(This was written for my African American Studies class. We studied the blues and one of its most famous singers, Bessie Smith.)
The blues often carries a theme and it ranges from independence, ownership, to gender, to abuse, to drinking and gambling, so on and so forth. These themes stem from the liberation of the slaves and the new found choices that they were free to make such as travel, choose who they want to be in relationships with; blacks, especially women could finally own things legally whether it be a mental, physical, or emotional matter. They have been freed to own themselves completely. Their lives are their own, and so are their business and blues. There is no one else to blame, no master, just themselves. Bessie Smith also known as the Empress of Blues, sung songs pertaining to such themes of the blues and the liberation in this new found era of emancipation. Her songs that will be analyzed will be Taint Nobody’s Bizness But Mine and Nobody’s Blues But Mine, both were recorded in 1923 and carry themes of abuse, independence, and sense of ownership. Both of these lyrics share the same point that the blues and the life of the narrator is no one else’ business or worries but their own; there is also a point of tangency that states that the man of the house does not treat her well and abusive.
Taint Nobody’s Bizness But Mine is a piece that shows the independence of the black woman and the control she has over her life and choices. Anyone that tries to worry about her ‘bizness’ is quickly dismissed; its as if she is telling her friends or people that are worried about her that its her choice, leave her alone, and to deal with it. She has her own money to give and lose whenever she wants, she can go to church and live morally and the next day shimmy and live immorally. She is free to do as she pleases with no one else to interfere with her affairs. The lyrics do state otherwise, Davis agrees and states that
“Moreover, the song’s seeming acquiescence to battering occurs within a larger affirmation of women’s right as individuals to conduct themselves however they wish-however idiosyncratic their behavior might seem and regardless of the possible consequences.” (Davis 31)
She carries an air of the attitude was one of nonchalant and no care; there is repetition in the lyrics ‘if I don’t mind if I do, do, do’ and ‘…if I do, if I do’ , which states that she is happy. All her happiness and freedom happens outside her home: which is with her friends, at church, and when and where she shimmies. Once she goes home she has to deal with her abusive husband; she asserts that her business is her choice, no one has the right to interfere with her ‘bizness’. She asserts ownership over her choices good or bad.
Moreover, when performed, she exudes a candid voice. In the song it holds a great amount of piano music, but it becomes staccato when she starts stating what she will do. The solo piano music correlates with her voice, and makes the song simple; she sings it in a way that there is a simplistic rhythm. Also, the last line in the stanza scheme reinforces with every stanza that she will do as she pleases.
Moreover, in her song Nobody’s Blues But Mine, she is stating that she also has control over her emotions and what causes her emotions or what causes her to get the blues. In this we get an interesting continuation of the story to which her husband isn’t only abusing her but also committing infidelity, cheating on her with another woman, which is shared through the lyrics ‘Daddy, daddy, where did you stay last night/ Daddy, daddy, where di you stay last night’; the repetition of the lyrics imply that this is not the first time infidelity has been committed, but also that she has asked this question multiple times. Her friends that she told, that her business was nothing for them to worry about, are now faded away and keeping to their own. Her happiness is gone and she states that in her lyrics ‘Bad that I’m feelin’ and I may feel sad/….when sadness overtakes me and old time favorite views/I wake up in the mornin’ with them heart-sickenin’ blues’. She creates her own blues, she is playing a game, ‘If I play the game and I lose this time’, she doesn’t say what but its life. She has to win at least one moment in this new era that she has been given so that she can own this life. If, she loses than the blues will come and its all hers, no one’s but hers, which puts a melancholy end to her lyrics.
Moreover, when performed there is a brass instrument that sounds like a trumpet or saxophone that perceptibly echo her voice and serves as the echo of the extent of the blues that she is having. Also, the piano is still very staccato while something that sounds like the banjo enters the song that serve as an addition to the staccato sounds of the piano, but kind of sound like a gleam of happiness trying to pear through the blues; it ends on a very melancholy note.
Both these songs talk about an abusive, ill-treating husband and the reluctance of her leaving him; they also talk about how she is trying to keep that sense of ownership over the choices of her relationship and her blues. The wrongs of her husband is in both of the songs; in Taint Nobody’s Bizness But Mine she is trying to keep him by not ‘calling the coppa/if im beat up by my papa’ and in Nobody’s Blues But Mine, she states ‘don’t you realize you aint treatin’ me right’. She is reluctant to leave him because she would rather him hit her in some kind of stuck mindset or Stockholm syndrome sense, that produces a mindset that is stated in her lyrics ‘I’d rather my man would hit me/Than to jump up right and quit me’. Taint Nobody’s Bizness But Mine according to Davis “…may well have been a catalyst for introspective criticism on the part of….women…entrapped in similar situations” (Davis 31). Also there is a sense of ownership. She owns her life, and the one thing that she doesn’t have control over is her man. The man not only beats her, but in the continuation of her story in Nobody’s Blues But Mine he is now cheating on her. She enjoys her freedom and the fact that she can own things, she does not factor in that her man has as much freedom as she does. Another part of ownership that she has control over is her state of the blues; she is in control of her life, there is no master to blame or outside force controlling her life, she with much maturity, claims her own sadness, which is exhibited in the repetition of ‘Taint nobody’s blues but mine’, in Nobody’s Blues But Mine. There is also a mirror of her ownership through the prose of the lyrics, all her ‘if I do, do, do’ or ‘Taint nobody’s business if I do’ repetitions are equated with her repetitive line, in Nobody’s Blues But Mine, ‘Taint nobody’s blues but mine’. Her independence and the control she has over her choices, the power she now has, now transfers to the control she has over her sadness and the blues.
In conclusion, these to songs are representative of women’s new found freedom over their lives and how there are inconsistencies with their freedom and their choice of relationships. These songs speak to battered women, and serve as a criticism of their choices; they have all this power and life, yet do not leave their abusive and adulterating husbands.