By Michelle R. Scott
As one of many first African American vocalists to be recorded, Bessie Smith is a favourite determine in American pop culture and African American historical past. Michelle R. Scott makes use of Smith's existence as a lens to enquire extensive matters in heritage, together with industrialization, Southern rural to city migration, black neighborhood improvement within the post-emancipation period, and black working-class gender conventions.
Arguing that the increase of blues tradition and the good fortune of girl blues artists like Bessie Smith are attached to the fast migration and industrialization within the past due 19th and early 20th centuries, Scott focuses her research on Chattanooga, Tennessee, the massive commercial and transportation heart the place Smith used to be born. This examine explores how the growth of the Southern railroads and the improvement of iron foundries, metal turbines, and sawmills created colossal employment possibilities within the postbellum period. Chronicling the expansion and improvement of the African American Chattanooga neighborhood, Scott examines the Smith family's migration to Chattanooga and the preferred song of black Chattanooga through the first decade of the 20 th century, and culminates by way of delving into Smith's early years at the vaudeville circuit.
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Extra info for Blues Empress in Black Chattanooga: Bessie Smith and the Emerging Urban South
Robert Mallard, a traveler to Chattanooga, observed one such ceremony: I was much interested and yet at the same time shocked, by a spectacle which I witnessed two nights ago. Hearing singing in the neighborhood of the hotel, I went to the church from which it proceeded. It belongs to the white congregation of a Cumberland Presbyterian church. I stood at the door and looked in—and such confusion of sights and sounds! The Negroes were holding a revival meeting. Some were standing, others moving from one seat to another, several exhorting along the aisles.
53 However, the army of the Cumberland controlled the other Tennessee camps, and the refugees at these sites suffered miserably. 54 The bleakness of the contraband situation is evidenced in the words of former Tennessee slaves. 56 be yond the contr aband c amps 23 Civil War camp scene. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Civil War Photographs, LC-USZ62-82883. Moss’s and Black’s memories of the contraband system are underscored by documents in the Union army military archives. The Union forces did little to improve the contraband system partly because of lack of resources but also because of their apparent disdain for the thousands of freedmen they encountered.
The Civil War had brought hundreds of African Americans to Hamilton County. The new industries that grew around Civil War fortifications encouraged many of these newcomers to remain and more freedpersons to join them. 99 The influx of people helped strengthen black community institutions, which were created through the communitydevelopment efforts in the contraband settlement. ”100 The array of religious, educational, and business institutions that freedpersons developed on the site of the contraband settlement and into Chattanooga’s downtown region are a testament to Lamon’s argument.