Mamie Smith is hailed as the first female singer ever to record a Blues-song in 1920, nearly a century ago. Singers like her and her successful colleagues Bessie and Clara Smith (no relation) of the 1920s and Beyoncé today are seemingly worlds apart, but the latter would be almost unthinkable without the great singers, who are gathered on these 10 CDs. Anyone doubting that should watch the movie "Cadillac Records", in which Beyoncé plays (and sings!) the young Etta James so convincingly, that one can't but wish for the superstar to eventually record a blues tribute album of her own.
Bessie Smith remains the "Empress of the Blues", as her work continues to be honored in new editions ever since the 1960s. One gets to hear her in direct comparison with her and Clara with some of the duets that can be found here, alongside those with Louis Armstrong. Memphis Minnie played the guitar herself, as her male colleagues regularly did, and also wrote her own music, making her a pioneer in that respect. Since the beginning jazz musicians often accompanied the early blues divas, so that the musical boundaries to jazz were rather permeable. Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Ethel Waters stand out in that area.
Big Maybelle, Big Mama Thornton, Ruth Brown and Etta James marked the next big step, giving birth to Rhythm'n'Blues, Rock & Roll and Soul. With artists like Odetta, a role model for Bob Dylan or Joan Baez on the US folk scene, and the rediscovery of Bessie Smith, beloved and revered by Janis Joplin, the influence of the great blues stylists has remained evident to this day.