By: Autumn Johnson

The Blues is a genre of nonreligious folk music, created by African Americans, where singers express their feelings and emotions. Black women within the Blues genre are continuously inspiring each other and connecting with their audiences because of all of the pain Black women go through in America. Ma Rainey was a blues singer that got people intrigued because of her appearance and the passion and power behind her voice when she sung bold and risqué lyrics. She mentored Bessie Smith, also known as “The Empress of the Blues”. Bessie Smith was the highest paid African American artist working in music and the first African American superstar. She was very popular because her music was relatable and talked about her personal experiences with love, poverty, racism, and sexism. These hardships were known to many Black women in America, and the attitude she had to express those feelings is what made the audience love her.

Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thorton

Both Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith influenced Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton. Willie Mae was born on December 11, 1926, in Ariton, Alabama. She got the name “Big Mama” because of her size and her powerful voice. Willie Mae is not as known as Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith because she did not get the recognition she deserved, similarly to what happens to a lot of Black women that do something successful. In 1952, she recorded a 12-bar song called “Hound Dog” that was later changed for white audiences and performed by Elvis Presley, who earned fame and gained a profit from it. Although she was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame, she was financially exploited and never given what she deserved while she was alive.

Works Cited:

  • Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Blues”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 28 Jul. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/art/blues-music. Accessed 25 March 2021.
  • Mahon, Maureen. “How Bessie Smith Influenced A Century Of Popular Music.” NPR, NPR, 5 Aug. 2019, www.npr.org/2019/08/05/747738120/how-bessie-smith-influenced-a-century-of-popular-music.

  • Riggio, Olivia. “Women’s History Month Profiles: Willie Mae ‘Big Mama’ Thornton, Blues Musician.” DiversityInc, 1 Mar. 2021, www.diversityinc.com/black-history-month-profiles-willie-mae-big-mama-thornton-blues-musician/.

  • Russonello, Giovanni. “Overlooked No More: Ma Rainey, the ‘Mother of the Blues’.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 June 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/06/12/obituaries/ma-rainey-overlooked.html.