10 Famous People Buried in Unmarked Graves

Bessie Smith
A photo of Bessie Smith singing in her heyday, in the 1920s. Gilles Petard/Redferns

Some of you may not know who famed blues singer Bessie Smith was, but Janis Joplin sure did. A prominent vaudeville blues vocalist during the early 1920s, Smith was a born entertainer who recorded with legends like Louis Armstrong and Charlie Green [source: PBS]. Her career stalled in large part due to her ongoing bout with alcoholism, but she seemed on the verge of a major comeback when she was killed in a car crash in 1937.

Smith's funeral was attended by thousands of adoring fans. But her grave got no headstone. "Rumor has it that the reason was her husband did not want to spend the money," explains Steve Salter, president of Killer Blues Headstone Project.Killer Blues Headstone Project "It wasn't because she died penniless."

Decades later, she'd earn the love of another famous, but troubled female artist. Janis Joplin, one of the most important female singers of the 1960s, found Smith's brand of blues to be so inspiring that she commissioned a headstone in 1970 for the unmarked grave. Sadly, Joplin died shortly thereafter of a heroin overdose [source: History].