March 8 is International Women’s Day, 24 hours to pause, look around, and truly bask in the beauty, courage, and power of women from around the world. Today, I’m celebrating all the fabulous ladies who have made their mark on the Blues realm. Here are five that have paved the way for the Blues players of today, and who probably scared the living hell outta their male counterparts. These women are the bees-knees!
5. Mamie Smith
In 1920, Mamie Smith made Blues history by becoming the first African-American to record Blues vocals, with a track called Crazy Blues. Mamie is really where it all began, not only was she a female unafraid to take charge, and do something no one of her race had done before, but she did so with charisma, and what seemed like heaven-sent aptitude. This Blues powerhouse took the first step on a long winding trail, to prove to the fellow African-American’s with a bad case of the Blues, that they too could do something about it. Mamie Smith is one of the many underrated ladies in music history – One that everyone could learn a little from!
4. Bessie Smith
Bessie Smith, also known as the “Empress of the Blues”, made her mark on the music world during the 1920s and 30s, thanks to her distinctly rich, robust, and hearty vocals. Smith has been regarded as the most popular Blues vocalist of her era, and has since influenced female singers from all walks of life, including Janis Joplin, who paid for her tombstone in 1970, more than 30 years after her death. Considered a legend, an inspiration, and one of the biggest voices of this century, Smith’s spirited tracks have truly transcended time, and gender.
3. Bonnie Raitt
Bonnie Raitt is the modern day Blues Queen. Her bottleneck slide guitar playing, and vocal prowess has influenced an abundance of beings since the 70s, and has seen her listed at #50 on the Rolling Stone Greatest Singers of All Time list, as well as #89 on their Greatest Guitarists of All Time list. Having played alongside majority of the Blues’ biggest male figures, including BB King, Buddy Guy, and John Lee Hooker, she’s shown that when it comes to playin’ the guitar, gender doesn’t mean a thing. Still, Bonnie Raitt is a whole lotta woman!
2. Lizzie “Memphis Minnie” Douglas
Any fan of Jefferson Airplane would know that Me and My Chauffeur Blues is one hell of a track, but what you may not know is that it was this bad-ass Blues bird who wrote it. With grit, power, and soul stretching emotion, Memphis Minnie was doing the devil’s work as a guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter from the 1920s to 50s, giving her prominence in the male dominated genre, and showing the world how the Blues is really done.
1. Sister Rosetta Tharpe
As far as I’m concerned, Sister Rosetta Tharpe is the ultimate Queen of the Blues. Her thunderous combination of stompin’, shoutin’ Gospel, spiritual lyricism, and electric Blues Rock guitar made her a defining figure in the early development of Rock n Roll. Having influenced the likes of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard shows that with innovation, confidence, sass and a whole lot of soul, a woman can do anything, and in her case, she helped to shape two of the greatest genres in history. If that ain’t kick-ass I don’t know what is.
Peace, love, and keep singin’ the Blues,