In 1929 Bessie Smith learned of her husband’s affair with another singer, and she decided to end their relationship, although neither of them ever sought a divorce.
The other woman was Gertrude Saunders, who remained infamously known for that affair with Jack Gee.
Gee had proposed to set up a new show for his wife Bessie, and she had givem him three thousand dollars to begin production while she was on tour. Gee threw together a very cheap production for Bessie and used the remainder of the money to set up a show for the woman he’d been having an affair with: Gertrude Saunders, a pretty actress and a moderately successful blues singer.
She was the antithesis of Bessie Smith, their personalities and looks contrasted sharply: Gertrude’s complexion was light, her hair long and her character gentle. She was also slim and younger than Bessie. The artistic gap that separated the two was equally wide, since Gertrude Saunders relied more on her looks than on her voice.
This last betrayal ended Smith and Gee’s marriage. A few months later, Bessie Smith recorded her hit, “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” whose lyrics seemed to parallel her life.