Bessie Smith (1894-1937) is called "The Empress of the Blues" for many good reasons.
She voice epitomized the blues and its facility to encompass songs of pain and regret. She also could celebrate the joys of pure passion as in tunes like "I'm Wild About That Thing" and "Do Your Duty"
She started out as a street singer in Chattanooga Tennessee at age 12 and in the 1920's her songs sold in the hundreds of thousands.
Here's some info on Ms. Smith's career from The New York State University Women's Biography website:
"The major breakthrough for Bessie, and for the recording industry, came in 1923. Mamie Smith in 1920 had recorded "Crazy Blues" in 1920, which sold so well (against all expectations) that Columbia set up a separate division for "race" records. Frank Walker, in charge of the division, had been so impressed years earlier by Bessie’s singing, that he sent the pianist Clarence Williams to bring her to New York .As she arrived, Columbia was on the verge of bankruptcy. Her debut record, "Downhearted Blues" and "Gulf Coast Blues" , sold 780,000 copies in the six months after she recorded the pieces, and helped save Columbia. Over the years she made 160 recordings. At that stage Bessie was receiving an outright $125 per recording; at her height a few years later, she was receiving $2,000/week, and owned her own travelling railway car. During the following ten years she was the foremost recording artist in the world.
"The decline in Bessie’s fortunes from such heights was inevitable at the time. The advent of talking pictures and the radio, on the one hand, severely set back the recording industry, and gave her audience other sources of entertainment. The depression, on the other, struck her industry as well, and reduced the wherewithal of her potential customers.
"In fact, not only her personal but her professional life seemed on the way to a comeback in the years 1936-37. There apparently were major recording sessions and joint appearances in the works with the upcoming leaders of the musical world (Bennie Goodman, the Basie band), perhaps a film was being planned. In addition to this, a critic of the time observed that the "Empress of the Blues" had gone far beyond such limitations, and was "the greatest artist American jazz ever produced", perhaps transcending even the term "jazz".
This is one of her most famous hits, recorded in 1923 near the start of her professional recording career. Her influence is still being celebrated today by the likes of Eric Clapton, Tom Waits, Norah Jones and other gifted musicians.