Ma Rainey and Blues

The Mother of Blues

Ma Rainey is known as the “Mother of Blues.” She is known for her deep voice and discussions of being Black and Queer during the early twentieth century. 

Early Life

Ma Rainey was born as Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett on April 26, 1886 in Columbus, Georgia. Rainey’s parents were minstrel show performers. Ma began to show considerable talent when she began performing in her teenage years. After her debut in an opera house, she become a great attraction and began traveling around doing vaudeville acts and carnivals. While performing in these traveling shows she would meet her future husband, Will “Pa” Rainey, where the two would become a singing duo named “Ma and Pa Rainey.”

They would tour together in numerous minstrel shows. After serveral years of marriage, Ma and Pa would soon divorce and Ma Rainey would begin her group titled “Madame Getrude Ma Rainey and Her Georgia Smart Set.” Ma Rainey played a critical role in intertwining vaudeville and southern blues music to create an impressive  style of Blues that has separated her from the rest. Blues music derived from Call and Response, Ma was known for her sensual singing by making moaning sounds within her music. 

Ma As A Performer

Ma Rainey was an eccentric performer that was known for her extravagant taste in style. She wore gold teeth, flamboyant clothing, and flashy jewelry that made a personal connection to her audiences. Ma Rainey found difficulty in being an African American entertainer. There were many challenges that African Americans faced that other white entertainers did not have too. Her performances attracted a mixed race crowd that was still segregated. Her performances were usually two hours long that began with jazz numbers that would lead into comedy  performances and that would end with Ma Rainey singing her famous tunes of ‘See See Rider Blues” and “I Ain’t Got Nobody.” 

Rainey would go on to sign a recording contract with Paramount. This contract made her one of the earliest blues singers to sign a recording contract with a label. She  recorded more than 100 songs during this time period. Her songwriting included themes of her raw description of the hardships of life, heartbreak, depression, and sexuality. 

Late Life

Rainey became a mentor to upcoming legendary blues singer Bessie Smith. Ma would go on  to inspire artist such as Janis Joplin with her singing style. After Rainey lost her recording track with Paramount due to the record label feeling as though her style of blues had fallen out ostyle. She would go on to live in Chicago and would gain ownership to two theaters and become active in Friendship Baptist Church. On December 22,1939 she would pass away due to heart disease. 

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