Bogan, Lucille (1897–1948)

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Bogan, Lucille (1897–1948)

African-American blues singer. Name variations: recorded under the name Bessie Jackson. Born Lucille Anderson in Amory, Mississippi, on April 1, 1897; died in Los Angeles, California, on August 10, 1948; married Nazareth Bogan; reportedly married James Spencer; children: (first marriage) two.

Although there are inconsistencies regarding the life of Lucille Bogan, one constant remains: she was one of the greatest blueswomen of all time. Big-voiced and provocative, Bogan, who often recorded under the name Bessie Jackson, sang down-and-gritty blues songs dealing with sex, violence, dope, and life in the underworld.

Born in Mississippi on April 1, 1897, Bogan moved to Birmingham, Alabama, at an early age, where she was raised and first started singing. Some reports link her with Birmingham's black underground, an industrial environment that lent itself to the blues. In 1927, she moved to Chicago, recording for Paramount and Brunswick between 1928 and 1930. Her "Alley Boogie" with pianist Charles Avery was noteworthy, as was "They Ain't Walking No More" (later remade with its uncensored title "Tricks Ain't Walking No More") which lamented the economic downside of prostitution during the Depression.

During the 1930s, Bogan put forth in these songs a tough-woman image in the style of Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey , and Victoria Spivey , whose songs also celebrated what was then considered anti-social behavior. Bogan broached the subject of lesbianism with "Women Won't Need No Men" (1927) and "B.D. [bull dyke] Woman's Blues" (1935). Even by contemporary standards, her uncensored version of "Shave 'Em Dry" stands alone for overwhelming shock value (she also made a tamer recording of the same song).

After 1935 when she stopped performing, Bogan may have returned to Birmingham and managed a group called Bogan's Birmingham Busters. Sources differ on the facts of her 1948 death. One says she was killed by an automobile, another that she died at home of coronary sclerosis. She is buried at Lincoln Memorial Park Cemetery, in Los Angeles.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts