BLUES WOMENby Dani Wilde
Mamie Smith and Crazy Blues THE FIRST COMMERCIAL SUPERSTAR OF THE BLUES
Phenomenal Blues Women Mamie Smith and Crazy Blues – The first commercial superstar of The Blues When it comes to the achievements of blues women, you can’t get much more phenomenal than Mamie Smith. Just over 100 years ago, on August 10th, 1920, Mamie Smith accompanied by her Jazz Hounds, became the first African American artist to make a vocal blues recording with the song Crazy Blues.
Smith was born in Cincinnati on September 16th, 1891, as Mamie Robinson. She grew up in a working-class boarding house and attended her local public school until she entered the music industry at just ten years old as a singer and dancer on the vaudeville circuit with the ‘Dancing Mitchells’ and later, the ‘Smart Set’.” Throughout her teenage years, Smith developed her craft and was soon recognised as an accomplished dancer, actress, and singer with a confident and engaging stage persona and a sweet, emotive voice. She rose through the ranks in vaudeville and found her big break as the first commercial recording artist and superstar of The Blues.
Crazy Blues was composed by African Ameri-
can Perry Bradford. Mamie Smith’s recording of the song very nearly didn’t happen. A white Russian American vaudeville performer Sophie Tucker was scheduled to record the track months earlier, but she became unwell and missed the session. Perry Bradford convinced Okeh Records that having black vaudeville artists record blues songs marketed at black audiences could make some money. Blues artists like Ma Rainey already toured the Chitlin’ Circuit playing blues, but Bradford recommended
Mamie Smith who was stylistically versatile but not a classic blues singer.
Although they were hoping to tap into a new market, Okeh had not anticipated considerable sales. They assumed many African American households would not be able to afford Victrolas (many would purchase a Victrola just to be able to play Mamie Smith’s debut record). Record companies had not considered the possibility that white people might also want to purchase black music. Although once white communities heard Mamie’s passionate vocal and fantastic band, of course, many of them did! Within a month, Crazy Blues sold 75,000 copies,