Actress and singer, Mamie Smith (1883-1946) made history in 1920 when she recorded “Crazy Blues”, considered by scholars to be the very first blues recording.
Smith was a glamorous and multi-talented performer who began her career at age 10 as a vaudeville singer. She toured with the Four Dancing Mitchell’s and other groups through her teens. By the time she was 20 she was living and working in Harlem.
In 1918 Smith stared in “Made in Harlem” at the Lincoln Theater. The producer, Perry Bradford, also composed the song “Crazy Blues”, and asked Mamie Smith and a group of musicians called the Jazz Hounds to record it in 1920 when he was finally able to find a studio that was willing to work with them. “Crazy Blues” is widely considered the first blue song on record. It was wildly successful, selling 75,000 copies in the first few months of its release.
Smith’s recording paved the way for other black female singers to enter popular music culture. The immense popularity prompted other recording companies to sign-on other female black singers to capture the new market of Blues.
After reading about Mamie Smith and looking at a few pictures, we listened to several songs that she recorded (gotta love the internet!). As soon as we started taking pictures Georgia began to sing. She made up a song that sounded very Bluesy and she managed to make her voice sound a bit like Smith’s. Then she launched into a full scale, top of her lungs, sing-her-heart-out Adele concert. I almost cried. Not because of her voice or her skills, but because she is so authentic. Because her heart is so open to the possibilities of life.