Mamie Smith has gained legendary status as the first person to record a Blues record, and her vaudeville style rendition of Perry Bradford’s ‘Crazy Blues’ in July 1920 achieved phenomenal sales, bringing about the birth of what was called ‘race music‘. This event was the first realisation that there was a big demand among the African-American population for a kind of music that was recognisably their own. This opened the doors for other ‘Blues Divas’, and eventually all kinds of Blues music, to be recorded and distributed.
The record that started it all in 1920;
Suddenly Mamie was a star and she formed the Jazz Hounds to accompany her on club dates, concerts and recordings. She was a good looking woman and wore fabulous gowns and jewels on stage, setting a high standard for the Blues Divas like Lucille Hegamin, Ethel Waters, Trixie Smith and Alberta Hunter and dozens more who followed her. Okeh released 23 records by Mamie in 1921-22 and most were closer to vaudeville tunes than Blues songs, but the barrier had been broken and the new ‘race music‘ market was to grow in many unexpected directions. Mamie made a lot of money and was billed as ‘The Queen of the Blues’, a role she played to the hilt, but by 1923 the record companies had signed some genuinely talented Blues women like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith who, as ‘The Empress of the Blues’, usurped Mamie’s throne. Mamie moved from the Okeh label to Ajax in 1924, and later to Victor, but her records were never again to sell in such big numbers.