Preface

Prologue

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 19

Some members of the audience went wild:  some were throwing things;  some were yelling at the top of their voices;  some were fighting with each other.  All in all, they demanded that Bessie be chosen the winner of the singing contest. 

Jake had a big problem: how to tell Ma that the audience had chosen Bessie the winner.  Jake knew that Ma would have no part of that.  No one had ever out sung Ma on her own show.  But Jake also knew that Chattanooga was a place known for trouble and rioting if people did not get their way. 

Jake left the Big Tent in a hurry to find Ma.  He found her and Will in Lonnie and Cora Fisher’s tent.  They were counting the money from that night’s show.  The Fisher’s managed the show for Moses Stoke, and before the end of each show Ma always demanded to know the amount of money the show had made. 

"Ma, I need to talk to you," Jake said, as he entered the tent and walked over to where Ma was sitting.  Ma stood and then walked with Jake to a secluded part of the tent to hide their conversation. 

"Ma, we got a big problem." Jake dropped his head, not being able to look her in the face. 

"What you mean we got a problem, Jake?" Ma replied.

“The people is gone crazy… they is sayin’ they want that Bessie to win the singin’ contest.”

"The went off on Jake. "What you say mother fucker!  Jake, you mother fucker — you put that lil black bitch up to sing against me, and now you want the bitch to win?  Fuck, no!"

"But Ma," Jake said, "I don’t know nothin’ 'bout her... but the people out there love the way she sing the blues.  They may cause trouble if we don’t give 'em what they want."

Remember, this Chattanooga,,, these Niggers is crazy in Chattanooga! By now, Lonnie Fisher, who had overheard Ma cursing Jake, got up from the table and walked over to them and joined the conversation.  As manager of the show, Lonnie was also concerned when the audience got too rough. 

"What’s this about trouble?" Lonnie asked Jake.

"This fucker don’t know what he’s talkin’ 'bout," Ma broke in before Jake could answer. 

"Let the man talk, Ma,” Lonnie demanded.  Will and Cora listened from the table where they had been counting the money.

"That new gal, Bessie... the people want her to win the contest; they think she can really sing the blues," Jake explained.  "They want her to win now!  They want her to win!   That's a crazy bunch out there from Chattanooga ... Lonnie, them Niggers might do anything!"  Jake's tone convinced everybody in the tent that Bessie should win the contest to keep trouble down.  Everybody wanted Bessie to win; everyone except Ma.

"Bullshit!" Ma shouted.  "I ain’t gonna let no lil, no-singin'  black-ass bitch like that beat me at nothin’... you better believe that shit!" Ma shouted.

"Come on, Ma…  We got a good take tonight," Will said to his wife, as he got up from the table to walk to where Ma, Jake, and Lonnie were standing.

"Have a heart, Ma," Jake said.

"Yeah, have a heart, Ma," Cora said, sitting alone at the table, "let Bessie win."
One by one they begged Ma to let Bessie win.  Ma was overwhelmed and outnumbered, and finally gave into the others’ request. 

"OK...  you can give her the damn $75, but she can’t win... it must be a tie!"  Ma said and walked out of the tent.
Lonnie gave Jake the $75 and told him to hurry and close out the show.  The show had to get started traveling to the next stop, Louisville, Kentucky.  Jake hurried out of the tent to find Bessie to tell her the good news.  After Jake told Bessie that she had won, he then found the MC and gave him the instructions to make the announcement to the audience that Bessie had won the $75. 
When the MC took the stage to close out the show, the audience was still cheering for Bessie.

"Ladies and gentlemen... ladies and gentlemen, give me your attention...  give me your attention! We have a tie between Bessie Smith and the Great Ma Rainey!  And since no one has ever tied the great Ma Rainey in the past, the judges have decided to give the $75 to Bessie Smith... the Blues Singer!"

There were cheers and boos coming from the audience when the MC made the announcement.  The cheers were from those who thought Bessie did good to tie and get the $75.  And boos came from those who thought that Bessie had clearly won the singing contest.  The booers in Chattanooga didn’t care about saving Ma’s face. 

After a while, the booers joined in with the cheerers and they all took to the stage to embrace Bessie as a Great Blues Singer.  This was much more than Bessie expected.  As she had been told all her life that she could sing,,  she had no idea that people loved her music that much.  Bessie definitely didn't think that the song she and Andrew had jokingly written one night in Tannery Flats would be accepted like it was.  Bessie in her childish naiveté was the only one who thought she had a chance to win the singing contest — but her boldness, her drive, her determination to not give up made the difference that night, and set the tone for her future success.

 

 

 

 

 

Home Page