Known as the Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith was the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s. Singing came naturally to Bessie and as a young girl she helped support her family as a street singer in Chattanooga, Tennessee. When she was seventeen Bessie joined a traveling show and worked her way up to the black vaudeville circuit. Her popularity led to a recording contract that eventually established her as the most successful black performing artist of her time, earning as many fans in the North as she had in the South. But for as gifted as she was a singer, Bessie was also troubled and difficult off stage. Alcohol abuse led to violent outbursts that alienated many friends and associates. After a brief career slump, Bessie was on tour making a comeback when tragedy struck and she was killed in a car accident. Although her life was cut short, her impact on music lives on to this day.