Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23



















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

By Clifford Eberhardt

Chapter 16

Bessie won the singing contest with no trouble.  Now, she was to go up against Ma Rainey.  It had been a long time since Ma Rainey and the other members of the show took the singing contestant seriously.  Usually there was no Grand Finale, so Ma would just end the show with songs she had made famous during her touring across the South and Midwest.   But that was before Bessie.   She was the first real competition Ma had had in a long time.  To Jake, she was more than mere competition for Ma; Bessie Smith was a real blues singer.

When Jake reached Bessie on the stage she was surrounded by members of the audience.  Jake pulled Bessie away from the people who were trying to get to her.  He took Bessie by the arm and led her down the ladder and off the stage.  After Bessie and Jake were off the stage, Jake noticed that Bessie was very excited about the way the audience reacted to her music.

"I did good, didn't I, Jake?  The people liked me, didn't they, Jake?"  Bessie asked "Don't you think I did good?"

"Yeah, you did real good, Bessie."

"I know I can beat Ma now...  don't you think I can beat Ma, don't you think I can beat her, Jake?
"Bessie, you just hush yo' mouth, 'cause you ain't that good.  You got a long way to go 'fore you ever can beat Ma singin'."

"But Jake!"

"Just shut up, and let me tell you the story of Ma Rainey, so you can have some respect for the Mother of the Blues!"

"Ma, you see, was born in Columbus, Georgia, around 1880.   Her real name is Gertude Malissa Nix Pridgett Rainey.  Now, this be her real name.  On stage she is the Mother of the Blues...  Ma's been famous long 'fore she met me and long 'fore this show made her famous." Jake started out saying.

"The show got Ma's name but Ma and her husband Will don't own this show.  Ma Rainey’s Rabbit Foot Minstrel Show is owned by Moses Stokes, and it travels all through the South with Chattanooga as one of the regular stops," Jake continued.  "Mother of the Blues is the right name for her.  Nobody came 'fore Ma...  even them Colored men singers in the early days got their music from Ma,

"They say Ma had the blues like a woman have a baby.  She wrote 'Jealous Hearted Blues,' 'Night Time Blues,' 'Gone Daddy Blues,' 'Sweet Rough Man' and most of them popular songs they sing today." 

Jake and Bessie were now sitting on a bench next to the stage when Jake said, "The blues that Ma Rainey and other Colored singers is singing is even bein' copied by them white hillbilly blues singers. One day that music gonna be mo' famous than the Colored blues.  Some of them hillbilly blues singers likes the music of them Colored blues singers better than they do their own. 

They copied the music and words of them Colored blues singers who came along way 'fore them... 'cause them same Colored workin' folks is just like them po' white workin' folks that like that hillbilly music.   Both them Coloreds and them po' whites in the South got it hard.  The blues for Coloreds and hillbilly music for po' whites tell the story of the hard, hard times they know." 

Jake finished his story saying, "All of her life, Ma Rainey has been known as the greatest blues singers to ever live.  Ma was a big star when you was a cryin' baby.  No one's ever come close to out singin' her.  But now, look at you...  this little nappy-headed,  dark-skinned gal from Chattanooga who can really sing them blues.  This is gonna make Ma real mad."

"Why is Ma gonna get mad?"

"Just shut up Bessie and get ready to do yo' next song... gal, you just don't understand!"

Ma and Will were in the tent getting ready for the final act of the show: the singing contest with Bessie.  Ma was nervous and excited.  It had been a long time since she had real competition from a singing contestant, and she had never heard a voice like Bessie’s.  Ma knew deep inside that an unknown like Bessie was no competition for her.  But the thought of competing made Ma a little jealous of the much younger Bessie.

"Ma, you got real competition tonight... you know... that gal sho' can sing," Will Rainey said to his wife as they went back into their tent after hearing Bessie sing "Weary Blues."  

"That gal really can sing," Ma said as she looked through her wardrobe to find just the right dress for her act. "But the child is too dark to get anywhere in this business."

"Yeah, she sho' is a dark child," Will said with a laugh as he helped Ma get into her dress.  "But she sho’ can sing," Will added.

"Yeah, too bad she ain’t gonna win no singin' contest," Ma said. “Too bad the judges would never vote for kid over me!”

The contest was rigged simply because the other performers in the show would be doing the judging.  They would never dare and go against Ma for a nobody like Bessie.  But for some reason, Ma was still nervous she did know what to thinks since none of the judges saw Bessie’s act,



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