If the blues are about hard times, they are also about defiance in the face of hard times. Bessie Smith, Queen of the Blues, takes no prisoners in “’Tain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do.” Ferocious and tender, growling like a lioness, she doesn’t lament her state – she embraces it. Bessie’s music, like Bessie in the flesh, is powerful, huge-hearted, and brave. I do what I want, and that’s what I do, sings Bessie – tough, tragic, beautiful Bessie. Even now, some have trouble with her unrepentant independence, but Bessie doesn’t give a damn. Bessie, who single-handedly ran off a gang of Klan rowdies at an outdoor concert; Bessie, who tolerated no rivals on stage or in life; Bessie, whose voice, ninety years later, still moves and shocks and thrills – “I swear I won’t call no copper/If I’m beat up by my poppa – tain’t nobody’s business if I do.” Fierce, lovely Bessie.
Laura Orem is a writer, artist, and teacher. Her work has appeared in many journals and online venues, including Nimrod, OCHO, Poets Against War, and The Montserrat Review. She is a featured blogger at the Best American Poetry blog and is Managing Editor of Toad Hall Press. She teaches writing at Goucher College in Baltimore and lives in Red Lion, PA with her husband and an ever-expanding menagerie.
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