A new start: The Lives of Dead Jazz Singers – Bessie Smith

25 01 2009


I am going to start a series on female jazz singers. I do have problems with the way the poems come out on this blogg. I try to space words out over the page, like images on canvas, rather than a series of words that play out in your head. (I am very fond of Brueghel, a painter in Europe during the middle ages.) So bare with me as I try and correct any errors that arise. And I may try and get this published (probably self-published since poetry is almost impossible to get published). But I’ll try them out here first.There are some who on reading these bits will take the position that I have misread these women or done them some offense. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are my impressions of public figures and not a writing of historical facts.

Today I begin with a poem about Bessie Smith

Bessie Smith – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



Bessie Smith

born old                                                               sitting on a hardwood floor

.                                                                               a glass and a bottle

.                                                                              eyes soft and forgiving

looks at the bartender

nice white shirt                                                 and cigarette

.                                                                               ragged rage in the piano keys

audience huddled around their tables

waiters’ skelter smoke swallowing the air

drinks for my lovely paramour

nothing much                                                                                           on the menu

what does life come to just a room and an empty bed


in a vehicular accident hospital shook its head

.                                                                                           sorry, no blacks today

money collected                                                           for a tombstone

her husband put it in his pocket

the dead got no worries. the living got to take care of themselves.


Born in 1892 to a Baptist preacher. Passed on before. Bessie opened her eyes. She was nine. Her momma gone. Left performing on street corners with her brother, Andrew. Money from suckers. Suckers need their food. Married a security guard. Named Jack Gee. Bessie became the biggest colored star. All the other stars were white. Almost six feet tall. Almost 200 pounds. Sitting on the hardwood floor. A bottle and glass between her legs. There must be a man somewhere. Sitting in a bar. Bartender with his nice white shirt and cigarette. Alone. With a beer in her hand. Eyes soft and forgiving. Ragged rage in her voice. Why does he keep me waiting so long? When he knows I can hardly keep my eyes open. Piano keys. Playing. Everyone else waiting. I don’t want to see that sun go down. While I’m still alone. Oh, I’ll get someone else. If I have to. You know I don’t want to. The audience huddled around their tables. Dinner finished. Drinks coming. No one wants to look anyone else in the eyes. I can hardly stand up for falling. Waiters rushing in. Smoke swallowing the air. My lungs are burning. My eyes want everything to go away. Everyone’s got their business. And I got mine. Accidents happen every day. Bessie’s was in an automobile with her old lover, Richard. The car rolled over. Crushed poor Bessie’s legs. Hospital was sorry. No blacks today. Richard insisted. When they heard Bessie singing, they couldn’t keep their tears away. Bessie was taken in, but poor Bessie was buried anyway. Collected money for her tombstone. Her husband, Jack, put it in his pocket. Let’s get up and dance. The dead got no worries. The living got to take care of themselves.



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