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Bessie Smith by Jackie Kay
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Bessie Smith

A RADIO 4 BOOK OF THE WEEK

$39.09 USD

Get for $14.99 with membership
Length 5 hours 26 minutes
Language English
Narrators Adjoa Andoh & Jackie Kay
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A BBC RADIO 4 BOOK OF THE WEEK

Bessie Smith: singer, icon, pioneer.

Scotland's National Poet Jackie Kay brings to life the tempestuous story of the greatest blues singer who ever lived.

'A gem of a book . . . beautiful.' BERNARDINE EVARISTO
'A wonderful writer on a magnificent singer.' ROBERT WYATT
'Kay's book is the amplifier that Smith's voice deserves.' SUNDAY TIMES
'The most vivid evocation of Bessie Smith I have ever read.' IAN CARR, BBC MUSIC

BESSIE SMITH was born in Tennessee in 1894. Orphaned by the age of nine, she sang on street corners before becoming a big name in travelling shows. In 1923 she made her first recording for a new start-up called Columbia Records. It sold 780,000 copies and made her a star. Smith's life was notoriously difficult: she drank pints of 'bathtub gin', got into violent fist fights, spent huge sums of money and had passionate love affairs with men and women. She once single-handedly fought off a cohort of the Ku Klux Klan.

As a young black girl growing up in Glasgow, Jackie Kay found in Bessie someone with whom she could identify and who she could idolise. In this remarkable book Kay mixes biography, fiction, poetry and prose to create an enthralling account of an extraordinary life.

'Biographies don't usually bring the subject to life again. This one did. I finished the book then started it again immediately.'
PEGGY SEEGER

'What a life! What gulpable storytelling! Exactly the kind of writing about music we need: personal, ardent, playfully confrontational, questioning, undogmatic. A love song to a complicated idol.'
KATE MOLLESON

'Pure joy: one trailblazing woman pays tribute to another. Jackie Kay finds the music in the short, dazzling, capricious life of Bessie Smith.'
HELEN LEWIS

Jackie Kay is a Scottish poet and novelist, and was the Makar - the poet laureate of Scotland - from 2016-2021. She is the author of a number of works, including The Adoption Papers, Trumpet and Red Dust Road. Faber & Faber reissued her biography of the blues singer Bessie Smith in 2021. The recipient of numerous prizes, she was also twice shortlisted for the Scottish Book of the Year Award. She is currently chancellor of the University of Salford, and divides her time between Glasgow and Manchester. @JackieKayPoet

Jackie Kay is a Scottish poet and novelist, and was the Makar - the poet laureate of Scotland - from 2016-2021. She is the author of a number of works, including The Adoption Papers, Trumpet and Red Dust Road. Faber & Faber reissued her biography of the blues singer Bessie Smith in 2021. The recipient of numerous prizes, she was also twice shortlisted for the Scottish Book of the Year Award. She is currently chancellor of the University of Salford, and divides her time between Glasgow and Manchester. @JackieKayPoet

Gift memberships

Gift audiobooks to anyone in the world from the comfort of your home. You choose the membership (3, 6, or 12 months/credits), your gift recipient picks their own audiobooks, and local bookstores is supported by your purchase.

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