Signed Bookplate Edition: Bessie Smith – A RADIO 4 BOOK OF THE WEEK

Jackie Kay

Format: Paperback / softback

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Published: 18th Feb '21


‘She [Bessie Smith] showed me the air and taught me how to fill it … she’s the reason I started singing, really’ – Janis Joplin ‘[Jackie Kay] offers the most vivid evocation of Bessie Smith I have ever read’ – Ian Carr, BBC Music Bessie Smith was born in Tennessee in 1894.

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A BBC RADIO 4 BOOK OF THE WEEK Bessie Smith: singer, icon, pioneer. Scotland’s National Poet Jackie Kay brings to life the tempestuous story of the greatest blues singer who ever lived. ‘A wonderful writer on a magnificent singer.’ ROBERT WYATT ‘The most vivid evocation of Bessie Smith I have ever read.’ IAN CARR, BBC MUSIC ‘Biographies don’t usually bring the subject to life again. This one did. I finished the book then started it again immediately.’ PEGGY SEEGER ‘What a life! What gulpable storytelling! Exactly the kind of writing about music we need: personal, ardent, playfully confrontational, questioning, undogmatic. A love song to a complicated idol’ KATE MOLLESON ‘Pure joy: one trailblazing woman pays tribute to another. Jackie Kay finds the music in the short, dazzling, capricious life of Bessie Smith.’ HELEN LEWIS ‘Kay’s book is the amplifier that Smith’s voice deserves.’ SUNDAY TIMES BESSIE SMITH was born in Tennessee in 1894. Orphaned by the age of nine, she sang on street corners before becoming a big name in travelling shows. In 1923 she made her first recording for a new start-up called Columbia Records. It sold 780,000 copies and made her a star. Smith’s life was notoriously difficult: she drank pints of ‘bathtub gin’, got into violent fist fights, spent huge sums of money and had passionate love affairs with men and women. She once single-handedly fought off a cohort of the Ku Klux Klan. As a young black girl growing up in Glasgow, Jackie Kay found in Bessie someone with whom she could identify and who she could idolise. In this remarkable book Kay mixes biography, fiction, poetry and prose to create an enthralling account of an extraordinary life.

Additional information

Weight 0.18 kg
Dimensions 13 × 129 × 198 mm
Page Count 224