Chris Albertson, biographer of Bessie Smith, was found dead in his Manhattan home on April 24. He was 87. Born in Reykjavik, Iceland, he discovered the music of Bessie Smith as a teenager living in Copenhagen and pursued his interest over a lifetime. His landmark achievements were a reissue of her complete recordings and the definitive biography of her life.
In 1957 he emigrated to the United States where he became a producer for Riverside Records, recording the final sessions of Ida Cox, and Meade Lux Lewis. He oversaw many famous blues and jazz artists for the labels “Living Legends” series, and subsequently while working as a producer for Prestige Records. He helped bring Lonnie Johnson back from obscurity. He also worked on and off in radio throughout his life and wrote liner notes and reviews for various music magazines, including 28 years as a contributing editor for Stereo Review. he Hosted the Jazz Set program on public television and produced several jazz-related documentaries.
He spent years in communication with John Hammond, who had overseen Bessie Smith’s brief 1930s career revival and her final recordings. When Hammond agreed to a reissue set he named Albertson producer on the project. Between 1970 and 1972 five two-LP sets were released containing all 159 of Smith’s recordings. The first of the sets won Albertson a Grammy for best liner notes.
The popularity of the sets drew national attention to the singer and Albertson was commissioned to write her biography. Bessie, published in 1972 and revised in 2003, set out to dispel the many myths about her, some of which that had been intentionally spread by John Hammond. It is considered one of the best jazz biographies of its kind.