1937: Empress of the Blues Bessie Smith dies at age 43 after being injured in a traffic accident near Clarksdale, Mississippi. She is the superstar of 1920s and early 1930s blues, one of the highest paid entertainers of her time and a Columbia recording artist. Daughter of a Chattanooga, Tennessee Baptist minister, she will lose both parents by the time she is 12 years old. In 1912, when she is 16, she becomes a dancer/singer in the Moses Stokes show, where vocalist Ma Rainey takes her under her wing. Smith becomes a sensation on the vaudeville circuit and performs with James P. Johnson, Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman, among other jazz greats.