Since it is Bessie Smith’s birthday today, I figured we would listen to her do her hit “St Louis Blues,” written by blues legend W C Handy. For these Morning Music posts, I like to do live performances — and certainly avoid videos that simply include a single image. The problem with Smith is that she was only ever in one film, St Louis Blues — based on the song and produced by Handy himself.
The plot involves Smith catching her boyfriend (tap dancer Jimmy Mordecai) with another woman. Smith beats up the woman and then begs the boyfriend to stay. He leaves and Smith goes to a speakeasy to drown her sorrows. There she sings “St Louis Blues.” Afterward, her boyfriend comes back and they apparently reunite. But as they dance, he steals all her money and leaves. The film ends with Smith again at the bar sad and alone.
I remember once hearing Holly Near saying that she had never liked the blues, but eventually learned that it wasn’t the music she didn’t like. She didn’t like the tradition of “beat me, abuse me, I still love you” songs. That is definitely the nature of this movie, although not so much the song itself. I’ve set the video to start at the song because I don’t think the rest of it is all that interesting: