Mamie Smith, Cincinnati, and the Birthplace of the Blues

To jazz or blues historians, the name Mamie Smith stands at great significance, as she was the first African-American artist to make a vocal blues recording in 1920. Although much is known of her musical career, many details of her birth and personal life have remained shrouded in mystery. For many years it’s been assumed that Smith was born in Cincinnati, but New York Times magazine writer John Jeremiah Sullivan wishes to cast aside any doubt and finally substantiate Cincinnati as Smith’s birthplace.

Smith will be bringing his proof, with discussion, to the Mercantile Library on November 15. This event, co-hosted by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and made possible by The Atavist, begins at 7pm and is free to the public. Smith will be accompanied by DJ Rare Groove, who will provide a musical genealogy originating with Mamie Smith’s first recording: “Crazy Blues.”

“The discovery of Mamie Smith’s birthplace is a major event in music history and black history, but it is also a major event in Cincinnati history,” says Sullivan. “Any place that Mamie Smith was born has a claim on being a Birthplace of the Blues. You’re talking about the whole history of commercial American pop music in the 20th century, rock ‘n’ roll, everything. Mamie stands at the beginning of that.”

For further information head over to the Mercantile Library website. Check out Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues,” below.