Acclaimed jazz and blues vocalist Suzanne Bonnar sang some of Bessie Smith’s best-loved songs. She began with the song ‘Nobody Knows you When You’re Down and Out’.
Poet and former Scots maker, has written a quality and inspired biography of the legendary Blues singer - her book 'Bessie Smith' was first published in 1991 and the time is right now for its reissue.
Bessie reflected her times. Her first album sold 750 copes and she was rich. Then in 1931 suddenly blues was out and jazz was in and she was poor again, in. In 1937 she had a car accident. She collided with racism of the times and the blues were considered too rough.
Kay said her father bought her Smith’s album when she was only twelve and she remembers the cover – the front had a smiling Bessie Smith and the back her sad face - which in a way told the story of her life.
She was a chronicler of her times, with the Blues oral history and counter culture. On the day of her last recording, Billie Holiday came in later for her first recording.
This event was chaired by artist, feminist and co-founder of the Glasgow Women's Library Adele Patrick.
‘Bessie Smith showed me the air and taught me how to fill it.’ And Janis Joplin was certainly not the only person who fell in love with the Tennessee blues singer’s unforgettable voice. As a young Black girl growing up in Glasgow, Jackie Kay found in Bessie not only an inspiring singer but a complex, sensuous, extravagantly generous woman with whom she could identify. Now of course, Kay has gone on to become one of the best-respected British poets of her generation, herself an inspiration to others.
She joins us to discuss her extraordinary book, Bessie Smith.
It is as much a quest for emotional truth as for biographical fact, mixing poetry and prose, historical record and fiction. At times Kay enjoys imagining what the singer might have thought, or speculates about the contents of the trunk in which she kept her most beloved possessions. It all adds up to a towering monument to one of the 20th century’s most influential singers.