USA Today: How Blues Icon Mamie Smith Paved the Way for Beyoncé

‘She’s the first Black superstar’: The forgotten history of blues trailblazer Mamie Smith

By Charles Trepany

Ella Fitzgerald. Billie Holiday. Beyoncé.

When most people think of historic Black female recording artists, these and other iconic singers likely come to mind.

But according to music historians, it’s possible none of these women would have had the chance to achieve the soaring success they did without Mamie Smith blazing the trail before them.

In 1920, Smith gave a voice to Black female singers by becoming the first African American woman to make a blues recording. The record became a smash hit in Black communities across the country, revolutionizing the blues genre and opening the doors of popular music to Black female artists.

“If you walked through Harlem in late 1920, early ’21, that song ‘Crazy Blues’ was coming out of every window,” says Adam Gussow, a professor of English and Southern studies at the University of Mississippi. “It’s almost unparalleled. It would be sort of like when the Beatles hit America.”

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