Bessie Smith's passionate vocals overrode the primitive recording technology of her era and made her the zenith of female blues singers from the 1920s and '30s. This collection takes a quick survey of her career over two-dozen tracks recorded between 1923 and 1933 in New York in sessions with such jazz icons as Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Pee Wee Russell, and Fletcher Henderson, including her seminal 1925 version of W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues." An exercise in simplicity, Smith's version of the song features only her voice, Armstrong's answering cornet, and Fred Longshaw on a wheezing reed organ. The end result is one of the greatest performances in pop history. Also featured here is Smith's breakthrough side “Downhearted Blues,” plus wonderful takes on "Careless Love Blues" and “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” all of which show what this one of a kind and larger than life singer could do with a song.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett