The Empress of the Blues: A Tribute To Bessie Smith

Article Contributed by Autonomic Media | Published on Wednesday, October 15, 2014

“She showed me the air and taught me how to fill it,” Janis Joplin said of Bessie Smith. Reimagine Music is proud to present the fifth installment in its series of original recordings celebrating iconic figures. Available everywhere as digital download September 30th, The Empress of the Blues: A Tribute To Bessie Smith, takes on an indie rock and blues slant, featuring an all female-vocalist line up, including: Hailey Bonar, Jenny Owen Youngs, Doria Roberts, Dawn Lanes, Catherine Feeny & Daniel Dixon, Whitney Monge, Simone White, Holly Golightly, Tift Merrit, Barbara Kessler, Alessi’s Ark & Scott Verbeek, and Abigail Washburn.

Throughout the 1920s, singing in the vernacular and reflecting the suffering of her people through unadulterated country blues, Bessie Smith became hugely popular. But she was not a woman without controversy. By frequenting live sex shows and orgies, literally beating a rival unconscious, sleeping with a musical director, seducing her female backup dancers (driving one of them to attempt suicide), and having a coterie of drag queens following her on tour she made her own trouble and was proud of it. In spite of all that, or perhaps because it, after signing to Columbia Records in 1923, her first recording sold 800,000 copies -- an enormous number even by today's standards – and she would soon become one of the best-selling performers in the country. Yet Bessie is virtually unknown today. 

Producer Jim Sampas gets right at it: “Smith turned the world upside down with caustic, boldly truthful, lyrics often mirroring her own life. The rubbed-raw honesty of her work put an iron hook into audiences, who never forgot her. Bessie made herself a leading artistic voice of her time, despite the uproar over her lifestyle, and the invariable adversity she faced as a black woman in an era with overt racism and misogyny. Yet, astoundingly, her work is sadly underappreciated today. Of herself, Bessie once said, "The greatest blues singer in the world will never stop singing." On this album we have the very best young women singers on today’s scene, putting their own engagingly loving, modern day, touch on her music, helping to ensure just that – her music never stops.”


The Los Angeles Times recently described Sampas as “the thinking person’s producer” known for critically acclaimed work that honors other icons such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, and The Beatles. He is the innovator and creative powerhouse behind three projects based on the last great novel by another legend, Jack Kerouac: the Billboard Heatseeker #1 album, Jay Farrar and Benjamin Gibbard's One Fast Move, Kerouac’s Big Sur; the documentary film of the same name featuring Tom Waits, Sam Shepard, and Patti Smith; and the recent Official Sundance Film Festival Selection feature film Big Sur, starring Jean-Marc Barr, Kate Bosworth, Josh Lucas, and Rhada Mitchell, with a score composed by Aaron and Bryse Dessner of The National.


Reimagine is a label created exclusively to give tribute to iconic albums, artists and music. Their growing catalog of releases has been acclaimed for their imagination with the selection of core artists to contribute their versions as well as their intent to reimagine the icons anew. The Blue Indian review of their last release, Esperanza: Songs From Jack Kerouac’s Tristessa, almost went to eleven: “Literature and music have long enjoyed a mutually beneficial communion...[Esperanza] is a near-perfect marriage of the two.” Reimagine Music is exclusively distributed by The Orchard.

The Empress of the Blues: A Tribute To Bessie Smith

1. Jenny Owen Youngs “After You’ve Gone” (2:24)

2. Tim & Adam “Nobody In Town Can Bake A Sweet Jelly Roll Like Mine” (3:01)

3. Doria Roberts “Poor Man’s Blues” (3:44)

4. Whitney Monge “Thinking Blues” (3:31)

5. Catherine Feeny & Daniel Dixon “St. Louis Blues” (3:40)

6.  Haley Bonar “Send Me To The ‘Lectric Chair” (3:40)

7. Simone White “Backwater Blues” (4:27)

8. Tift Merritt “Sugar In My Bowl” (2:20)

9. Dawn Landes “Please Help Me Get Him Off My Mind” (3:06)

10. Barbara Kessler “Preachin’ The Blues” (3:50)

11. Hanne Hukkelberg “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out” (3:28)

12. Holly Golightly “It Won’t Be You” (2:23)

13. Alessi’s Ark & Scott Verbeek “Hot Spring Blues” (2:43)

14. Jesca Hoop “Baby Doll” (3:01)

15. Abigail Washburn “Backwater Blues” (3:47)

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