Lucille Bogan aka Bessie Jackson: 1920’s-30’s Sex Worker & Singer


I just came across this 1920’s-30’s African American sex worker who was a blues singer from down South and was the first Black female to be signed outside of NYC or Chicago–then the hotspots for blues music. Born in Amory, Mississippi on April 1, 1897 as Lucille Bogan, she later anoited herself as Bessie Jackson.

Throughout the 1920’s, Bogan navigated her way through Birmingham, AL’s Black underworld during a post-Reconstruction era when many Blacks migrated from the South to the North for jobs and to escape Southern whites’ backlash. An original songwriter, she made music that was sassy and peppered with sexual references to her life as a sex worker, encounters with violent men, & her penchant for drinking–topics that were considered especially perverse for their time. Bogan boldly pioneered pro-feminist territory by not only bringing issues relevant to women to the masses through entertainment but also by using her music to cross the racial divide.

Lucille Bogan’s big break came in 1927 when she recorded her bawdy tune Sweet Petunia for Paramount Records. Through this song, she re-packaged herself not only by adopting a new musical style but also by taking the pseudonym “Bessie Jackson” and later moving to NYC where she teamed up with pianist Walter Roland and recorded nearly 100 songs within a 3 year period. Amongst the more X-rated songs that she penned is “Tricks Ain’t Walkin’ No More” about the hardship of prostituting when there was a scarcity of tricks. “B.D. Woman Blues” paid tribute to the bull dyke who was “Comin’ a time, women ain’t gonna need no men….B.D. women, they all done learned their thing. They can lay their jive just like a natural man.” If Jackson drew from her own life experiences, this song would suggest that she might be queer–or at least bisexual–and preferred butch women. She married a man and bore a son.

As America slipped into the Great Depression in the late 1920’s and 1930’s, gender anxiety became fodder for mass hysteria as Americans feared that the dire economic crisis would unleash social unrest and sexual chaos as jobs disappeared and crime rose. The decay of nuclear families, the appeal of urban living and financial independence, rapid industrialization, & the high unemployment rates further incubated the fear that women–especially Black and single women–would resort to prostitution. Films such as Susan Lenox: Her Rise & Fall (1931), Blonde Venus (1932), & Baby Face (1933) further vilified the prostitute as a woman given to loose morals, leisure, and selfishness and orchestrated her inevitable downfall as male economic dominance and patriarchy were restored. The fear of prostitution subsided once the New Deal brokered a welfare system that addressed the needs of women and families by reaffirming men as heads of households.

Given this social & political climate and perhaps Bessie Jackson’s unwillingness to distance herself from her sex worker history and write rated PG-13 songs, doors that might have been open to her might have otherwise been closed–a situation that was further exacerbated by career barriers posed by racial prejudice. Jackson’s musical career ended in 1935 and she then shifted her attention to managing her son’s jazz band. She moved to Los Angeles in the mid to late 1930’s. It’s unclear if her death on August 10, 1948 was the result of coronary sclerosis or if it was from a car accident.


Tricks ‘Ain’t Walkin’ No More

Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down, I can’t make my livin’ around this town.
‘Cause tricks ain’t walkin’, tricks ain’t walkin’ no more.
I said, “Tricks ain’t walkin’ no more, tricks ain’t walkin’ no more.”
And I got to make my livin’, don’t care where I go.

I need shoes on my feet, clothes on my back,
get tired of walkin’ these streets, all dressed in black.
But tricks ain’t walkin’, tricks ain’t walkin’ no more.
I said, “Tricks ain’t walkin’ no more, tricks ain’t walkin’ no more.”
And I get four or five good tricks standin’ in front of my door.

Please have mercy, bad luck is on my head, four or five good tricks is all the money I need.
But tricks ain’t walkin’, tricks ain’t walkin’ no more.
I said, “Tricks ain’t walkin’ no more, tricks ain’t walkin’ no more.”
And I can’t get a break don’t care where I go.

I got a store on the corner, sell this stuff cheap.
I got a market across the street, where I sell my meat.
But tricks ain’t walkin’, tricks ain’t walkin’ no more.
I said, “Tricks ain’t walkin’ no more, tricks ain’t walkin’ no more.”
And I can’t get a break, don’t care where I go.

This way of livin’, sure is hard, duckin’ and dodgin’ the Cadillac-Ford.
But tricks ain’t walkin’, tricks ain’t walkin’ no more.
I said, “Tricks ain’t walkin’ no more, tricks ain’t walkin’ no more.”
And if you think I’m lyin’, follow me to my door.

—————-

QUESTIONS FOR READERS: 

for sex workers (current or former):  What non-sex work jobs do you do in addition to sex work?  Are you out as a sex worker at your non-sex work job?  How do you juggle two jobs?

for non- sex workers:  Have you ever worked alongside a co-worker who is/was an out sex worker?  How did sex work effect his/her ability to perform the non-sex work job?

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Comments
7 Responses to “Lucille Bogan aka Bessie Jackson: 1920’s-30’s Sex Worker & Singer”
  1. Davina says:

    Thanks for this post! Very informative and interesting. I had never heard of Lucille Bogan aka Bessie Jackson before and I’m glad that I came across your blog as I find her intriguing and plan to do more research on her. “Tricks Ain’t Walkin’ No More” couldn’t be more true in this day and age as they ain’t really walkin’ no more…they’re using the internet. And according to many escorts, business is slow and business is becomingly increasing hard for having to dodge the ‘Cadillac-Ford’ (law enforcement). And in “B.D. Blues, I do see that the ladies are turning to other women for their sexual gratification. Great post!

  2. Stripper X says:

    Hi there, we wrote/spoke briefly a while back and I just wanted to commend you further by giving you the TMI award…given to those who share provocative, interesting and embarrassing moments of their lives. It’s a different context in your case, you’re sharing information that people don’t know about or don’t want to know about. But I honestly feel that your efforts are tremendous, so keep up the good work. Congratulations! Enjoy…it’s done a pretty decent job of getting more attention for my blog and I hope it does the same for you.

    http://thesouthernstrip.com/2012/03/30/my-first-blog-award/

    • Congrats on being awarded yourself–we need to hear more stories from sex workers! Thanks for considering the LTP blog for the TMI Award! I hope that other strippers + sex workers find this site helpful as a resource to learn about their labor rights & what other sex workers are experiencing. It’s difficult to talk about these issues at work & with co-workers because the fear of being fired &/or ratted out by the other dancers for learning the truth & legality of the club’s practices put women at risk. But I think we’re at a golden moment where more & more, sex workers are going public with what’s happening inside the clubs & as a result of the conditions.

      Looking forward to to reading more of your posts & checking out the other blogs you nominated. XXO

  3. Elena says:

    This story was absolutely awesome! I never heard of Bessie. I think she would have been great in our time. Love her music. Glad I stumbled on this.

  4. BadBi says:

    ” this song would suggest that she might be queer–or at least bisexual”
    Please stop saying things like this. Bisexuals are not lesser to anyone and are not half-gay.

    Great post otherwise. Thanks! 🙂

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