1. Gimmie a ReeferSeminal blues singer Besse Smith was "a living symbol of personal freedom" and "smoked 'reefers' throughout her career." (Buzzy Jackson, A Bad Woman Feeling Good.) In 1933 she recorded the Kid Wilson song "Gimme a Pigfoot" and in the last verse she belts out, "Gimme a Reefer," as only Bessie could.
2. Sweet Marihuana
Written by Arthur Johnston and Sam Conslow, this classic was originally sung by Gertrude Michael in the 1934 movie "Murder at the Vanities" in an elaborate dance number. Later, the lyric was often changed to "Sweet Lotus Blossom," (Julia Lee recorded it both ways in the 40s). The original lyric was brought back in the 1970s by Bette Midler, accompanied by her music director Barry Manilow on piano. She recorded it on her "Songs for a New Depression" album and performed it during her 1999 Divine Miss Millenium tour.
3. When I Get Low, I Get High
Written by vaudevillian actress and songwriter Marion Sunshine, this song was recorded in 1936 by Ella Fitzgerald, whose musical phrasing on the song's title alone is a knockout (as is all of Ella's singing). A music video cover of the song by The Speakeasy Three wearing shimmering green gowns has 15 million YouTube views.
4. Why Don't You Do Right?
Originally recorded as "Weed Smoker's Dream" in 1936 by the Harlem Hamfats, the original lyrics are about a man enjoining his girlfriend to sell weed. It was recorded by the sultry soprano Lil Green in 1941, and brought success to Peggy Lee when she sang it in the 1943 film "Stage Door Canteen," in an arrangement by Very Important Pothead Benny Goodman. The song was sung by Amy Irving as Jessica Rabbit in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," and Lana Del Rey covered it during her Endless Summer Tour.
5. Roll 'em
Jazz composer and Tokin' Woman Mary Lou Williams wrote this tune for Goodman's 1937 album "When Buddha Smiles." Williams "found marijuana calming, useful for reflecting and relaxing at times" and liked to smoke backstage with Billie Holiday.
6. If You're a Viper
This Stuff Smith song made famous by Fats Waller in 1943 was recorded by blues singer Rosetta Howard with the Hamfats in 1937. A "viper" was slang for a marijuana smoker, as chronicled by VIP Mezz Mezzrow in Really the Blues.
7. Jack I'm Mellow
Blues singer and actress Trixie Smith recorded this Gundy & House tune in 1938 with Sidney Bechet on soprano sax. Smith also recorded under the name Trixie Smith and her Down Home Syncopators, which was often Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra (where Louis Armstrong got turned on). In 2017, "Jack I'm Mellow" became the theme song for the comedy series Disjointed with Kathy Bates.
8. Knock Myself Out
In 1937, the hammer came down on gage, and this tune from 1941, recorded by Lil Green, takes a more moralistic tone than earlier, more celebratory recordings. After Peggy Lee's more uptempo, sweetened up version of "Do Right" eclipsed her own, Green tried to re-invent herself in a Billie Holiday style. She was signed by Atlantic Records in 1951 but died of pneumonia, at the (estimated) age of 35, three years later.
British jazz singer Annie Ross penned the lyrics to "Twisted" in the bohemian year of 1952, and liked blowing gage with Sarah Vaughan. Ross dated Lenny Bruce and is shown here singing her song on Hugh Hefner's swingin' TV show. Joni Mitchell put the song on her "Court and Spark" album, complete with a cameo from Cheech & Chong).
10. Tea for Two
Jazz singer and convicted marijuana smoker Anita O'Day caused a sensation when she scatted her way through this classic at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958, dressed like she was going to a tea party. As "tea" was slang for marijuana, one wonders what kind she was drinking. "You can swing, you'd better come with us," Goodman's drummer Gene Krupa told her when he asked her to join his band. He was so right.
Also see: Top 10 Rock & Reggae Marijuana Songs By Women