Clara Smith was born in
in 1894. In her youth she worked on African American theater circuits and tent shows. By
the late 1910s she was appearing as a headliner at the Lyric Theater in Spartanburg
County, South Carolina and on the
T.O.B.A. circuit. New
In 1923 she settled in
appearing at cabarets and speakeasies there; that same year she made the first
of her commercially successful series of gramophone recordings for Columbia
Records, for whom she would continue recording through to 1932. She cut 122
songs often with the backing of top musicians (especially after 1925) including
Louis Armstrong, Charlie Green, Joe Smith, Freddy Jenkins, Fletcher Henderson
and James P. Johnson (in 1929). Plus she recorded two vocal duets with Bessie
Smith, and four with Lonnie Johnson.
The comparisons with near namesake Bessie Smith were inevitable. Clara Smith was on the whole less fortunate than Bessie in her accompanists, and her voice was less imposing but, to some tastes, prettier, and many of her songs were interesting (and she was the second best seller on
14000-D series, behind Bessie Smith).
In 1933 she moved to
, and worked at theaters there
until her hospitalization in early 1935 for heart disease, of which she died. Detroit,
Clara Smith v / Elmer Chambers c / Teddy Nixon tb / Don Redman cl / Fletcher Henderson p / Charlie Dixon bj.
Recorded in New York on January 31, 1924.
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