This relates to a previous post wherein I include a segment from my Bessie Smith biography that describes a party that Bessie and Ruby attended at Car Van Vechten's midtown apartment. You can read that post here: Ruby and Bessie Meet Carlo, so I won't repeat that, but here is that party described by Ruby in the series of interviews I did for the book, forty years ago. It is one of four recollections that I studied and from which I pieced together my own account of that festive, surprise-filled April evening in 1928.
Before you listen to Ruby's account, read Van Vechten's own description of Bessie's appearance, which is taken from a 1947 issue of Jazz Record magazine and, understandably, leaves out a few details:
George Gershwin was there and Marguerite d’Alvarez and Constance Collier, possibly Adele Astaire. The drawing room was well filled with sophisticated listeners. Before she could sing, Bessie wanted a drink. She asked for a glass of straight gin, and with one gulp she downed a glass holding nearly a pint. Then, with a burning cigarette depending from one corner of her mouth, she got down to the blues, really down to ‘em, with Porter at the piano. I am quite certain that anybody who was present that night will never forget it. This was no actress, no imitator of a woman’s woes; there was no pretense. It was the real thing—a woman cutting her heart open with a knife until it was exposed for us all to see, so that we suffered as she suffered, exposed with a rhythmic ferocity, indeed, which could hardly be borne. In my own experience, this was Bessie Smith’s greatest performance.
Here's how Ruby remembered the Van Vechten party.