More on Mamie Smith...
Mamie Smith was a vaudeville singer, dancer, pianist, actress and in 1920 single-handedly
changed the course of american music.
She was originally from Cincinnati but by 1913 was living and working in Harlem.
In 1918 she was starring at the Lincoln Theater in the Perry Bradford musical review “Made in
Bradford wanted to get some of his songs recorded but found little opportunity as an African
American songwriter. He and W.C. Handy began campaigning to persuade record companies
that black consumers would eagerly purchase recordings by black performers if available.
He finally signed with General Phonograph which was the parent company of OKEH records.
On August 20, 1920 Smith, Bradford and a group of African American musicians called The Jazz
Hounds recorded what would widely be considered the first blues record: Crazy Blues.
The record industry had avoided recording black musicians up to that point because they
assumed there was a limited market. The record companies believed that only black
consumers would purchase records by black artists which is why early jazz groups and early
blues musicians were ignored. Crazy Blues changed that way of thinking.
Not only were Handy and Bradford correct about black consumers, white consumers purchased
the record in startling numbers as well. 10,000 records the first week, 75,000 within the first
month and close to 1 million in less than a year. The record industry was changed forever.
Immediately other record companies were desperately trying to sign black female blues singers
hoping to capitalize on this new untapped market. Ethel Waters, Alberta Hunter, Lucille
Hegamin, Edith Wilson and Bessie Smith all came to prominence within the next few years and
along with Mamie Smith created the era of “classic female blues”
Most importantly the success of Crazy Blues opened the door for black jazz and blues artists to
finally be heard around the world.