Bessie and “Her Man”

Marcel Rudin

Maria Sonevytsky

Music, Gender and Sexuality

22 October 2015

  In both the movie “Bessie” and Angela Davis’ article “Blues Legacies and Black Feminism”, the topic of love and sexuality are prevalent subjects that are dealt with. In blues music, especially with prominent female blues singers of the early 20th century like Bessie Smith, love and heartbreak seem to be at the center of not only the songwriting but also the center of the performer’s emotions on stage. In Davis’ article, she states that “The representation of love and sexuality in women’s blues often blatantly contradicted mainstream ideological assumptions regarding women and being in love. They also challenged the notion that women’s ‘place’ was in the domestic sphere.” In the movie, Bessie Smith challenges a woman’s “place” with her strong convictions, vocal style and her sexuality. One of the opening scenes in the movie is of her sleeping with another woman, and presumably her foster parent knocks at her door and tells her that she isn’t allowed to have men in the house. She replies, saying that there aren’t, while she giggles with the woman she’s sleeping with. She also later on marries a man

Along with her sexuality, Smith also asserted herself by means of her lyrics. Her slightly satirical and critical lyrics, Smith touched on subjects of marriage and independence in being a woman of color . Davis herself states that in “Sam Jones Blues”, “Her performance of this song satirically accentuates the contrast between the dominants cultural construction of marriage and the stance of economic independence black women were compelled to assume for their sheer survival.” Bessie Smith embodied the experience of black female blues singers of her day, and her legendary status in both musicology and feminist ideology make her a unique and exemplary person to analyze.

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