Why Buy a Headstone for Blues Singer Mamie Smith?
I am a writer and reviewer for Blues Revue Magazine, Blues Music, and several other publications. I have started this INDIEGOGO campaign to erect a headstone for African American blues singer MAMIE SMITH (1883-1946), who recorded the first blues EVER by an African American, "Crazy Blues," in August, 1920.
Mamie lies in unmarked ground in Frederick Douglass Memorial Park on Staten Island, and has been without a headstone or marker since her death in 1946 – which is 67 years ago! In 1970, Janis Joplin did the same thing for Bessie Smith, who lay in unmarked ground until Janis and Bessie’s friend Juanita Green bought her a headstone for her grave.
Mamie Smith recorded African American composer Perry Bradford's "Crazy Blues" and "It’s Right Here for You" on Okeh Records in 1920. The records were a wild success, selling over a million copies in less than a year; she ended up selling over two million copies -- unheard of at the time!
Before this recording milestone occurred, record companies would not record African Americans singing blues or jazz. They said African Americans would not buy records. After Mamie’s record sales success, however, they started beating the bushes for talent, and that's how many artists from Louis Armstrong to Robert Johnson and Ma Rainey were signed to record on "race" record labels in the 1920s and beyond.
Mamie worked with her Jazz Hounds, who were among the best African American blues and jazz musicians of the 1920s. Her Hounds included Willie the Lion Smith, Johnny Dunn, and Coleman Hawkins, among a stellar list of about 15 rotating musicians who performed with her live and on recordings.
What We Need
Your contribution will allow me to commission a stone cutter to create a bas relief carved headstone featuring a likeness of Mamie Smith on a 4-foot-high monument that will be erected in Frederick Douglass Cemetery on Staten Island. There will be a dedication ceremony that I am planning to hold on the anniversary of her death -- September 16, 2013. This is 67 years after her burial in 1946.
Erecting a headstone will recognize MAMIE SMITH as a catalyst for recording the great American blues and jazz artists starting in 1921 - without her incredible recording success, it may have taken 10 years or more for the record labels like OKEH, COLUMBIA, VICTOR, and PARAMOUNT to press records featuring gigantic African American blues and jazz talent.
In addition to the monument cost and grave-related charges for reinterment and site preparation, this fundraisewr also includes a donation to the Frederick Douglass Cemetery for perpetual care of the gravesite and to upgrade its record keeping and maintain historical records for scholarly use. Anything raised above headstone costs will help modernize the Frederick Douglass Cemetery's grave and burial records using computers and database software. Right now, the Cemetery uses index cards to record and review those buried on its grounds.
What You Get
Contributing to this effort will place us all in the enviable position of having righted history -- of having become part of blues history, much the same way Janis Joplin and Juanita Green are forever associated with Bessie Smith in our memories. Please see "Perks" for additional comments on what blues supporters will receive.
PLEASE INCLUDE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS WITH YOUR CONTRIBUTION, ELSE WE WON'T KNOW HOW TO THANK YOU AND REPORT ON OUR EFFORTS.
The Impact of Your Gift - of Whatever Size
History will be corrected by acknowledging the contributions to blues history and African American culture of MAMIE SMITH. Every $5 or $10 contribution brings us closer to our goal, so give what you can.
Please help me get the word out so that we can have the headstone in place by September 16, 2013. And please use INDIEGOGO SHARE TOOLS.