Tag Archives: Smithsonian

MISS HUNTER’S LESSONS

I had originally planned to post two versions of NOBODY KNOWS YOU WHEN YOU’RE DOWN AND OUT — written six years before the stock market crash of 1929 — by Bessie Smith and Eddie Condon, when I came across this version by Alberta Hunter, in her November 1981 performance at the Smithsonian.  Miss Hunter (it feels disrespectful to write about her in any other way) was in her eighties, and was accompanied by Gerald Cook, piano; Al Hall, string bass.  

In this song, Miss Hunter teaches a vital lesson about independence, self-worth, and self-trust.  She is not only a magnificent singer but a wondrous sage, her brief episode suffused with its own majesty, a violence held back and controlled and thus, to me, even more powerful.  The emotions I feel, coming through this song, are her disappointment, regret, even fury — but Miss Hunter tells us to use her experiences to protect ourselves and to transcend the wounds.  I celebrate her wisdom: pain can be made into art and in that way, pain is more than itself.  

May your happiness increase!