Born in 1894, Bessie developed her own act in Atlanta after working for the Moses Stokes company. Signed by Columbia Records, her biggest hit was “Down Hearted Blues.” She became the highest paid Black entertainer of her day. She was married but very open about her bisexuality and affairs with women. Smith was described as a “large masculine lady” by Langston Hughes and was acclaimed for her gender performances. In 1937, doctors had to amputate her arm, following a car accident. She never regained consciousness and died the next morning. Rumors claim that she was first taken to a White hospital and was refused treatment, which contributed to her death.