Empress of The Blues
Carl Van Vechten
Gelatin silver print, 1936
Prints & Photographs Division
Wasted Life Blues
Manuscript copy, 1929
Bessie Smith gained immediate success in 1923 with her first recording
"Down Hearted Blues"/"Gulf Coast Blues." Her renditions of Negro
life in the South earned Smith the title "Empress of the Blues."
She performed mainly in black theaters, but she did sing one evening
at the New York apartment of Carl Van Vechten, a writer and amateur
photographer who frequented Harlem nightclubs.
This copyright deposit manuscript of "Wasted Life Blues", in the
hand of an unknown copyist, gives credit for the song to Smith's
husband, Jack Gee, but when Smith recorded it, she claimed credit
for it (and therefore the royalties from sales of the recording)
herself; credit for Jack Gee has been crossed out and "Bessie Smith"
substituted in pencil.