Pre-war “City” Blues: artists in the popular vaudeville stage tradition that brought a “blues” style to larger audiences. Including pioneers Gertrude Malissa (“Ma”) Rainey, Bessie Smith; and classic-era jazz musicians Joe Turner (with Art Tatum) and Billie Holiday.

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  1. Ethel Finney’s You Gonna Wake Some Morning (Thomas Edison recordings, ca. ?1924)

  2. Ma Rainey’s Bad Luck Blues (1923-1924)
  3. Ma Rainey’s Prove It On Me Blues (1923-1924)
  4. Ma Rainey’s Dream Blues (1923-1924)
  5. Ma Rainey’s Black Eye Blues (ca. ?1923-1928)

  6. Bessie Smith’s Empty Bed Blues (1928)

  7. Art Tatum & Joe Turner’s Wee Baby Blues (Joe Turner / Pete Johnson, ca. ?1944)

  8. Billie Holiday’s St. Louis Blues (?1933-1935)



“BAD LUCK BLUES” (Bessie Smith’s Recording)

Hey people, listen while I spread my news
I wanna tell you people all about my bad luck blues
Did you ever wake up just at the break of day
With your arms around the pillow where your daddy used to lay

Lord, look where the chump’s done gone
Lord, look where the time’s done gone
Hey Lord, there’s something going all wrong

What’s the use of living if you can’t get the man you love
You might as well go die, give your soul to the Maker above

“DREAM BLUES” (Gertrude “Ma” Rainey’s Recording)

Had a dream last night
And the night before
Had a dream last night
And the night before
Gonna get drunk tonight
I won’t dream no more

In my bed
Didn’t treat me right
Lord, I dreamed my man
Didn’t treat me right
Like my poor dead Father
And walked the streets all night

I saw my man
Fall on his knees and cry
Thought I saw my man
Fall on his knees and cry
Take me back, Mama
Or else I’ll die

Lord, I wonder
What am I to do
Lord, Lord, I wonder
What am I to do
When everybody’s
Gonna mistreat you

My heart is achin’
Mama feel like cryin’
Lord, my heart is achin’
Mama feels like cryin’
Yes, I had a bad dream last night
Mama don’t mind dyin’

“PROVE IT ON ME BLUES” (Gertrude “Ma” Rainey’s recording)

Went out last night
Had a great big fight
Everything seems to goin’ all wrong

I looked up to my surprise
The gal I’s with is gone
Where she went I don’t know
I need to follow her everywhere she goes

Folks said I cook it
I didn’t know where she took it
I want the whole world to know

[ /…Refrain: /]
*They said I do it,
Ain’t nobody caught me
Y’all got to prove it on me.*

Went out last night
With a crowd a my friends
And most of ‘em women
Cause I don’t like no men

It’s true I wear colors and a tie
Makes the wind blow all the while*
*[/ …Refrain: /]

Went out last night
With a crowd a my friends
And most of ‘em women
Cause I don’t like no men

Wear my soul just like a fan
Talk to the gals just like any old man
[/ …Refrain: /]

“BLACK EYE BLUES” (Ma Rainey’s Recording)

Down in Hogan’s Alley lived Miss Nancy Ann,
Always fussin’, squabbling with her man;
Then I hear Miss Nancy say,
“Why do you treat your gal that way?”
I went down the alley, other night,
Nancy and her man had just had a fight;

He beat Miss Nancy ‘cross the head,
When she rose to her feet, she said,
“You low down alligator, just watch me sooner or later,
Gonna catch you with your britches down.
You ‘buse me and mistreat me, you dog around and beat me,
Still I’m gonna hang around.

Take all my money, blacken both of my eyes,
Give it to another woman, come home and tell me lies;
You low down alligator, just watch me sooner or later,
Gonna catch you with your britches down, I mean it,
Gonna catch you with your britches down.”

“WEE BABY BLUES” (Art Tatum’s Recording)

It was early one Monday mornin’,
And I was on my way to school.
It was early one Monday mornin’,
When I was on my way to school.
Say that was the mornin’
When I broke my mother’s rule.

I’ve been in love with you, baby,
Before I learned to call your name.
I was in love with you, baby,
Before I learned to call your name.
Now you’re in love with someone else
I know that’s gonna drive me insane!

Ooh wee baby,
You sure look good to me.
Ooh wee baby,
You sure look good to me.
Please tell me, pretty mama
Who can your great lover be?

“ST. LOUIS BLUES” (Billie Holiday’s recording)

I hate to see the ev’nin’ sun go down
I hate to see the ev’nin’ sun go down,
It makes me think I’m on my last go ’round

Feelin’ tomorrow like I feel today
Feel tomorrow like I feel today,
I’ll pack my grip, make my getaway

St. Louis woman with her diamond rings
Pulls that man around by her apron strings,
‘t’wasn’t for powder and the store-bought hair
The man I love, wouldn’t go nowhere, nowhere

I got the St. Louis blues just as blue as I can be
He’s got a heart like a rock cast in the sea,
or else he wouldn’t have gone so far from me