Vaudeville was a theatrical genre of variety entertainment. It was especially popular in the United States and Canada from the early 1880s until the early 1930s. A typical vaudeville performance was made up of a series of separate, unrelated acts grouped together on a common bill. Called "the heart of American show business", vaudeville was one of the most popular types of entertainment in North America for several decades.
Classic Female Blues
Classic female blues was an early form of blues music, popular in the 1920s. An amalgam of traditional folk blues and urban theater music, the style is also known as vaudeville blues. Classic blues were performed by female singers accompanied by pianists or small jazz ensembles and were the first blues to be recorded. Mamie Smith, Ma Rainey Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters, and the other singers in this genre were instrumental in spreading the popularity of the blues.
Theatre Owners Booking Association
Theatre Owners Booking Association, or T.O.B.A., was the vaudeville circuit for African American performers in the 1920s. The association was established following the work of vaudeville performer Sherman H. Dudley. By 1909, Dudley was widely known as the "Lone Star Comedian" and had begun an attempt to have a black-owned and operated string of venues around the United States. By 1916 the "Dudley Circuit" had extended into the south and Midwest, enabling black entertainers to secure longer-term contracts for an extended season; this circuit provided the basis for T.O.B.A. T.O.B.A. was formally established in 1920 by people associated with Dudley's circuit. Its President was Milton Starr, owner of the Bijou Theater in Nashville; its chief booker was Sam Reevin of Chattanooga. The organization had more than 100 theaters at its peak in the early to mid 1920s.
Decline and revival
By 1928, the popularity of the classic blues style was waning. With the success of the first commercial recordings of Blind Lemon Jefferson in 1926, a more "down-home", less urbane form of blues became popular, typically performed by men accompanying themselves on guitar or piano. The effect of the Great Depression on black vaudeville and the recording industry and also the trend toward swing music in the 1930s ended the careers of most of the classic blues singers.
"The Queen of the Blues"
On February 14, 1920, Mamie Smith recorded "That Thing Called Love" and "You Can't Keep a Good Man Down" for Okeh Records, in New York City. This was the first recording by a black blues singer and earned Smith the title "The Queen of the Blues". This opened the door to classic female blues which blazed trails all over america and the classic female blues was a style known as Vaudeville blues.
"The Mother of the Blues"
Paramount Records discovered Ma Rainey in 1923 and in December she made her first eight recordings in Chicago, including "Bad Luck Blues", "Bo-Weevil Blues" and was called "The Mother of the Blues" and went on to record 100 other recordings over the next five years.
"The Empress of the Blues"
Bessie Smith became a headliner on the Theatre Owners Booking Association (T.O.B.A.) circuit and rose to become its top attraction in the 1920s. Eventually travelling in her own railroad car, Bessie became the highest-paid black entertainer of her day and earned the title "The Empress of the Blues".