LaVern Baker Sings Bessie Smith

LaVern Baker Sings Bessie Smith

LaVern Baker was only seven years old when Bessie Smith died in 1937, but the shadow of the “Empress of the Blues” still loomed large when Baker ascended to star status at Atlantic in the mid-'50s. Baker not only bore a striking resemblance to Smith; she also adopted the authoritatively masculine vocal presence that Smith had pioneered. Like Smith, Baker attained crossover success without betraying her gutbucket roots. Both women embraced the blues in its rawest, rudest form and carried that form with them into the spotlight. That heritage is made immediately evident on the opening song, “Gimme a Pigfoot,” which revives the speakeasy blues of Smith’s era while sounding like an exemplary R&B cut from the modern '50s. This tribute album was Baker’s way of showing that Smith’s music retained its potency decades after its conception, and it also functioned as her audition as inheritor to Smith’s legacy. The versions of “Empty Bed Blues,” “I Ain’t Gonna Play No Second Fiddle,” and “Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out” leave no doubt that Baker fully lived up to her predecessor’s clout.

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