To say that Bogan was ahead of her time is a tremendous understatement. Given the adversity she must have encountered in a conservative culture rife with sexism and racism, her ground-breaking achievements are proof that she was an unstoppable force. Not only was Lucille Bogan (nee Anderson) among one of the first singer-songwriters to be recorded, she was also the first African American blues singer to be recorded outside of Chicago or New York. She is remembered for her sexually explicit lyrical content, which could be considered progressive (some might claim offensive) even by today’s standards.
Born in Armory, Mississippi and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, she married a railwayman by the name of Nazareth Lee Bogan, in 1914. Soon after they had a son, who they named Nazareth Jr. She would later remarry James Spencer, a man 22 years her junior, proving once again that she would not be confined to the customs of a more traditional time.
Between 1923 and 1927, she had recorded in Atlanta, New York, and Wisconsin for record labels such as Brunswick, Okeh and Paramount. She wrote the majority of her own songs, some of which were covered by Blind Blake (“Sweet Petunia”), B.B. King, and Leroy Carr. Bogan was often accompanied by Walter Roland on piano, and together the duo recorded some 100 songs in the span of two years.
By 1933, she began recording in New York, under the pseudonym of Bessie Jackson. While most blues artists used pseudonyms to evade record label restrictions that prevented them from releasing music elsewhere, Bogan appeared to have made the transition in an effort to conceal her identity. Perhaps she was hoping to move away from a persona built around such lyrical themes as drinking, prostitution, and infidelity.
Bogan returned to the studio in March of 1935, to record the final tracks for her album “Shave ‘Em Dry”. There are supposedly two versions of this recording – the “clean” version, and the uncensored (see below for your aural pleasure). Needless to say, many of the more explicit recordings were never plaid on radio, but could be heard during her live performances.
With a successful recording career behind her, her energies were devoted to managing her son’s jazz band, Bogan’s Birmingham Busters. She moved to Los Angeles in the late 1930s or early 1940s, where she resided for a brief time before succumbing to coronary sclerosis at the age of 51. She is interred at Lincoln Memorial Park in Compton, CA. Bogan’s vibrant spirit lives on in her colorful music, with such lyrics as those found in the track “Till’ the Cows Come Home”:
I got a man I love
I got a man I like
Every time I fuck them mens
I give ’em the doggone clap
Give ’em the doggone clap
But that’s the kind of pussy that they really like
I told him I gotta good cock
And it’s got four damn good names
Cock without a bone
You can fuck my cock
Suck my cock
Or leave my cock alone
Honey, I piss all night long
You can fuck my cock or suck my cock
Baby, until the cows come home…
Till The Cows Come Home
Shave ‘Em Dry