On Stage

“I remember the first time I saw Bessie Smith at the Grand Theater at 31st and State Streets. This big dark woman came on the stage wearing a shimmering white gown, and she never looked at the audience. For some reason she kept her eyes on the floor.

The theatre became mouse-quiet after she was greeted with thunderous applause. She stood on the stage silent for what seemed to be three or four minutes. Then she started to sing “Backwater Blues”. The way she sang the song made your spine tingle.

Her voice filled every crevice of that theatre. There were no microphones then, but she didn’t need one. She sang from the stomach, she sang from the heart and you felt the power of that message spewed from the depths of her soul. Except for gospel singers, I don’t hear anyone sing today with that kind of voice and that kind of imagination and feeling.”

Art Hodes (pianist)