Tucker: Complete Recorded Works 1928-1929 (Document DOCD-5070)
Her face looks away - in our (sole surviving) grainy shot...pulled
from amidst an old Victor advertisement. She wears an
odd bonnet - undoubtedly the height of black (Texas) fashion,
in its day, and a thin, patterned dress. Fine-boned &
light-skinned, she is the very pattern of a high-yaller
gal, and yet...her eyes are strangely haunted - and her
smile is tight-lipped & flat, w/only the upper teeth
showing, whilst...we will never be able to meet her eyes.
This is the face of one Bessie Tucker, one of the greatest
voices to descend to us from the 20s...and one all but
Id heard Bessies voice once, years earlier...before
I got ahold of this set and, had mentally pictured her
as lean, true - but also in her (ravaged) middle-age,
despairingly reflecting on a life broken by savage male
violence, prison, and - probably - prostitution. Arriving
w/such baggage, the photo - albeit low-res - came as a
This was a child/woman, whod suffered through (much)
more of lifes brutality - and, at a younger age
- than most of us can even begin to imagine...
Because...most of her songs she wrote herself, as far
as we can tell.
Try Penitentiary, for example. Bessies
voice is narrower (although rich) than those of more celebrated
singers such as Bessie Smith...but, as such, it cuts even
closer to the bone - w/a nasal edge that seems to deliberately
abrade the soul. Ornamentation is sparse & near-stereotypical...her
vocals always hew close to certain expressive/melodic
patterns - and yet, her voicings of same remain responsive
to the individual line & accompaniment, albeit in
The result is an expressive classicism of grim despair,
felt - simply - as the pattern of life itself...
Bessies was a voice well never hear again...that
of a beautiful girl - perhaps a street kid, or abused
orphan - w/no hope & too many lifetimes experiences
far too soon, and...brought up within a great oral/urban
tradition, in full flower.
But...be warned - it is very difficult to listen to much
Bessie Tucker at once. The spirit seems to shrivel, overtaken
by a bleakness & resignation made even stronger for
its untimely birth in one so young.
Great art, however, needs no apologies...
John Henry Calvinist