U IS FOR UNITED STATES
Bessie Smith is a legend, but sometimes I feel like she doesn’t get the love that she deserves, and is often left in the shade while other divas—undoubtedly deserving but prominent later—and male musicians who accompanied her get all the attention. She was considered too white-skinned for African-American labels, too rough for female music, too rowdy for good society. Bisexual, often drunk and hot-tempered, Bessie Smith symbolized that femininity did not have to be limited to domesticity: and that in pre-WWII US. Known to spit between songs, curse and hold a gun like a pro, she also did not shy away from her childhood in poverty, and was part of the movement that established that the best music is made by those who feel working class pain, not those who are refined and rich. An absolute trailblazer, Bessie Smith is my absolute hero. And frankly, I write this while painfully aware that no female singer or celebrity today would be able to live a life as raucous and independent and not be punished for it. 100 years have passed, and Bessie Smith still remains an outlier. Here’s to you, queen.