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Bessie Smith

Bessie Smith

ISBN
9780571362929
Published
18/02/2021
9780571362929
Format
Paperback
Price
£9.99
Paperback
224

About the Book

A BBC RADIO 4 BOOK OF THE WEEK

Bessie Smith: singer, icon, pioneer.

Scotland's National Poet Jackie Kay brings to life the tempestuous story of the greatest blues singer who ever lived.

'A gem of a book . . . beautiful.' BERNARDINE EVARISTO
'A wonderful writer on a magnificent singer.' ROBERT WYATT
'Kay’s book is the amplifier that Smith’s voice deserves.' SUNDAY TIMES
'The most vivid evocation of Bessie Smith I have ever read.' IAN CARR, BBC MUSIC

BESSIE SMITH was born in Tennessee in 1894. Orphaned by the age of nine, she sang on street corners before becoming a big name in travelling shows. In 1923 she made her first recording for a new start-up called Columbia Records. It sold 780,000 copies and made her a star. Smith’s life was notoriously difficult: she drank pints of ‘bathtub gin’, got into violent fist fights, spent huge sums of money and had passionate love affairs with men and women. She once single-handedly fought off a cohort of the Ku Klux Klan.

As a young black girl growing up in Glasgow, Jackie Kay found in Bessie someone with whom she could identify and who she could idolise. In this remarkable book Kay mixes biography, fiction, poetry and prose to create an enthralling account of an extraordinary life.

'Biographies don’t usually bring the subject to life again. This one did. I finished the book then started it again immediately.'
PEGGY SEEGER

'What a life! What gulpable storytelling! Exactly the kind of writing about music we need: personal, ardent, playfully confrontational, questioning, undogmatic. A love song to a complicated idol.'
KATE MOLLESON

'Pure joy: one trailblazing woman pays tribute to another. Jackie Kay finds the music in the short, dazzling, capricious life of Bessie Smith.'
HELEN LEWIS

A BBC RADIO 4 BOOK OF THE WEEKBessie Smith: singer, icon, pioneer. Scotland's National Poet Jackie Kay brings to life the tempestuous story of the greatest blues singer who ever lived. 'A gem of a book . . . beautiful.' BERNARDINE EVARISTO'A wonderful writer on a magnificent singer.' ROBERT WYATT'Kay’s book is the amplifier that Smith’s voice deserves.' SUNDAY TIMES'The most vivid evocation of Bessie Smith I have ever read.' IAN CARR, BBC MUSICBESSIE SMITH was born in Tennessee in 1894. Orphaned by the age of nine, she sang on street corners before becoming a big name in travelling shows. In 1923 she made her first recording for a new start-up called Columbia Records. It sold 780,000 copies and made her a star. Smith’s life was notoriously difficult: she drank pints of ‘bathtub gin’, got into violent fist fights, spent huge sums of money and had passionate love affairs with men and women. She once single-handedly fought off a cohort of the Ku Klux Klan.As a young black girl growing up in Glasgow, Jackie Kay found in Bessie someone with whom she could identify and who she could idolise. In this remarkable book Kay mixes biography, fiction, poetry and prose to create an enthralling account of an extraordinary life. 'Biographies don’t usually bring the subject to life again. This one did. I finished the book then started it again immediately.' PEGGY SEEGER'What a life! What gulpable storytelling! Exactly the kind of writing about music we need: personal, ardent, playfully confrontational, questioning, undogmatic. A love song to a complicated idol.'KATE MOLLESON'Pure joy: one trailblazing woman pays tribute to another. Jackie Kay finds the music in the short, dazzling, capricious life of Bessie Smith.'HELEN LEWIS
  • Jackie Kay

    Jackie Kay is a Scottish poet and novelist, and has been the National Poet of Scotland since 2016. She is the author of a number of works, including The Adoption PapersTrumpet and Red Dust Road. The recipient of numerous prizes, she was also twice shortlisted for the Scottish Book of the Year Award. She is currently chancellor of the University of Salford, and divides her time between Glasgow and Manchester. @JackieKayPoet

    Photo credit: Mary McCartney

“Jackie Kay’s book on Bessie Smith: She has combined biographical information with a total understanding of who Bessie actually WAS. Jackie shows an empathy unusual in a biographer, the writing being enhanced by the fact that its author is also a stellar poet. Biographies don’t usually bring the subject to life again. This one did. I finished the book then started it again immediately.”
- Peggy Seeger
“A wonderful writer, on a magnificent singer ... This is a book about a woman who’s music -- basically, the Blues -- precipitated so much of what still makes our best popular music so vital, by a writer who really knows, from the heart, what she’s talking about.”
- Robert Wyatt