No less a legend than Janis Joplin considered Bessie Smith the world’s greatest blues singer. She wasn’t alone in her adulation. Bessie - ‘The Empress of the Blues’ - was the biggest name in blues in the '20s and '30s.
Born in 1892 (or 1894, depending on which source you believe), Bessie began busking on the streets of Chattanooga, Tennessee while still a child. In 1923 she signed with Columbia Records and scored big with her debut release Downhearted Blues shifting a whopping 780,000 copies in just six months.
Bessie died as the result of a car crash in 1937. Despite the earlier fame, her grave remained unmarked until August 7 1970 when a tombstone was finally erected, paid for by Janis Joplin. Sadly, Janis herself died a couple of months later.