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Blues Empres in Black Chattanooga: Bessie Smith and the Emerging Urban South by Michelle R. Scott

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Martin Luther King Boulevard is the main street in the African-American neighborhood of Chattanooga. At 200 East Martin Luther King Boulevard is located the Bessie Smith Cultural Center which is consolidated with the African American Heritage Museum. Bessie Smith (1894-1937) is known as the Empress of the Blues because she was the leading blues singer of her era. By the time she was nine-years-old, both her parents had died, and she and her brother Andrew began busking on the Chattanooga streets. Her career began with a traveling troupe and then an Atlanta Theater, and after her success as a Columbia Records artist, she continue to perform and became the highest earning African-American entertainer of her time. She died in a car accident in Mississippi. This book is not so much a biography of Smith or a chronicle of her musical career, although her youth is well-covered. Rather it focuses on trends in African-Ameican history and the development of Chattanooga as a center of Black culture and economy during her Chattanooga years. "A richly researched, painstakingly documented glimpse of southern urban life around the turn of the twentieth century."--Journal of American Ethnic History. “In this interesting, highly readable, and meticulously documented account, Scott ... crafts a fascinating social history by discussing the post-Civil War growth of the African American community in Chattanooga.”--History: Reviews of New Books. "An interesting, solidly researched, well-organized, well-told contribution to the social history of the blues. . . . Recommended."--Choice. The author is an African-American professor of history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Urbana: The University of Illinois Press, 2008. 198 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes, and photos.