Blues-singing empress Bessie Smith was tragically killed in a car crash on September 26, 1937 – leaving behind her soulful voice on over 160 recordings.
Her funeral was attended by thousands of grieving fans, yet her grave remained unmarked until 1970. That year, Juanita Green of Philadelphia and Janis Joplin – a well-known singer herself – secured a marble gravestone to memorialize Bessie.
In Bessie Smith's biography by Jackie Kay, she wrote that Joplin had always been a great admirer of Bessie Smith, which had a profound influence in Joplin's music.
As fate would have it, Joplin herself died less than two months after her benevolent deed, on the 33rd anniversary of Bessie Smith's funeral.
This Rainbow Minute was read by Giz Bowe.
“The Rainbow Minute” is produced by Judd Proctor and Brian Burns and can be heard every weekday at 3:59am, 7:59am, 9:59am, 12:29pm and 2:59pm on WRIR – 97.3fm in Richmond, Virginia, and webcast at wrir.org. It’s also heard internationally on over 200 stations.