Lincoln Memorial Park Carson, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Lucille Bogan (April 1, 1897 – August 10, 1948) was an American classic female blues singer and songwriter, among the first to be recorded. She also recorded under the pseudonym Bessie Jackson. Music critic Ernest Borneman noted that Bogan was one of "the big three of the blues", along with Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. Many of Bogan's songs have been recorded by later blues and jazz musicians.
Many of her songs were sexually explicit, and she was generally considered to have been a dirty blues musician. “Comin’ a time, B.D. women they ain’t going to need no men,” sang Lucille Bogan in 1935. B.D. was short for bulldagger, the black slang term for a butch lesbian. And yet, hardly an eyelash was batted. Not only was “B.D. Woman Blues” tamer than many Lucille Bogan songs, but by that point lesbianism was old news in blues circles. Back in 1928, Ma Rainey had beaten her to the punch with a song called “Prove It On Me”.
She was born Lucille Anderson in Amory, Mississippi, and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. In 1914, she married Nazareth Lee Bogan, a railwayman, and gave birth to a son, Nazareth Jr., in either 1915 or 1916. She later divorced Bogan and married James Spencer, who was 22 years younger than she.
She first recorded vaudeville songs for Okeh Records in New York in 1923, with the pianist Henry Callens. Later that year she recorded "Pawn Shop Blues" in Atlanta, Georgia; this was the first time a black blues singer had been recorded outside New York or Chicago. In 1927 she began recording for Paramount Records in Grafton, Wisconsin, where she recorded her first big success, "Sweet Petunia", which was covered by Blind Blake. She also recorded for Brunswick Records, backed by Tampa Red.
By 1930 her songs tended to concern drinking and sex, such as "Sloppy Drunk Blues" (covered by Leroy Carr and others) and "Tricks Ain't Walkin' No More" (later recorded by Memphis Minnie). She also recorded the original version of "Black Angel Blues", which (as "Sweet Little Angel") was covered by B. B. King and many others. With her experience in some of the rowdier juke joints of the 1920s, many of Bogan's songs, most of which she wrote herself, have thinly veiled humorous sexual references. The theme of prostitution, in particular, featured prominently in several of her recordings. One of these was "Groceries on the Shelf (Piggly Wiggly)", which was originally written and recorded by Charlie "Specks" McFadden. Piggly Wiggly is the name of a successful American supermarket chain, operating in the South and the Midwest, which first opened in 1916. Bogan used the self-service notion in her amended lyrics to the song, part of which ran, "My name is Piggly Wiggly and I swear you can help yourself, And you've got to have your greenback, and it don't take nothin' else".
In 1933, she returned to New York, and, apparently to conceal her identity, began recording as Bessie Jackson for the Banner label of ARC. She was usually accompanied on piano by Walter Roland, with whom she recorded over 100 songs between 1933 and 1935, including some of her biggest commercial successes, "Seaboard Blues", "Troubled Mind", and "Superstitious Blues". Her other songs include "Stew Meat Blues", "Coffee Grindin' Blues", "My Georgia Grind", "Honeycomb Man", "Mr. Screw Worm in Trouble", and "Bo Hog Blues".
Her final recordings with Roland and Josh White include two takes of "Shave 'Em Dry", recorded in New York on Tuesday, March 5, 1935. The unexpurgated alternate take is notorious for its explicit sexual references, a unique record of the lyrics sung in after-hours adult clubs. According to Keith Briggs' liner notes for Document Records Complete Recordings, these were recorded either for the fun of the recording engineers, or for "clandestine distribution as a 'Party Record.'" Briggs notes that Bogan seems to be unfamiliar with the lyrics, reading them as she sings them, potentially surprised by them herself. Another of her songs, "B.D. Woman's Blues", takes the position of a "bull dyke" ("B.D."), with the lyrics "Comin' a time, B.D. women, they ain't gonna need no men", "They got a head like a sweet angel and they walk just like a natural man" and "They can lay their jive just like a natural man".
She appears not to have recorded after 1935. She managed her son's jazz group, Bogan's Birmingham Busters, for a time, before moving to Los Angeles shortly before her death from coronary sclerosis in 1948. She is interred at the Lincoln Memorial Park, in Compton, California.
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