Bessie Smith

Elizabeth Smith (1894 - 1937)

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Elizabeth (Bessie) Smith
Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, USAmap
Sister of
[spouse(s) unknown]
[children unknown]
Died in Clarksdale, Mississippi, USAmap
Profile last modified | Created 18 Feb 2009 | Last significant change: 8 Dec 2018
19:38: Susan Keil edited the Biography for Bessie Smith. [Thank Susan for this]
This page has been accessed 864 times.

Categories: Vocalists | Unconnected Notables of the United States of America | Tennessee, Unconnected Profiles | Mississippi, Unconnected Profiles | American Notables.

Contents

Biography

Bessie Smith is Notable.

Bessie was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Bessie worked as a jazz singer, from 1912 to 1937.

It was September 26, 1937 when Bessie passed away from injuries sustained in a car accident. She was buried Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Research Notes

Keil-336 13:44, 8 December 2018 (UTC)
Content from Wikipedia article for consideration follows. All of this needs its own source, above and beyond the Wikipedia article, if included in the ultimate profile text.

There's a bit of controversy/confusion regarding Bessie's birth date. Per the 1900 US Census, she was born July 1892. Per the 1910 US Census, her age is 16 (b. ~1894). According to the Wikipedia article, the birth date of 15 Apr 1894 is used on subsequent documents and was the date observed by her family. It is this date that is currently used in her WikiTree and Wikipedia profiles. The birth date in the tombstone at her grave per FindAGrave has birth year 1895.
From the 1900 US Census:

  • Home in 1900: 100 Cross Street, Chattanooga Ward 4, Hamilton, Tennessee.
  • Head of household is Bessie's mother Laura Smith. Laura is widowed and has occupation of washer woman. Listed as having had 10 children, 7 of whom are living at the time of the census. Laura was born in Alabama as was Bessie's father.
  • Household members include the following, all with surname Smith:
Lousa age 59 (head)
Bud age 28 (son)
Andrew age 25 (son) (married)
Viola age 23 (daughter)
Tennie age 19 (daughter)
Lula age 16 (daughter)
Clarence age 14 (son)
Bessie age 7 (daughter)
Cora age 22 (daughter-in-law)
(It appears Andrew and Cora may be married.)

From the 1910 US Census:

  • Home in 1910: Chattanooga Ward 7, Hamilton, Tennessee.
  • Head of household is Viola, Bessie's sister. Viola is listed as divorced and with birthplace of Alabama.
  • Household members include the following, all with surname Smith:
Viola age 30 (divorced head of household)
Bessie age 12 (sister)
Laura age 12 (Viola's daughter)
  1. There's also a bit of controversy/confusion regarding Bessie's siblings per the Wikipedia article. The 1870 and 1880 censuses report 3 older half-siblings, but subsequent family interviews and interviews of contemporaries have no mention of these other siblings. [1]
  2. Bessie's mother: Laura Owens. Born in Alabama. Death by the time Bessie was 9 years old.
  3. Bessie's father: William Smith. Born in Alabama. Laborer and part-time Baptist preacher. 1870 Census indicates "minister of the gospel" in Moulton, Lawrence County, Alabama. Death soon enough after Bessie's birth that she has no memories of him. [2]
  4. By the time Bessie was 9 years old, her mother and a brother had also died (in addition to her father). Her older sister Viola took charge of caring for her siblings. [3]
  5. Another brother is Andrew, also musically inclined. He accompanied Bessie's singing and dancing on the guitar while they performed on the streets of Chattanooga.
  6. Oldest brother is Clarence who in 1904 joined a small traveling troupe owned by Moses Stokes. Clarence's spouse Maud outlived him. (FindAGrave biography implies Clarence may have gone by Charles.)
  7. Bessie married Jack Gee, a security guard she met while living in Philadelphia, on 07Jun1923. Bessie ended the relationship in 1929. Neither Bessie nor Jack filed for divorce.
  8. Bessie later entered a common-law marriage with Richard Morgan (Lionel Hampton's uncle) and was with him until her death.
  9. Bessie died after a car crash that took place 26Sep1937. Richard Morgan was driving with Bessie as the passenger. The write-up on Wikipedia makes it sound like the accident happened in the evening and Bessie died the next morning. So, there may be some unclarity as to whether Bessie died on the 26th or 27th of September.
  10. An estimated 10,000 mourners filed past Bessie's coffin 03Oct1937. Bessie's funeral was in Philadelphia 04Oct1937, attended by approximately 7,000.
  11. Burial is at Mount Lawn Cemetery in Sharon Hill.
  12. Bessie's grave was unmarked until a stone was erected 07Aug1970 and paid for by Janis Joplin and Juanita Green.

Sources

  1. Source listings from the 1870 and 1880 US Census yet to be provided.
  2. Sources needed regarding Bessie's father William Smith.
  3. (Source listed in Wikipedia) Albertson, Chris (2003). Bessie (rev. expanded ed.). New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-09902-9.
  • "United States Census, 1900," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MS8L-GKX : accessed 8 December 2018), Bessie Smith in household of Lousa Smith, Chattanooga city Ward 4, Hamilton, Tennessee, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 60, sheet 12A, family 270, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.); FHL microfilm 1,241,574.
  • "United States Census, 1910," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MGXZ-M1P : accessed 8 December 2018), Bessie Smith in household of Viola Smith, Chattanooga Ward 7, Hamilton, Tennessee, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 65, sheet 2B, family 48, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 1503; FHL microfilm 1,375,516.
  • African Americans in the Performing Arts, Revised Edition. Edited by Steven Otfinoski. New York: Facts on File, 2010. (AfrAmPA2 2). Biography & Genealogy Master Index (BGMI) [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Gale Research Company; Detroit, Michigan; Accession Number: 1162353.
  • A to Z of American Women in the Performing Arts. By Liz Sonneborn. New York: Facts on File, 2002. (AZAmWPA). Biography & Genealogy Master Index (BGMI) [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Gale Research Company; Detroit, Michigan; Accession Number: 4311040.
  • Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. Ninth edition. Edited by Laura Kuhn. New York: Schirmer Books, 2001. (BakBD 9). Biography & Genealogy Master Index (BGMI) [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Gale Research Company; Detroit, Michigan; Accession Number: 4311047

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No known carriers of Bessie's ancestors' mitochondrial DNA have taken an mtDNA test and no close relatives have taken a 23andMe, AncestryDNA, or Family Tree DNA "Family Finder" test.

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Images: 3
Bessie Smith
Bessie Smith

Bessie Smith's Tombstone
Bessie Smith's Tombstone

Bessie Smith
Bessie Smith

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