Mamie Smith was born Mamie Robinson on May 26, 1891. She was a vaudeville singer, dancer, pianist and actress. Although she sang in several genres, success “lighted on her doorsteps” with blues, making her the first African American to record in the blues genre.
At the tender age of 10, Robinson (Smith) toured with a white act known as the Four Dancing Mitchells. During her teens, she danced with Salem Tutt Whitney‘s Smart Set, but left them at age 22 to sing at clubs in Harlem. It was there that she met and married a singer name William Smith.
Her recording career began when African American songwriter and bandleader Perry Bradford convinced Fred Hagan of Okeh Records to break the color barrier and release “That Thing Called Love” and “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down.” Later, Ms. Smith toured the United States with her own band: Mamie Smith & Her Jazz Hounds.
It is reported that Mamie Smith died penniless in 1946, and was buried in an unmarked grave at Frederick Douglass Memorial Park. In 2012, Blues Journalist and Editor Michael and Anne Fanciullo Cala, spearheaded efforts to secure funds to purchase a headstone. A successful effort placed a headstone on Smith,s grave in 2013.