Tax Day gives a lot of us the blues – which, as it turns out, actually kind of works. April 15th is the birthday of one of the greatest singers of all time: the Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith. As for taxes, we have some news you can use – at least if you’re an unsavory character. According to US tax law, stolen property must be reported as income.
It’s True: You Must Report Income from Thievery on Your Tax Form (Tax Foundation)
Perhaps life is feeling a little weird for some of us on this April 15th, Tax Day. Maybe it would help to remember that this is also the birthday of one of the greatest singers of all time, the Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith.
At least on paper, she was born on this day in 1894. As a child she entered and won vaudeville competitions, and was already touring and performing in her teens. Her first hit was “Down Hearted Blues” in 1923. It was a song that had already been a hit for others, but then from the start Bessie Smith could get inside a song in a special way. As the woman who wrote the lyrics for “Downhearted Blues” said of Smith, “There was a misery in what she did… It was as though there was something she had to get out, something she just had to bring to the fore.”
And she brought it, with hit after hit, from At one time Bessie Smith was the highest paid black entertainer in the United States.
And her personality was as big as her voice. She said and did as she pleased in a time when women of color were hardly supposed to do that. And if you didn’t like it, you’d have to answer to her. Once some Klan members tried to stop a Bessie Smith performance in North Carolina. The stagehands were too scared to confront the men, so she ran them off herself, shouting “You just pick up them sheets and run” until they did exactly that.
The Bessie Smith Cultural Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee is having a special birthday celebration in honor of the Empress today.
Meanwhile, some news you hopefully won’t have to use on Tax Day. According to US tax law, stolen property must be reported as income. In the 1920s a liquor bootlegger faced a tax evasion charge because he hadn’t reported his illegal liquor profits on his tax return. He argued including the money on his taxes would basically be self-incrimination, but the US Supreme Court ruled, essentially, income is income. There IRS even wrote guidelines that point out that if you don’t want to pay tax on stolen property, you could always, you know, return it to its original owner.
Portrait of Bessie Smith by Carl Van Vechten, 1880-1964, photographer. American Memory from the Library of Congress, Public Domain, via Wikicommons