Meet the American who first recorded the blues, nation's original pop diva Mamie Smith

Mamie Smith set the tone for a new century of sound in global music.


The Cincinnati native was the first singer to record the blues.

It’s the foundational American music form upon which jazz, country, rhythm and blues and, most notably, rock ‘n’ roll are built.

“The blues are America’s gift to the world,” Indiana University professor emeritus and rock ‘n’ roll historian Glenn Gass told Fox News Digital. 


Smith wrapped the gift of raw American blues in a tidy bow of polished pop professionalism. She was the first artist to share music of the Mississippi Delta with a mainstream audience. 

Her landmark recording was called “Crazy Blues.”

Jazz and blues singer Mamie Smith poses for a portrait in New York City circa 1920, the year she recorded the first blues hit, “Crazy Blues.” 

“I can’t sleep at night/I can’t eat a bite/’Cause the man I love/He don’t treat me right,” Smith laments, the tale of heartbreak and rhyming cadence familiar lyrical signatures of the blues. 

The genre has proven its universal appeal. 

She laid down the track with the backing band Her Jazz Hounds for OKeh records at 25 West 45th St. in Manhattan on August 10, 1920. 


It sold 75,000 copies in its first month alone and generated up to $1 million in revenue for the label, according to various reports. It was a phenomenal figure for the era. 

“I can’t eat a bite/’Cause the man I love/He don’t treat me right.” — Mamie Smith, “Crazy Blues”

Smith has been dubbed the Queen of the Blues and, by many accounts, was America’s first pop diva. She rode the fame of “Crazy Blues” into several follow-up hits, a career in film and a lavish lifestyle. 

She also opened the door for generations of artists to follow. “Crazy Blues” proved to record executives that there was a market for music by Black performers and a vast audience of African-American consumers with disposable income.


Yet, as if living her own tale of the blues, Smith died broke in 1946. 

She was buried in an unmarked grave on Staten Island, New York, before grateful fans honored her with a headstone in 2014.

The influence of Smith’s recording far outlasted her fame or her time on Earth. 


Within a decade of her death, American artists such as Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and Elvis Presley offered up a raucous new form of the blues that inspired a pop-culture frenzy. 

“The blues had a baby and they named it rock ‘n’ roll,” musician Muddy Waters crowed in 1977. 

The blues soon crossed the Atlantic Ocean. 

Its later guitar-driven sound, its bent notes and syncopation, its stories of outcasts and misfits battling life, loss and love all dug deep into the souls of a generation of disaffected teens in struggling post-war Great Britain

Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on July 31, 2006. “If you don’t know the blues … there’s no point in picking up the guitar and playing rock ‘n’ roll,” Richards has said.  (Peter Pakvis/Redferns)

The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones — among many other British acts — cited American blues as their primary influence and inspiration. 


“I loved rock ‘n’ roll,” The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards has said. “But then we found the blues.”

Born in the Queen City crossroads

Mamie Robinson was born in Cincinnati on May 26, 1891. She married William “Smithy” Smith after moving to Harlem sometime around age 20 and kept her married name despite two more marriages later in life.

“The blues are America’s gift to the world.” — rock ‘n’ roll historian Glenn Gass

She lived as a child at 14 Perry Street (now 308 Perry) in downtown Cincinnati, across from the present site of local landmark Duke Energy Convention Center. 


The date of her birth was only recently discovered, Cincinnati outlet WKRC Local 12 reported in 2018, citing research into previously undiscovered census records. Her birthday has often been assumed to be 1883. 

Little else is known about her family history


Historians do know she grew up in a city that stood at the crossroads of American music at a time of great Black migration from south to north. 

[Image: The Jazz Hounds]

Jazz and blues singer Mamie Smith and Her Jazz Hounds (including Willie “The Lion” Smith on piano) pose for a portrait circa 1920 in New York City. Smith performed “Crazy Blues,” the first blues hit record, with Her Jazz Hounds in 1920.  (Donaldson Collection/Getty Images)

The sounds of the Mississippi River came upstream to the Ohio River, while easterners moving westward in post-Civil War America passed through Cincinnati. 

It made the riverfront city, on the cusp of north and south, a richly diverse mix of cultures and musical influences. 


“The Delta Blues seemed to reflect the harsher environment of Mississippi at the time, a harsher work schedule, harsher punishments,” Steven Tracy, a University of Massachusetts professor and author of “Going to Cincinnati: A History of the Blues in the Queen City,” told Fox News Digital. 

