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Mamie Smith

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Mamie Smith (née Robinson) (May 26, 1883 – September 16, 1946) was an American vaudeville singer, dancer, pianist and actress, who appeared in several films late in her career. As a vaudeville singer she performed a number of styles including jazz and blues. She entered blues history by being the first African American artist to make vocal blues recordings in 1920. Willie “The Lion” Smith (not her husband) explained the background to that recording in his (ghosted) autobiography, Music on My Mind.

Mamie Robinson was born probably in Cincinnati, Ohio, although no records of her birth exist. When she was ten years old, she found work touring with a white act called the Four Dancing Mitchells. As a teenager, she danced in Salem Tutt Whitney’s Smart Set. In 1913, she left the Tutt Brothers to sing in clubs in Harlem and married a waiter named William “Smitty” Smith.

On August 10, 1920, in New York City, Smith recorded a set of songs all written by the African American songwriter, Perry Bradford, including “Crazy Blues” and “It’s Right Here For You (If You Don’t Get It, ‘Tain’t No Fault of Mine)”, on Okeh Records. It was the first recording of vocal blues by an African American artist and the record became a best seller, selling a million copies in less than a year. To the surprise of record companies, large numbers of the record were purchased by African Americans, and there was a sharp increase in the popularity of race records.

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