A little over a century ago, 28-year-old singer Mamie Smith walked into a recording studio in New York City and made history. Mamie Smith was the first person of any race (man or woman) to make a blues recording.
Born 1891 Cincinnati, Mamie Smith is best known for the hit single “Crazy Blues” by Perry Bradford, which debuted 100 years ago. It sold 75,000 copies in the first month and a million copies in the first year. Its success on the Okeh label paved the way for classic blues singers Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and so many others.
White owned record labels realized that there was a viable market in the recording industry with Black consumers. Mamie Smith’s voice and Perry Bradford’s lyrics led to the popularity of what were called “Race Records”. The records were the first to be produced and marketed toward Black people.
Pioneering female artists like Mamie Smith and Ma Rainey put the blues genre on the map in the 1920s and ‘30s. These women don’t often get the credit they deserve, their stories hang in the shadows of men. But without these women we would not have the blues as we know it today.
Long live Mamie Smith “Queen of the Blues” and her legacy in the music industry.