Black LGBT Pioneers You Should Know
BY Michelle Garcia
February 28 2013 8:00 AM ET
Jazz and blues singer Bessie Smith got her start as a dancer in minstrel shows and cabarets. Eventually, Smith created an extravagant traveling show of her own, drawing massive crowds and pulling in unprecedented income for a black woman. Smith, known as the "Empress of the Blues," sold heaps of records, played shows across the country, and ended up influencing countless musicians who followed her. She was known as bisexual, and is rumored to have had an intimate relationship with another successful blues singer, Ma Rainey. At the end of the 1920s, with the crash of the stock market came a divorce, the end of her contract with Columbia Records, and a downward spiral filled with alcohol. Still, she persevered and continued to tour, and was engaged to a man when she suffered fatal injuries from a car accident at age 43.