Bessie Smith

  • Year:
  • Inducted by:
    Anita Baker
  • Category:
    Early Influences


The Empress of the Blues’ reign was definitive, unprecedented and glorious.

Bessie Smith was rare for many reasons—her musical apprenticeship under Ma Rainey, her songs about liberated women, her plainspoken style that foreshadowed rap—but nothing distinguished her more than her voice.

Hall of Fame Essay


Chris Albertson

She showed me the air and taught me how to fill it,” said Janis Joplin of Bessie Smith, whose potent voice and distinct style continue to inspire new generations of vocalists fifty-one years after her death. 

“I know that people don’t sing like they used to,” Alberta Hunter said in a 1978 interview. “I mean, styles keep changing, but Bessie had some­thing in her voice, something in her delivery that tugged at your soul and inspired  you to sing.” 

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Program 1989
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She was a remarkable woman who rose to the top of her profession
Anita Baker



Photography: Kevin Mazur, WireImage