Rita Houston

There's a world of music you enter when you open the Bessie Smith door. A fierce, independent artist before those labels were so commonly applied, she was a huge talent in her day and her ongoing impact is undisputed. This playlist showcases some of Smith's best songs, as well as songs from the musical world she moved through and helped to create, including her influences (like her mentor Ma Rainey) and her inheritors (like Janis Joplin, who once said, "Bessie made me want to sing").

Son Little clearly studies, respects and loves the music that came before him. What happens next, though, is what makes him so appealing. Aaron Livingston made his name as a collaborator with The Roots and RJD2, each of whom helped him develop a sound that touches on soul, blues, hip-hop and reggae. Samples, fuzzy guitar and simple drums work together to create an undeniable groove, and as a songwriter, he can really tell a story.