Song 9 – Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl

SONG: Need a Little Sugar in my Bowl

ARTIST: Bessie Smith

YEAR: 1931

Listen to it here: 


Need a Little Sugar in my Bowl is part of a sub-genre called “dirty blues”, which is exactly what you’d think: songs that discuss obscene or taboo subjects. I have to say, the lyrics to this one did catch me by surprise, especially the none-too-subtle “I need a little sugar in my bowl/ I need a little hot dog on my roll”! Wait, was this really released in 1931???

There is very little written about the history of this song, but it looks to have been written in 1931 by Clarence Williams, Dally Small, and J. Tim Brymn. Smith’s recording of it is the first, but this song became much more popular upon Nina Simone’s recording of I Want a Little Sugar in my Bowl. 


This is Bessie’s second time appearing on our blog. If you want more information on her, please see blog post #2: St Louis Blues.


Very little is known about this song and its origins, and because of this, there really aren’t many factoids available. The one thing that is interesting, though it may just be a typo, is the original manuscript for the song is dated 1932, but Bessie recorded it in 1931!


Ooooo how I love a good double entendre!  And what better than a musical double entendre?  “Need a little sugar in my bowl” is a great way to describe needing that itch scratched (girl, we’ve all been there).   Anyway, Bessie is such a great, strong vocalist and I think the piano only accompaniment is ideal here – makes me think of them performing this in some smoky dive bar and Bessie is standing is leaning against the tinny, slightly out of tune and very battered upright piano with a cigarette hanging from her fingers.  I think the whole thing is a great snapshot of 1931, and probably helped people smile as the Great Depression continued on.


Oh, Bessie! I’m so glad there’s another Bessie Smith recording on this list, because this one does a way better job of portraying Bessie Smith as a singer. She has the exact perfect voice for this dirty, innuendo-filled blues song! It’s so weird that it’s countered by this prim and proper piano playing, though. I have to say, I find this song way dirtier than the overtly sexual songs that are on the top 40s today. This song thoroughly entertained me. 

Average mark out of 10:

Holly: 8/10

Kelly: 8/10

Other notable versions of this song:

Nina Simone performed her own version, with a new verse and some melodic changes:

Christina Aguilera performed this live at the New Orleans Blues Fest. For real.

Listen with us!

Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist:

Link to the Best of the Best 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist:

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