Chuck Berry performs his “duck walk” as he plays his electric hollowbody guitar at the TAMI Show on Dec. 29, 1964 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica, California. Other performers included James Brown, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and Jan and Dean.  (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

“People wandering the country brought different influences to Cincinnati. People there grew familiar with a different kind of blues.”

Smith was likely influenced by genres such as New Orleans jazz and New York City ragtime, in addition to traditional delta field blues. 

Smith possessed, in other words, fairly sophisticated musical tastes when she made her way to Harlem as a teenager. 

She polished her act on the New York City vaudeville circuit. She sang, danced, even performed comedy. 

“The blues are America’s gift to the world,” said rock ‘n’ roll historian and Indiana University professor emeritus Glenn Gass. Rock, he noted, is built upon the foundation laid by American delta blues.  (Indiana University)

“By 1917, (Smith) was a seasoned entertainment professional with experience in Salem Tutt Whitney’s Smart Set musical comedy troupe and as a singer in New York nightspots, such as Barron Wilkins’ Exclusive Club,” writes the Syncopated Times, a site devoted to traditional American music.


“She had thick hips, a lovely face and a regal self-presentation that exuded star quality.”

She found her star-making moment in New York City in 1920. 

Delta blues go mainstream

The origins of blues are evolutionary and unrecorded. The genre grew out of African-American spirituals, work songs and field chants of the Mississippi Delta. We don’t know who first sang the blues. 


Lobby card from the movie “Sunday Sinners” (Colonnade Pictures), an all-Black-cast drama starring Edna Mae Harris, Alec Lovejoy and Mamie Smith, 1941.  (John D. Kisch/Separate Cinema Archive/Getty Images)

But recordings with “blues” in the title are well documented and began to appear in the second decade of the 1900s. 

W.C. Handy recorded blues instrumentals as early as 1914. 

Some were eventually recorded with lyrics — but largely in the “crooner” style popular in the era. Handy’s “Memphis Blues,” performed by Morton Harvey in 1915, is one notable example.


It was called the blues. It didn’t sound like the blues.

Smith’s “Crazy Blues” is the first interpretation of the genre that listeners would recognize as blues today. It was written by Perry Bradford with the original title of “Harlem Blues.”

Blues musician Muddy Waters photographed at Wilbraham Road Station in Manchester, England, while filming the Granada Television special “Blues And Gospel Train,” on May 7, 1964. “The blues had a baby and the named it rock ‘n’ roll,” Waters sang in 1977, explaining the connection between the two American-made musical genres. (GAB Archive/Redferns)

“In 1918, (Mamie Smith) was starring at the Lincoln Theater in ‘Made in Harlem’ (referred to in some texts as ‘Maid of Harlem’), a musical revue produced by Perry Bradford,” writes the website Blackpast in its biography of Smith. 

At Bradford’s urging to OKeh Records, Smith was tapped to record “Crazy Blues” in August 1920. 

Smith’s pop-influenced vocals fueled the record’s popularity and mainstream appeal. 

Her “blues had polish, her wardrobe was lavish,” notes the Blues Hall of Fame. 

“Her flamboyance carried over into a luxurious lifestyle afforded by the sudden wealth she amassed. She bought three houses in New York, complete with fine accoutrements, servants, and, one visitor noted, ‘rugs on the floor as thick as mattresses.’” 


She rode the success of “Crazy Blues” into a recording career that added a long list of follow-up hits. 

She eventually became a box-office draw. She starred in “Paradise in Harlem,” her first film, in 1939, and “Because I Love You,” her last role, in 1943.

“We can say in hindsight that Mamie was more of a pop-blues singer,” writes Steven Tracy. “Clearly, she was not, and did not intend to be, a low-down back porch Saturday night blues moaner, but she was a mature blues-infected singer of some power and depth.”

Remembered by music community

Mamie Smith died in Harlem on Sept. 16, 1946, apparently suffering from an unknown illness. 

She was 55 years old. 

Her free-spending lifestyle took its toll. She was reportedly penniless when she died. 


Blues pioneer Mamie Smith was buried in an unmarked grave on Staten Island when she died in 1946. Fans erected a gravestone in her honor in 2014. The date of her birth has since been shown to be May 26, 1891. Smith was just 55 years old when she died.  

“Crazy Blues” joined the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1994 to honor records of historical significance. 

