Out of Chattanooga: “The Life and Times of Bessie Smith”


By Clifford Eberhardt

    Chapter 4

After church services Andrew went looking around the church for Bessie, but Bessie was nowhere to be found.  Her spot on the back pew was empty.

“I bet that Bessie is gone down to them juke joints on Ninth Street,” Andrew said to himself, knowing he was right.  Ever since that Sunday two years ago when he gave his soul to the Lord, Bessie always left church early going to Ninth Street to help the cleaning women clean the joints. 

In Bessie’s day, nightclubs were called juke joints, and usually the joints would be filthy on Sunday after all the night partying Saturday.  Bessie would help the cleaning women and they would let her sing, dance, and drink all the beer she wanted for free.

Andrew hurried from the church and went to Ninth Street to find Bessie.  There, he found his sister in one of the more popular joints called the Rainbow Club, and she was singing and dancing to Leadbelly’s famous hit “Down on the Killing Floor.”  Bessie was also light-headed from drinking beer the cleaning women had given her.

“Bessie, you know you in trouble now ‘cause the Rev. Jones is gonna tell Viola that you left church early again,” Andrew said to his sister while pulling her out of the front door of the Rainbow club.  Andrew pulled Bessie further down the street and they stopped to talk for a minute.

“You gonna tell Viola on me Andrew?”

“No, Bessie… but the Rev. Jones is, ‘cause he asked me why you left church early.”

“You think he’s gonna tell Viola on me?”


“You not gonna tell on me, Andrew is you?”

“No Bessie, you my best sister and I lover you.  I ain’t never gonna tell on you for nothing.”  Andrew said, trying to console his sister.  “But, they gonna get you Bessie… ‘cause you gonna have to join the church one day.”

Then, Bessie and Andrew walked home like they did each Sunday after Andrew went to church and Bessie went to Ninth Street.




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