Bessie Smith: Age 43 | Cause Of Death: CAR CRASH
(b. 15 April 1894, Chattanooga, TN, d. 26 September 1937)
In her childhood, Smith sang on street corners before joining a touring black minstrel show as a dancer. Also in the show was Ma Rainey and before long the young newcomer was also singing the blues. By 1920 Smith was headlining a touring show and was well on the way to becoming the finest singer of the blues the USA would ever hear. On the night of September 26, 1937, after appearing at a juke joint in Sunflower County, Mississippi, Smith and her fiance Richard Morgan were driving to Memphis from where they would embark for New York, when their car was struck head-on by a truck. Morgan suffered only minor injuries but Smith’s right arm was nearly severed and she was bleeding profusely. Though it has never been proven conclusively, legend has it that Smith was denied treatment from several “whites only” hospitals in the Delta before arriving at a “colored’s only” hospital in Clarksdale, Mississippi. But by the time she arrived it was too late for she had died from loss of blood. Most blues historians affirm this account of Smith’s death to be accurate, though some state that she actually died at the scene of the crash or shortly thereafter.