It entered the Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2005 — “America’s Jukebox,” as some music authorities call it.

The registry honors songs that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.”

She was buried in an unmarked plot in Frederick Douglass Memorial Cemetery on Staten Island. 

A group of fans led by New York City blues journalist Michael Cala placed a gravestone over her previously unmarked burial site in 2014 amid great fanfare. 

“By recording ‘Crazy Blues’ in 1920, she introduced America to vocal blues,” reads the gravestone. It lists the long-suspected date of her birth as 1883, not the now-documented date of 1891. 

The New York City music community, led by Michael Cala, held a ceremony in 2014 to unveil a headstone in Mamie Smith’s honor above her previously unmarked gravesite.

The song, her epitaph continues, “opened the recording industry to thousands of African American brothers and sisters.”

One of the most moving tributes to Smith’s influence is found in a nearby headstone of a design similar to Smith’s. It belongs to New York City blues artist Michael Packer, who died in 2017. 

“A Caucasian musician,” cemetery administrator Virginia Footman told Fox New Digital. “He wanted to be buried near Mamie.”

“I am the blues,” reads his headstone. 

One of the most moving tributes to Smith’s influence is found in a nearby headstone of a design similar to Smith’s.

His faith in the blues is a sentiment shared by countless musicians and millions of music fans around the world, gripped by the raw human power of the genre.

“There is some poetic justice to the fact that Mamie was buried in Frederick Douglass Memorial Park Cemetery,” writes Tracy. 

Photo of Mamie Smith — posed studio portrait. She recorded the first blues song, “Crazy Blues,” in 1920. Date unknown.  (Gilles Petard/Redfern)

“She was, it must be admitted, regardless of opinions of her talent, a pioneer like Douglass, a person who made success possible for many others who followed.”

Smith’s pop sensibilities rounded off the hard edges of the blues. 

She made the traditional rural moans of poverty-stricken sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta accessible to a broad cross-section of urban Americans.

Put most simply, Mamie Smith changed global music.

Kerry J. Byrne | Fox News

Carlos Santana Documentary Acquired By Sony Pictures Classics

Sony Pictures Classics has acquired worldwide rights to CARLOS, a feature-length documentary film about the father of Latin American jazz fusion and global icon, Carlos Santana, directed by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Rudy Valdez The Sentence, We Are: The Brooklyn Saints.)


Jointly financed by Imagine Documentaries and Sony Music Entertainment, CARLOS is produced by Sara Bernstein and Justin Wilkes along with Lizz Morhaim and executive produced by Academy Award-winning producers Brian Grazer and Ron Howard for Imagine Documentaries. Leopoldo Gout, Ashley Kahn and Sam Pollard also serve as Producers. Meredith Kaulfers is the Co-Executive Producer for Imagine Documentaries and Michael Vrionis serves as an Executive Producer. Tom Mackay and Richard Story are Executive Producers for Sony Music Entertainment.


Featuring never-before-seen or heard archival footage and music, the film offers an intimate and exhilarating look inside the mind of an elemental force of contemporary music and tell the incredible story of Santana’s life – from a fourteen-year-old street musician to a ten-time Grammy-winning and three-time Latin Grammy-winning global sensation.

“Rudy Valdez’s CARLOS showcases the genius behind the musical sensation that has led Carlos Santana’s music to resonate with global audiences across multiple generations. We are so pleased to partner with our friends at Imagine Documentaries and Sony Music Entertainment to help share Carlos’ remarkable story that is as complex, lively, and inspiring as his music,” said Sony Pictures Classics.


“Imagine is thrilled to bring the band back together and reunite with our partners at SPC on this magical journey with the legendary Carlos Santana and our director Rudy Valdez. There isn’t a better team to inspire the world with Carlos’ extraordinary life,” added Sara Bernstein, President of Imagine Documentaries.


“We are beyond excited to be joining forces with Sony Pictures Classics to bring CARLOS to the big screen. Our incredible partners, Rudy Valdez and Imagine, have created a stunningly beautiful portrait of Carlos Santana that captures his singular artistry and spirit. We can’t wait to share his story with audiences around the world.” said Krista Wegener, Executive Vice President, Premium Content Development, Sales and Distribution, Sony Music Entertainment


Carlos Santana has won ten Grammy Awards and three Latin Grammys, with a record-tying nine Grammys for a single project for 1999’s Supernatural (including Album of the Year and Record of the Year for “Smooth”). He has received the Billboard Century Award (1996), was ushered into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1998), received the Billboard Latin Music Awards’ Lifetime Achievement honor (2009), and was the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors Award (2013).


