Don’t expect HBO‘s Bessie Smith movie to air the details of the freak car accident and tragic death of the blues singer tonight, unless a last minute change has been added. Dee Rees has been clear that she left out that part in the movie because she wanted to focus on Bessie Smith’s heroic life instead. Plus, the highly-anticipated biopic based on her life will only cover 1913 to 1927, according to AV Club
Notes on Bessie Smith’s Car Accident and Death
By the 1930s, the blues was not as popular. Bessie Smith died in a car accident in Mississippi on September 26, 1937, while on her way to do a show, which would have marked the beginning of a possible comeback tour. According to some old newspaper articles, Bessie Smith, known as the greatest female blues singer of all time, was killed on Highway 61 located between Memphis and Clarksdale, Mississippi. Dr. Hugh Smith, a witness who happened upon the scene around 2 a.m. that Sunday morning, stated that Bessie Smith was riding in a Packard that was going too fast on the highway during those early morning hours.
Richard Morgan, her lover and the driver of that old Packard, had underestimated the distance between their vehicle and a tractor trailer that was looming ahead. Morgan hadn’t noticed that the tractor trailer had come to a complete stop in the road, causing the driver of Bessie Smith’s Packard to swerve and go under the truck. The truck left the scene of the accident. Those who saw Bessie Smith’s body stated that she had been thrown from the vehicle and into a ditch with her badly damaged arm nearly severed from the rest of her body. Richard Morgan survived the accident, according to the book Blues Traveling: The Holy Sites Of Delta Blues by Steve Cheseborough.
Rumors swirled that Bessie Smith died at an African-American hospital because the white hospital refused to admit her. Also, it was not clear if the tractor trailer had stopped on purpose. At Bessie Smith’s funeral, thousands of people turned out as the queen of the blues was laid to rest. Bessie Smith was buried in an unmarked grave in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania, until 1970 when one of her biggest fans, Janis Joplin, bought her a headstone about two months before her own tragic death. As for Richard Morgan, they say that he never got over what happened to Bessie. He died around 1943—most likely from a broken heart, sources say.
Bessie Smith Lived Life Her Way: Bisexual and Lesbian Sexual Encounters
All in all, it was a very sad ending for a woman who had overcome so much in life and paved the way for other female singers. Born to a poor family in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1894 (there is some question about the date), Bessie Smith traveled all over the country to perform her shows. In the HBO biopic entitled Bessie, the loving but sometimes turbulent friendship between Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey is depicted. People who remember these two wild blues ladies say that they were revolutionary women ahead of their time who cared little about what anyone thought.
Bessie Smith was a tall heavy woman who had a heart of gold but didn’t take “no mess from nobody.” Bessie was big, but she was a dark-skinned pretty woman who attracted the attention of men and several women. Ma Rainey, who was a lesbian, encouraged Bessie to be free and to not be ashamed to be her true self. Bessie Smith’s bisexual- lesbian sexual escapades with women, her drunken binges, and several knock down drag out fights are well documented. She wasn’t pretentious, either. Those who knew the real Bessie Smith say that she lived a very rich and lavish life but was once seen dragging her mink coat on the ground as she walked.
Tune in tonight for Bessie at 8 p.m. on HBO.
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