Ladies Sing the Blues

“Empress of the Blues”
Bessie Smith (1894-1937)

Yeah, they do. And you can find these 22 faves on my “Ladies Sing the Blues” Spotify playlist:

“Tain’t Nobody’s Bizness if I Do” by Bessie Smith (1923) – “If I should take a notion to jump into the ocean, tain’t nobody’s bizness if I do.” Although it’s hard to do justice to Bessie’s impact on the blues, The Band does a good job in the next song on this list…

“Bessie Smith” by The Band. Off The Basement Tapes (recorded in 1967, released in 1975) – Dylan and the Band jamming at Big Pink: “Now I’m going down the road to see Bessie. Oh, see her soon. I’m just going down the road to see Bessie Smith and when I get there, I’m wondering what she’ll do.”

“You Can Have My Husband” by Koko Taylor (1928-2009) – Ms. Taylor’s 1978 cover of a 1959 Irma Thomas number.  I know one thing: I would never mess with Koko. “You can have my husband but please don’t mess with my man. I’m tellin’ all you women, I want you all to understand.”

“I’ll Take You There” by the Staples Singers. Off Be Altitude (1972) – This ensemble. This album. No words. (I still try to imagine what might have happened had Mavis accepted that marriage proposal from Bob Dylan.) Anyway… “I know a place, y’all. Ain’t nobody cryin’. Ain’t no nobody worried. Ain’t no smilin’ faces, mmm, no, no.”

“The Divine One” – Sarah Vaughn (1924-1990)

“Black Coffee” by Sarah Vaughn (1949) – Divine, indeed. “Now a man is born to go a lovin’. A woman’s born to weep and fret, to stay at home and tend her oven. And drown her past regrets in coffee and cigarettes.”

“We Shall Overcome” by Mahalia Jackson (1961) – If you know me, you already know what I think of Mahalia. (Both of ’em)  This recording was a favorite of and inspirational force for Martin Luther King. Makes me well up. Damn, that woman could sing!

“Respect” by Aretha Franklin (1967) – The greatest voice of my generation. “Her songs were songs of the movement. R – E – S – P – E – C – T. That’s basically what we wanted. The movement was about respect.” – Andrew Young. (I also threw in her awesome cover of “Hold On” off her 1981 Love All The Hurt Away album.)  “Find out what it means to me!”

“Lady Day” – Billie Holiday (1915-1959)

“Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday (1937) – The angriest song ever released. (And many had no idea what it’s about.) What flat-out gumption Billie and Bessie had!… “Southern trees bear a strange fruit. Blood on the leaves and blood at the root. Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze. Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”

“Never Make Your Move Too Soon” by Bonnie Raitt (w/Ruth Brown, Charles Brown, and Kim Wilson). Off Road Tested (1995) — Amazing vocals! (And Ruth Brown showing up a second time on this list.) “Went out and caught me a midnight flight, thought a little lovin’ would make everything right. But the landlord said you moved away. You left me all your bills to pay. Look out, baby, you mighta made your move too soon.”

“In My Girlish Days” by Rory Block. Off Prove It to Me (2020) — I came to Rory late. She’s great!  “I flagged a train. Didn’t have a dime. Tryin’ to run away from that home of mine. But I didn’t know no better in my girlish days…”

“First Lady of Song” – Ella Fitzgerald (1917-96)

“Mack the Knife” by Ella Fitzgerald. Off Ella in Berlin (1960) – I’ve played this at many Hyde community meetings. Listen as Ella forgets the lyrics but delivers the goods like the unparalleled pro she was. “Oh, what’s the next chorus to the song now, this is the one I don’t know.” Amazing!

“Coltrane” by Hailey Tuck (2021) – Huge fan.  Cannot understand why she is not huge! (I know, I say that a lot!) “I’m the bottom of your empty martini. A hummingbird at your window pane… I’ll be the Alice to your John Coltrane.” (I also threw in her cover of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice.”)

“Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” by Ruth Brown – Off Ruth Brown (1957) – Classic. “Mama, he treats your daughter mean. He’s the meanest man I’ve ever seen.”

“Do Re Mi” by Front Country (2020) – This Nashville-by-way-of-SF roots/pop/Americana trio, fronted by the awesome Melody Walker, kills it on this Woody Guthrie cover. “Believe it or not, you won’t find it so hot, if you ain’t got that Do Re Mi.”

“Love Don’t Love Nobody” (2018) by Rosie Flores – Catchy, upbeat delivery of a downbeat mood. “Well, talk about love, it’s a dog gone shame. Talk about love, I hate that name. Love don’t work for me at all. Love is the cause of my downfall.”

“Mississippi Goddam” by Nina Simone (1964) –  Would’ve really been something to be in Carnegie Hall that night…  “You don’t have to live next to me. Just give me my equality.”

“Everything is Broken” by Sheryl Crow (w/Jason Isbell). Off Threads (2019) – Ms. Crow gives great cover to a Dylan song. “Broken bodies, broken bones. Broken voices on broken phones. Take a deep breath, feel like you’re chokin’. Everything is broken.”

“The Bug” by Mary Chapin Carpenter. Off Come On, Come On (1992) – “Sometimes you’re the windshield. Sometimes you’re the bug. Sometimes it all falls together, baby. Sometimes you’re a fool in love.” Yup.

“Don’t Take Your Love from Me” by Catherine Russell. Off Harlem on My Mind (2016) – Just plain beautiful. “Tear a petal from the rose, and the rose weeps too.”

“Hold Out Your Hand” by Brandi Carlile. Off By the Way, I Forgive You (2018) – Powerful stuff. “When the rain don’t fall and the river don’t run. And the wind takes orders from the blazing sun. The devil don’t break with a fiery snake. And you’ve had about as goddam much as you can take.”

Onward, Malcolm Gauld