Diamond Teeth Mary McClain

Listen to “Walkin’ Blues”

“Diamond Teeth”
  Mary McClain

1902-2000, Huntington, Cabell County

Mary Smith McClain, known through her career as “Walking Mary” and later “Diamond Teeth Mary,” was a blues singer and entertainer. The sister of legendary singer Bessie Smith, she spent the 1920s and 1930s performing in a variety of medicine and minstrel shows. She toured with the USO and sang at the Apollo Theater, The Cotton Club, and at the White House, where her show-stopping charisma received standing ovations.

She shared bills from Boston to Miami with her sister Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Big Mama Thornton, Ray Charles, Charlie Parker, Nat King Cole, Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Levon Helm mentions seeing her perform at a medicine show in the 1940s in his biography, and refers to her as “The Lady With the Million Dollar Smile” in The Band song, “W.S. Walcott’s Medicine Show.”

She continued to perform until her death at the age of 97, appearing at blues festivals with the likes of Derek Trucks, Robert Cray, and Jeff Healey.