Old Poem Saturday – Bessie Smith – Cuney

BessieSmith2Waring Cuney was a poet of the Harlem Renaissance – his poem “No Images” was later turned into a song by Nina Simone. In this quatrain he refers to the tragic ending of another famous African-American jazz singer, Bessie Smith. Bessie Smith died of her injuries after a gruesome traffic accident in the rural South in 1937. It was widely reported that she died after being refused treatment at a nearby whites-only hospital and this is likely the version of the story Mr. Cuney knew. Witnesses interviewed many years later reported that this was not true. As an African-American, she would never have been taken to a white hospital: she died of her injuries after waiting over an hour for an ambulance from a black hospital. Either way, Mr. Cuney’s question follows us, as relevant as ever. Drawing (in on paper) and composition by me.

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