First posted March 6, 2011. Last updated September 8, 2018.
Released: Sept. 23, 1997
Years Covered: Feb. 15, 1923 to Nov. 24, 1933
Sales (in millions):
Quotable: “If you’ve never experienced the genius of Bessie Smith, pick this one up and prepare yourself to be devastated.” – Cub Koda, All Music Guide
“Bessie Smith was crowned the Empress of the Blues, and, while this moniker was well deserved, she was much more. A prolific recording artist, Smith was quite an eclectic performer. In fact, she may have been one of the first true crossover artists.” LG “Bessie could sing it all, from the lowdown moan of St. Louis Blues and Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out to her torch treatment of the jazz standard After You’ve Gone to the downright salaciousness of Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl” CK or other “suggestive material [such] as Kitchen Man.” LG She “could breathe new life into a pop chestnut like Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” LG
The collection works its way through Smith’s entire career, from her very first recording session on February 15, 1923 through her final session on November 24, 1933. DA “This two-disc, 36-song set sweats it down to the bare essentials in quite an effective manner,” CK giving “the listener a good sampling of her wide repertoire.” LG “This is the perfect entry-level set.” CK
“Utilizing the latest in remastering technology, these recordings have never sounded quite this clear and full, and the selection – collecting her best-known sides and collaborations with jazz giants like Louis Armstrong” CK – ‘St. Louis Blues’…features [his] horn work” LG – Coleman Hawkins, and Benny Goodman – is first-rate. If you’ve never experienced the genius of Bessie Smith, pick this one up and prepare yourself to be devastated.” CK “The title of this album says it all.” LG