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5 Jazz Women We Love

1. Bessie Smith, “I Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl”

Islamic law treats women as objects of fear and contempt; the very idea that a woman must cover herself before venturing outside rests on the assumption that it is not the responsibility of men to control themselves, but of women to make sure they are not tempted: female beauty and attractiveness, the very nexus of life, is treated as something to be despised, denied, and shunned. And female genital mutilation, which is justified by statements of Muhammad and the edicts of numerous Muslim clerics, is designed to decrease female sexual pleasure, so that women will be more easily controlled.

It is a vision of the female that is, in a word, monstrous. And the monsters fear nothing more than a woman like Bessie Smith, with her cheerful, wry, untroubled, and unapologetic sexuality. To Islamic supremacists, there is no distinction between female sexuality and desire and the breakdown of family and society. But Bessie Smith’s song here, with its playful innuendos, is not a paean to promiscuity; it is just a bit of harmless fun. As the Ayatollah Khomeini said, “There is no fun in Islam.”