Born into poverty and orphaned at an early age, Bessie Smith became the greatest blues singer of her era, recording more than 160 songs between 1923 and 1933. Her early career was influenced by Ma Rainey, and Smith performed on stage throughout the southern U.S. before making records. She recorded with such jazz legends as Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman and Coleman Hawkins, but it was Smith who was the star. Her hits include "Downhearted Blues" and "Nobody Knows When You're Down and Out."
Smith appeared in the 1929 movie St. Louis Blues.