Blues Women

Blues Women
by Rhetta Akamatsu

The early ones were tough. All of them were black. Some of them were big women, but even the small ones could hold their own in a fight. They spent lots of time roughing it on the road, playing in juke joints and bars, or in tents in the middle of fields. They traveled in overcrowded, broken down trucks and cars, or on buses and trains. They ate at the back doors of restaurants and in alleys, or at eating establishments for blacks only, and they slept in the homes of relatives or friends or in black boarding houses (many of which did not cater to entertainers.) Sometimes they slept in the cars or trucks. When they made it big, like Ma Rainey or Bessie Smith, they bought their own private trains and many of them hung themselves about with jewelry and glitzy garments so they shimmered and shone when they shook as they sang. Then they were the "Queens":

"The queens, regal in their satins, laces, sequins and beads, and feather boas trailing from their bronze or peaches-and-cream shoulders, wore tiaras that sparkled in the lights. The queens held court in dusty little tents, in plush city cabarets, in crowded theaters, in dance halls, and wherever else their loyal subjects would flock to pay homage. They rode in fine limousines, in special railroad cars, and in whatever was available, to carry them from country to town to city and back, singing as they went. The queens filled the hearts and souls of their subjects with joy and laughter and renewed their spirits with the love and hope that came from a deep well of faith and will to endure." (1)

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