Bessie Smith was not only the ""empress"" of those sorrowful blues -- she was also a lot of woman, rude, irresponsible, passionate, generous, high living and sometimes fighting mad. This is her story from the known facts, amplified by the testimony of those who knew her best -- in particular her niece, and traveling back to her almost unverifiable beginnings in Chattanooga to her misrepresented death ""killed by Southern prejudice"" (denied hospital admission?) after a road accident. In between there's a show by recording session chronology of her career from the time when she made a relatively quick success; her wrangling marriage to Jack Gee; her homosexuality; her steady hard drinking matched only by her hard mouth; the memorable discs with Louis Armstrong; the equally memorable exchange with Carl Van Vechten who offered her a dry martini -- ""I don't know about no dry martinis, nor wet ones either."" Bessie Smith lived in style and made her grand exit in two-toned pink velvet and a gold and silver coffin to an unmarked grave. Perhaps it doesn't matter since the greatest blues singer of all time has never really died even if this is the first attempt to tell her whole story as it was, as she was.