It's Tight Like That
Audio Tour: Clara Smith
Clara Smith was known as "the Queen of the Moaners." Smith was one of the best-known female blues singers of the 1920s, moaning her way through "I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down," "Awful Moanin’ Blues," "Kitchen Mechanic Blues," "I’m Tired of Flattenin’ Frogs for Snakes," "Hot Papa" and 117 other songs that she recorded for Columbia Records.
Smith was born in Spartanburg in 1894, to a family that lived in the Highlands area off West Henry Street. She spent much of her early life in Spartanburg, but in her early 20s she struck out on the vaudeville circuit. In 1923, she settled in Harlem, working in local cabarets and theaters. That same year, Smith cut her first song for Columbia.
She worked with some of the greatest names in blues and jazz, including Louis Armstrong, Lonnie Johnson and Fletcher Henderson. She also recorded a pair of duets with her blues contemporary, Bessie Smith. Although she stopped recording in 1932, Smith continued to perform until shortly before her death from heart disease in 1935.
—Peter Cooper, author, professor, award-winning journalist, and Grammy-nominated artist
—Steve Shanafelt, freelance journalist, editor and music writer
She was billed as the "Queen of the Moaners" even though she had a lighter and sweeter voice than many of her contemporaries.