10 Classic Female Blues Songs
Female blue singers were popular between 1920 and 1929, and some of the following 10 classic female blues songs were introduced during that time. The blues singers were often backed by bands consisting of a piano, some horns and a drum. The blues songs were often about the tragedies in the singer’s own life and the injustices of life. When Wall Street crashed, the interest in blues singers declined and most of the female blues singers returned back to their homes.
- “Crazy Blues” by Mamie Smith. Mamie Smith was the first African American artist to record blues songs. She recorded “Crazy Blues” in 1920 and it sold a million copies the first year. This blues song talks about how she can’t sleep and can’t eat because her man doesn’t treat her right. The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1994, and in 2005, it was preserved in the National Recording Registry.
- “Why Was I Born?” by Dinah Washington. Born in the 1920s, Dinah Washington began singing the blues in the 1950s where she quickly became the “Queen of the Blues.” In this blues song, she is wondering just why she was born and always wishing for things she can’t have. She can't even get the attention of the man she loves.
- “I’d Rather Go Blind” by Etta James. Etta James has won four Grammys, seventeen Blues Music Awards, and numerous other awards for her singing. In this song, she spots her man with another woman several times and declares that she would rather be blind than to witness them together again. All she can think about are her man’s sweet kisses.
- “When the Levee Breaks” by Memphis Minnie. Memphis Minnie sang blues songs from the 1920s through the 1950s. In this song, she talks about how she will have nowhere to go and no one to turn to if the levee breaks and takes away her home. This song was used by Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan years after Minnie’s death in 1973.
- “Them There Eyes” by Hadda Brooks. Hadda Brooks played the piano and sang the blues until the 1950s when her torch style did not work for the new music that was evolving. In this song, she talks about how she was just minding her business until she looked into “his” eyes which drew her in and could get her in a “whole lot of trouble.” She was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in the mid 1990s.
- “Gabbin’ Blues” by Big Maybelle. Big Maybelle was one of the successful female blues singers in the 1950s. Her recording of "Gabbin’s Blues" featured her singing and talking back and forth to Rose Marie McCoy about staying out of her business; if she doesn’t stop she will have to start talking bad about her.
- “Down Hearted Blues” by Bessie Smith. This was Bessie Smith’s first recording in 1923, and it also brought her fame. In this blues song, she talks about the three men she has loved in her life: her father, brother, and the man who wrecked her life. That’s why she is singing the down hearted blues.
- “Where Are You” by Mildred Bailey. “Where Are You?” was recorded in 1937 by Mildred Bailey. In the song, she is searching for her lover who she built dreams with and who promised to be there. She can’t believe he left her. Mildred died of complications from diabetes at the age of 44.
- “I’m a Woman” by Koko Taylor. Koko Taylor was dubbed “The Queen of Chicago Blues” in the 1960s. This song is about a woman whose mother told her from a very young age that women were strong and could accomplish whatever they wanted. Koko received a Grammy in 1984 and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1999.
- “Hound Dog” by Big Mama Thornton. Big Mama Thornton was the first to record “Hound Dog” in 1952 and it was later recorded by Elvis in 1955. The song is about a man wants to move in with his girl, though he really means her no good.