A Mississippi car accident in 1937 cut short the life of Bessie Smith.
She was just 43 years old. But she'd already established her legacy as "Empress of the Blues" — a pioneering American performer who demanded respect and equal pay in a world dominated by men and controlled by whites.
She'd also achieved a degree of infamy for her boozing, her brawling and her sexual appetites.
B.B. King, the legendary blues musician, died Thursday after spending much of the month in hospice care. He was 89.
Born Riley B. King in Indianola, Miss., in 1925, King began his life on a plantation, where he was born the son of a sharecropper. Speaking to Fresh Air's Terry Gross in 1996, King remembered an early life without telephones, electricity or any outside opportunities. "A lot of the people, including myself in the early years, just thought this was it, you raise your families and you get old, you die, your families take over, kids, what have you," King said.
Buckwheat Zydeco returns to Mountain Stage, recorded live at West Virginia's Culture Center Theater. The artist, born Stanley Dural Jr., has spent more than 30 years as the chief ambassador for one of Louisiana's most distinctive musical products.
There's something entrancing about the electro-funk of Sinkane. The Brooklyn band is led by Ahmed Gallab, who spent time in Sudan as a child before moving around the U.S.
Sinkane subtly incorporates East African sounds, complete with a loping repetition of lyrics and musical phrases. Last year, the band released its third album, Mean Love, and it's the most concise and poppy Sinkane record yet.
The story of Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter reads like a parody of the brutal bluesman biography: Kill a man, go to prison — twice — then appeal for a pardon in a song. According to the legend, Lead Belly's undeniable talent convinced Texas Governor Pat Neff to let him go.
Deacon John does it all. The veteran New Orleans bandleader plays weddings, birthdays, proms, debutante parties. He holds his own at Jazz Fest and at carnival balls. He'll play 1950s R&B, rock, jazz, gospel, soul and disco — whatever the people want to hear. But when it's up to him, he chooses the blues.
The story of Paramount Records is a story of contradictions. It was a record label founded by a furniture company, a commercial enterprise that became arguably the most comprehensive chronicler of African American music in the early 20th century. And yet, for Paramount's executives, music was an afterthought.