Friday, October 23, 2015
Music, Gender, & Sexuality
Bessie and Angie: Women Who Knew the Blues
The movie “Bessie Smith” was a fascinating dramatization of the blues legend Bessie Smith’s life. It was hard to tell what parts of the movie were real and which were fiction, I would like to see last 45 minutes of the movie to understand the relationship that Bessie had with her sister Viola. In Angela Davis’ article “Blues Legacies and Black feminism” Davis argues that greater female blues singers such as Smith were in their own way black feminists. These women played by their own rules, were intimate with whom they wanted, and traveled around the country in a time where women rarely traveled for long periods of time. They were subversive and clever with their lyrics and performance, so that those who listened carefully may find the humor and wisdom hidden there.
I found both depictions of Smith to be interesting, particularly in the ways that they overlapped. Seeing Monique dressed in a suit and tailing, performing “Prove It On Me Blues” made the description that Davis had written come to life. Davis’ article influenced my understanding of some of the scenes within the movie. Knowing that “Ma” Rainey would perform in a suit and tie for audiences that were aware of her queerness, helped me understand that the bar she sang “Prove It On Me Blues” had to have been some mixture of seedy and open to queer people. That maybe, there was a small community for queer people during that time. This question would need further research to substantiate, but the possibility is still interesting, non the less. To me, both the movie and the article were depicting blues women as autonomous, sexual, powerful, and sometimes queer. They provided a type of secular religion, that was hungered for after the abolishment of slavery.