Lucille Bogan was one of the earliest American blues singers to be recorded, and is remembered for her very risqué lyrics. She sang straight-talking blues about drinking ("Sloppy Drunk Blues"), prostitution ("Tricks Ain't Walking No More"), lesbianism ("B.D. Woman's Blues"), gambling, and other facets of what her generation called "the life." She also recorded under the pseudonym Bessie Jackson.
Born Lucille Anderson in Amory, Mississippi, in Monroe County, on April 1, 1897, she was raised in Birmingham, Alabama, where she married Nazareth Lee Bogan, a railwayman, and gave birth to a son, also called Nazareth Lee, in 1916. She had also gained a stepdaughter through her marriage.
Bogan was the aunt of pianist and trumpet-player Thomas "Big Music" Anderson, and is considered to have had one of the finest voices of any female blues singer. Her early work was influenced by vaudeville stylists, but with age and experience her voice deepened and her expression matured. Jazz critic and sexologist Ernest Borneman grouped her with Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith in "the big three of the blues."
Lucille Bogan's first recordings were vaudeville songs made in 1923 in New York City for OKeh Records, where she was accompanied by pianist Henry C. Callens. Later that year she recorded "Pawn Shop Blues," backed by Eddie Heywood on piano, in Atlanta, Georgia, which was the first time a black blues singer had been recorded outside New York or Chicago.
In 1927 Bogan began recording for Paramount Records in Chicago, where she waxed her first big success, "Sweet Petunia," which was later adapted by Vance Dixon with Alex Channey, Blind Blake, Curley Weaver, and others in support.
Lucille Bogan had a very colorful love life, with both men and women. She was rumored to have had an affair with pianist Will Ezell, who had accompanied her for Paramount in a session that also featured Papa Charlie Jackson, resulting in divorce proceedings that were initiated, but never finalized, by her husband.
In 1928 Bogan recorded for Brunswick Records, backed by Tampa Red and Cow Cow Davenport. Further influential recordings followed, including "Sloppy Drunk Blues" and "Alley Boogie." Her songs were covered extensively by blues artists such as Bumble Bee Slim, Leroy Carr, Jimmy Rogers and Sonny Boy Williamson.
By 1930 Lucille Bogan's recordings had begun to concentrate on drinking and sex, with songs such as "Sloppy Drunk Blues" (covered by Leroy Carr and others) and "Tricks Ain't Walkin' No More" (later recorded by Memphis Minnie). She also recorded the original version of "Black Angel Blues," which, as "Sweet Little Angel," was covered by Earl Hooker, B.B. King, Robert Nighthawk, Pinetop Perkins, Tampa Red, and many others, and was reworked as the more subtle "Love 'n' Things" by Lowell Fulson.
Trained in the rowdier juke joints of the 1920s, many of Bogan's songs, most of which she wrote herself, have thinly-veiled humorous sexual references with outspoken lyrics that dealt with sexuality in a manner that raised eyebrows. The theme of prostitution, in particular, features prominently in several of her recordings.
Between 1933 and 1935, Lucille Bogan teamed up with pianist Walter Roland, adopting the name Bessie Jackson. The duo recorded more than 100 songs for the American Record Company (ARC), including "Seaboard Blues," "Troubled Mind," "Superstitious Blues" and her infamous recording of "Shave 'Em Dry" with its explicit sexual lyrics. Walter Roland subsequently released a less successful response song, "I'm Gonna Shave You."
Bogan's other songs include "Stew Meat Blues," "Coffee Grindin' Blues," "My Georgia Grind," "Honeycomb Man," "Mr. Screw Worm In Trouble" and "Bo Hog Blues." Her final recordings with Roland and Josh White included two takes of "Shave 'Em Dry," recorded in New York on Tuesday, March 5, 1935. The unexpurgated alternate take is notorious for its explicit sexual references, a unique record of the lyrics sung in after-hours adult clubs.
Another of Lucille Bogan's songs, "B.D. Woman's Blues," takes the position of a bull dyke ('B.D.'), with the line "Comin' a time, B.D. women, they ain't gonna need no men." The music and melody of Bogan's "B.D. Woman Blues" are similar to the traditional women's blues song "I Know You Rider," although the lyrics are completely different.
Bogan's final composition, "Gonna Leave Town," was covered by Smokey Hogg in 1949.
In 1935 Lucille Bogan moved back to Alabama, still with husband Nazareth, where she managed her son’s jazz band, Bogan’s Birmingham Busters. Her marriage finally broke up in 1941 and she eventually followed her son to Los Angeles, California with her then common-law husband. She died from coronary sclerosis on August 10, 1948, aged 51. She was buried in a grave without a headstone at the Lincoln Memorial Park, Compton, Los Angeles County, California.