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Monday, November 18, 2013

3 of 1001 Songs: Bessie Smith's St. Louis Blues

The jazz age is just a fascinating age, it seems like during this time many countries had some sort common group that all had this one persona of interest tie them together. The music had a sound that also was cool and laid back. Today much of that music still maintains it's coolness, including Bessie Smith's St. Louis Blues. Smith's voice is so distinctive to the 20's and 30's making her one of the most famous and influential jazz artists from that time.

History: Bessie Smith starred in a short film called St. Louis Blues. W.C. Handy published the standard for the song in 1914, and produced the movie that Smith would later star in. It's one of the earliest movies using sound. Bessie Smith covered the song in the movie. In 1993, the version featuring Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong playing the cornet would be inducted into the Hall of Fame. The song continues to have many covers made of it, particularly those who are also jazz artists. Tragically, Bessie Smith died less than a decade after this song was released in a horrific car accident.


Vocals: Smith's vocals are hard to forget one you've heard them. They are full of power and this blues sound that is just beautiful. It's soulfully full of power and strength. Just listening to Smith sing gets you more interested in what her story is. I get the song quality is going to be poor though, but it takes away so much from hearing you more like you were there listening to her. I just wanted to pull the song closer, but she sounds so far away in the recording. I can't believe someone hasn't remastered it with the fame it has.

Instrumentals: The backing instrumentals suit the tone of her vocals, and you can't beat having another famous jazz musician, Louis Armstrong, back you up on cornet. I think the instrumental that Armstrong uses gives it a unique and more memorable flare. He stands out just as much as her vocals on the song. I also think some instruments were more popularly used at other times than others and I like how such instruments like that get it classified with certain decades.

Lyrics: The lyrics are very easy going and they match the pacing of the song. There is something very realistic about the song though. It doesn't sound like the person is exactly rejoicing in their situation nor letting it get them down either. I also know the movie was about the prohibition era and looked for strings in the song. Overall, I like how the lyrics make me feel the rest of the song.

St. Louis Blues is a beautiful song. It sounds good and it has this relaxing time in what seemed like a time that would have been less than relaxing for some. The song has everything to it down to a sway. The biggest problem is mainly the quality though. I get that it was recorded in a time that was rough for quality, but Enrico Caruso did predate this tune about another decade and the recording did sound a bit better.

Rating 8 of 10.




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