Bessie Smith Cultural Center in Chattanooga, TN.

By Leona Dunn

NASHVILLE, TN — Tennesseans know Memphis as the home of the blues, but Chattanooga gave birth to one of the genres biggest stars. 

Bessie Smith, known as the ‘Empress of Blues’, was known worldwide because of her remarkable showmanship and voice.

Now her legacy is spread throughout her hometown by the Bessie Smith Cultural Center. 

The Center recently re-opened to invite the public back into its space.

The Chattanooga African American History Museum was initially founded in 1983. The purpose back then was to fill in the gaps traditional K-12 education left when it came to teaching about how African American people contributed to society. 

When the museum transitioned into a new building in 1996, it added Bessie Smith’s name to a performance hall that

Bessie Smith

generated lots of community buzz. So much buzz that her name couldn’t just stay inside of the building. In 2009, the museum was renamed after the childhood Chattanooga star. 

And the performance hall still holds its reputation as one of the hot spots to host a community event. 

“The mission of the Bessie Smith Cultural center is to preserve and celebrate African American History and culture in Chattanooga through art, education, research, and entertainment.”

According to the center, Smith left Chattanooga in 1912 to dance and sing with other great blues musicians, like Ma Rainey, before venturing out on her own. 

As versatile as the museum, Smith transitioned from blues, to jazz, to swing, before a fatal car accident ended her life in 1937.

The cultural center takes you on an adventure through Smith’s life as well as other African Americans that helped the city of Chattanooga become what it is today.

Due to Covid-19, the museum strongly encourages unvaccinated people to mask up. They also ask for cashless transactions but can accommodate those with cash only sales. 

If you are from the city of Chattanooga, like many other businesses, the cultural center is hiring! They have job, volunteer, and internship opportunities available now. 

Located right off of I-29 on the corner of Houston and Martin Luther King Boulevard, the Center provides free parking and group rates.

Their new hours are 10am -5pm, Tuesday through Saturday. 

The center continues the legacy the initial museum was founded on, at a time where lawmakers debate what should be taught in our classrooms, regarding our country’s history with race. The cultural center stays a community staple giving Tennesseans the opportunity to come by and educate themselves. 

It’s an experience you won’t find anywhere else as Tennesseans decide to get back on the road again. 

For more information or to visit the Bessie Smith Cultural Center you visit the website here.