relevant:

  • Blues Musicians—Biography
  • Blues Musicians—Fiction
  • Blues(Music)—Bio-bibliography
  • Blues(Music)—Discography
  • Women Blues Musicians—Biography
  • Women Blues Musicians—United States
  • Afro-American—Music
  • African American women musicians
  • African American musicians—in Literature
  • Smith, Bessie—1898-1937—Influence
  • Smith, Bessie—1898-1937—Tomb Fiction
  • Blues (Music) -- Tennessee -- Chattanooga -- History and criticism

More General:

  • Blues Musicians—United States—biography
  • Feminism and Music—United States
  • Popular music -- Southern States -- History and criticism


  • Blues Music African Influences
  • Blues(Music) Appalachian Region
  • Blues(Music)—Appalachian Region, south
  • Sound Recordings—reviews
  • Blues (Music) -- History and criticism
  • African Americans -- Music -- History and criticism
Library of Congress Call Numbers: 
  • ML 3521
  • ML 420
  • ML 3521
  • PS 3554
  • ML 156
  • ML 54
  • ML 3556
  • ML 420
  • ML 3521
  • ML 3521
  • ML 156

Albertson, Chris. Bessie. New York, Toronto: Stein and Day Publishers, 1972.
ASU App Coll ML420. S667 A1 1972.

Davis, Angela Y. Blues Legacies and Black Feminism. New York, Toronto:
Pantheon Books, 1998. See index p. 418 for listings of Bessie Smith. ASU App Coll ML3521. D355 1998.

Kay, Jackie. Bessie Smith. Bath, Somerset, England: Absolute Press, 1997. ASU App Coll ML420. S667 1997.

Moore, Carman. Somebody’s Angel Child: The Story of Bessie Smith. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1969. ASU IMC stacks 92 S 643mo.

Oliver, Paul. Bessie Smith. London, Mellbourne, Sydney, Toronto, Cape Town,
Johannesburg, Auckland: Cassell and Company Limited, 1959. ASU App Coll ML 420. S667 04 1959.

Brooks, Edward. The Bessie Smith Companion. New York: De Capo Press, Inc., 1982. WCU General ML420. S667 B7 1982. (Currently out of print).

Bratcher, Melanie E. Words and Songs of Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, and Nina Simone: Sound Motion, Blues Spirit, and African Memory. New York: Routledge, 2007. ASU music stacks ML3479 .B73 2007

Davis, Angela Y. Blues Legacies and Black Feminism. New York and Toronto:
Pantheon Books, 1998. See p. 258-358. ASU App Coll ML3521. D355 1998.

Schuller, Gunther. “Notes on Bessie’s Singing Style” in Albertson, Chris. Bessie Smith: Empress of the Blues. New York: W. Kane, 1975. See p. 29-143. ASU Music Library 75.1.S643 S6033.

Guides, Encyclopedias, and Dictionaries: 

Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. Volume 5, Centennial edition.
New York, Detroit, San Francisco, London, Boston, Woodbridge, CT: Schrimer Books, 2001. See p. 3373-3374 Bessie Smith by William Ruhlmann. ASU music reference ML105. B16 2001 Vol.5. (Library use only).

Harris, Sheldon. Blues Who’s Who: A Biographical Dictionary of Blues Singers. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1979. See p. 462-465 Bessie Smith.
ASU music reference ML102.B6 H3. (Library use only).

Herzhaft, Gerard. The Encyclopedia of Blues. 2nd Edition. Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1997. See p. 188-189 Bessie Smith. ASU music library ML102. B6 H413 1997.

Jablonski, Edward. The Encyclopedia of American Music. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1981. See p. 290-291 Bessie Smith. ASU music library reference ML100. J28. (Library use only).

Harrison, Daphne. Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History: The Black. Experience in the Americas. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2006. See p. 2086-2087, see index for Bessie Smith. ASU REFERENCE E185 .E54 2006

Pendergast, Tom and Sara Pendergast ed. St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Detroit: St. James Press, 2000. ASU REFERENCE E169.1 .S764 2000


Ford, Robert. A Blues Bibliography: The International Literature of an Afro-American Music Genre. England: Paul Pelletier, 1999. See p. 551-557. ASU music Reference 128. B49 F67 1999. (Library use only).

Hart, Mary L.; Eagles, Brenda M.; Howorth, Lisa N. The Blues: A Bibliographic Guide. New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1989. See p. 384-389. ASU music reference ML128 B49 H3 1989. (Library use only).

Abstracts and Indices: 

Biography and Genealogy Master Index (

RILM Abstracts and Music Literature (

International Index to Music Periodicals (IIMP) (

Arts and Humanities (

Dissertation Abstracts Online (

ASU Music Index (must go to ASU Music Library and search for Bessie Smith, some books may be in storage)


American Heritage. Monthly Publication. New York: Forbes, Inc., 1997-1998.
ASU Periodicals.

Down Beat. Monthly Publication. Elmhurst, IL.: Maher Publications, 1982-1999.
ASU Music Library has v. 44 1977- v. 68:3 2001.

Audio and Video Sources: 

The Complete Recordings (sound recordings)/ Bessie Smith. New York: Sony Music Entertainment Inc., 1993. ASU Music Library Vol. 1-4.
Vol. 1 CD644a, CD644b, CD644-PN. Vol. 2 CD645a, CD645b, CD645-PN. Vol. 3 CD646a, CD646b, CD646-PN. Vol. 4 CD647a, CD647b, CD647-PN.

Bessie Smith: American Blues Singers. Princeton, NJ: Films for the Humanities, 1988. ASU App Coll video VC 337.

Jazz. [Episode 3], Our language. A production of Florentine Films and WETA, W
[Alexandria, Va.] : PBS Video, [2005, 2000] 1 streaming video file (113 min.) digital, MP4 file, sd., coll.

Jazz Classics: Bessie Smith and Friends. Rahway, NJ: Videofidelity, Inc., 1986.
ASU App Coll video VC 163. (Contains footage from the St. Louis Blues).

Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues: The Women, The Music, The Legacy. San Francisco, CA: California Newsreel, 1989. ASU App Coll video VC 168.

Compiled by: 

Compiler: Katie Nash, May 2001

Updated by: 

Updated: Rebecca Jones, October 2009