Among many other distinctions, Carlos Santana has been cited by Rolling Stone as #15 on their list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time;” and has joined the Rolling Stones as one of only two bands to have an album reach the Top 10 in every decade since the 1960s. In 2018, he released his first MasterClass, and recently celebrated three epic milestones – the 20th anniversary of his groundbreaking album Supernatural, the 50th anniversary of his legendary performance at Woodstock, and the 50th anniversary of his masterpiece Abraxas. His most recent album, the powerful, energy-infused Blessings and Miracles (2021) features collaborations with Rob Thomas, Chris Stapleton, Steve Winwood, and many others.


Rudy Valdez shared, “I am honored and humbled to tell Carlos Santana’s story as a director. Carlos is a true trailblazer who has meant so much to so many people. My hope is that this film is a celebration of a life defined by humanity. It was incredibly impactful to see someone who looks like me blow up the boundaries and expectations the world had placed on him as a Mexican immigrant and person of color, and I’m thrilled to be putting this story out into the world. I am also immensely grateful for the amazing team at Imagine Documentaries and Sony, who surrounded me through the entire process and helped me see this vision through. The film could not have found a better distribution partner than Sony Pictures Classics. In their hands the film will have the opportunity to reach the masses and ensure as many people as possible get a chance to experience Carlos’ magic.”

“It is an honor to share the story of one of the World’s Most Iconic Musicians, Carlos Santana. His triumphant journey is the must-see event of the year. Partnering with Imagine Documentaries, Sony Music and Sony Pictures Classics was the perfect fit to tell this unbelievable story of victory and high consciousness,” stated Michael Vrionis, Executive Producer and President of Universal Tone Management.

Watch Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, Eric Clapton & Gary Clark Jr. Honor Jeff Beck With ‘People Get Ready’

When Jeff Beck put together the Jeff Beck Group in 1967 after leaving the Yardbirds, he recruited a then virtually unknown Rod Stewart as vocalist and Ronnie Wood as rhythm guitarist. So it should come as no surprise that Eric Clapton called upon the pair to honor the late guitarist by appearing at A Tribute To Jeff Beck, a two-night all-star concert event at London’s Royal Albert Hall that started on Monday and concludes tonight.

Jeff Beck broke up the iteration of the Jeff Beck Group featuring Stewart and Wood in 1968. Rod reconnected with Jeff in 1983 as they swapped guest spots on each other’s albums. Stewart sang on a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” that was released on Jeff Beck’s Flash album in 1985. Rod reprised the role as the penultimate song at last night’s Jeff Beck tribute concert. The vocalist was accompanied by Wood, Clapton, Eric’s band and guitarist Gary Clark Jr.

“Jeff did me a favor and played on [Stewart’s 1984 album] Infatuation and he asked me to sing what I think is the greatest civil rights song ever written,” Rod Stewart told the crowd of the tune originally released by the Impressions in 1965 adding, “Written by Curtis Mayfield, ‘People Get Ready.’” Clark Jr. shined in reprising the lick Beck composed for his version of the song and sharing vocal duties at Stewart’s prompting.

“Jeff did me a favor and played on [Stewart’s 1984 album] Infatuation and he asked me to sing what I think is the greatest civil rights song ever written,” Rod Stewart told the crowd of the tune originally released by the Impressions in 1965 adding, “Written by Curtis Mayfield, ‘People Get Ready.’” Clark Jr. shined in reprising the lick Beck composed for his version of the song and sharing vocal duties at Stewart’s prompting.

Whatever You Want (1996)

As the 80s turn into the 90s, it takes a degree of searching to dig out the gold on Tina’s professional yet increasingly bland albums.

But the epic Whatever You Want – Trevor Horn in the producer’s chair, gradually whipping up a storm of juddering electronics – is worth the effort.

The Best (1989)

This was picked on Desert Island Discs by Gordon Ramsay and Lord Digby Jones – you can somehow imagine both of them singing The Best to themselves in the mirror, can’t you? – but let’s try to ignore that.

Although it may seem an obvious smash hit now, Bonnie Tyler’s original flopped; its ubiquity is down to Tina Turner’s performance.

For the full article visit The Guardian