Buried in History
Clara Smith was an African-American blues singer. Born in Spartanburg County, South Carolina in 1894. By the late 1910s she was appearing as a headliner at the Lyric Theatre in New Orleans, Louisiana and on the T.O.B.A (Theatre Owners Booking Association for African American performers) circuit. Often referred to as ” Tough on Black Artists” by the black performers. In 1923 she moved to Harlem where she worked in cabarets and theaters. Smith also began recording exclusively for Columbia records. She was billed as Queen of the Moaners. Taking a fancy to Josephine Baker, she insisted that the manager, Bob Russell, of the Booker T. Washington Theatre hire her. According to an associate of Russell’s, Baker became Smith’s “lady lover.” Smith also played a significant role in Baker’s career by introducing her to “black glamour.” Smith worked with first rate jazz musicians like, Fletcher Henderson, James P. Johnson, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins and Don Redman. She also recorded three duets with Bessie Smith. Though they were not related, they were close personal friends until Bessie got drunk one evening in 1925 and beat up Clara. In 1933 Clara moved to Detroit, Michigan, and worked at theaters in revues until she was hospitalized in early 1935 for heart disease. She died of heart failure at the age of 40.