58 minutes, 1989 Producer/Director: Christine Dall
ABOUT THE FILM
Wild Women Don't Have the Blues shows how the blues were born out of the economic and social transformation of African American life early in this century. It recaptures the lives and times of Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, Alberta Hunter, Ethel Waters and the other legendary women who made the blues a vital part of American culture. The film brings together for the first time dozens of rare, classic renditions of the early blues.
What we call the blues can be traced back to the work songs of generations of Black fieldhands. Ma Rainey, "Mother of the Blues," first put this folk idiom on stage in 1902. Others, like Ida Cox and Bessie Smith, took songs like "Downhearted Blues" and "Jailhouse Blues" on the road with traveling vaudeville and minstrel shows.
The Blues performers provided cultural continuity for millions of blacks who migrated from the rural South to the industrial cities of the North during World War I. Mamie Smith broke new ground in the 1920s when she shouted out "Crazy Blues" - the first blues recording by a a black woman and one that opened up the recording industry to black artists. Bessie Smith brought black music to a national audience in the groundbreaking early "talkie" St. Louis Blues.
Survivors of the blues era remind us that celebrity status offered little protection against segregation and economic exploitation. Few of these women received much financial reward from their popularity.
With the Depression, American musical taste shifted towards the upbeat sounds of swing, and the classic blues died out. Yet as contemporary Chicago blues artist Koko Taylor reminds us, the blues and their legacy continue. "You get up in the morning and go to work and your boss tells you you been laid off. Your got the blues. Believe it or not, even the President's got the blues."