Mamie Smith was the first to record blues songs in 1920 with her versions of Perry Bradford’s “Crazy Blues”, and “It’ s Right Here for You” on Okeh Records. The record was a wild success, selling over a million copies in less than a year, and finally ending up selling over two million copies.
After this it dawned on record companies that there was a lot of money to be made selling what was then called “race records” to various minority groups in big cities. The success of “Crazy Blues” prompted other record companies to also try to find other female blues singers that could match the sales of “Crazy Blues”.
Crazy Blues was a very important record, because it opened the doors of the recording industry to African-Americans, whether they were Blues, Jazz or popular singers or musicians.
Smith herself really wasn’t that much of a Blues singer. She was more of a vaudeville performer, although she included Blues and Jazz numbers as part of her act. She got her start as a dancer at age ten in the vaudeville act the Four Dancing Mitchells and later toured with them as part of the Salem Tutt Whitney and Homer Tutt’s show, “The Smart Set”.
Mamie moved to New York in 1913 with “The Smart Set” and decided that she wanted to stay and quit the show. She strated performing as a singer in Harlem at venues such as Baron Wilkin’s Little Savoy Club, Leroy’s, Edmunds, Percy Brown’s and Banks’ Place. Her first recordings were made in early 1920. They were a couple of pop songs “That Thing Called Love” and “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down”.