There are so many stories about the life of legendary blues singer Bessie Smith. Let's clear up two. No, her death in an automobile accident was not the result of being denied entry at a white hospital. And yes she was bisexual and, to put it nicely, a bad ass one.
Bessie Smith - (1894-1937):
Bessie Smith was born poor in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Her parents died when she was eight years old and she began singing to support her family at age seven. She sang on street corners with her brother accompanying her on guitar.
Bessie Smith went on to become one of the most successful Black performers of her day. Her album "Downhearted Blues," released in 1923, was the best selling blues record of its time. At the height of her career, she was making $2,000 a week. Quite a sum for those days.
Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey:
At age 17, Bessie Smith met Gertrude "Ma" Rainey and went on the road with her traveling show. Ma Rainey became a mentor to Bessie Smith. There is some speculation that the two were also lovers, but little to back that up.
Bessie Smith and Jack Gee:
Bessie Smith was married to Jack Gee in 1923. Both Jack and Bessie had affairs with women and these affairs caused many fights between the two. There are accounts of Bessie firing a gun at Jack after learning of one of his affairs and of Jack threatening to kiss Bessie after finding her with a woman.
Bessie Smith ended her relationship with Jack Gee in 1929 after she found out he was having an affair with another singer.
Bessie Smith and Lillian Simpson:
Bessie Smith had affairs with various women through out her life. One that we know about is with Lillian Simpson. According to Bessie's niece Ruby, who traveled with her, Bessie Smith had an on and off affair with one of her chorus girls Lillian Simpson in 1926. At one point when Bessie spurned her, Lillian tried to kill herself and ended up in the hospital. The affair eventually ended when Lillian left the tour, afraid of Bessie's husband Jack finding out.
Bessie's Love of Women:
Bessie's husband Jack found out about her affairs with women when he caught her with a woman at a boarding house in Detroit. He threatened to kill her, but she managed to escape with her troupe and back to her train and out of town before he caught up with her.