The History of Blues

Blues was made as a combination of the following genres: Jazz, Ragtime, Secular folk and Gospel music. It was created as a style of music that explains emotions through improvisation, melodies, instrumental technique and lyrics. Blues was used to illustrate stories that the audience would depict with their ears and minds. Those who performed blues were more like griots, they always translated their personal stories into pieces of music that would grab the attention of the audience. Although the genre of Blues was created by Blacks, Whites tried to mold it into their own version of music which they distinguished as Rock and Roll. Artists like Elvis Presley mutated sounds that were explicitly similar to those from Little Richard, Robert Johnson, Joe Turner, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, etc. Men predominantly played the role of the soloist with the accompaniment of a band. It was until one of the most influential women blues artists came along to change the narrative: Gertrude Pridgett otherwise known as Ma Rainey.

Ma Rainey

Gertrude Pridgett was born on April 26, 1886 in Columbus, Georgia. She made her first performance at Bunch of Blackberries at the age of 14 years old. In the year of 1904, she married a man by the name of William Rainey, who was known as Pa Rainey, and they began to tour with African American minstrel groups. In 1902, Ma Rainey was introduced to the Blues as a genre. She was  predominantly known for her gold teeth, excessive jewelry and blackness. She was present in a variety of audiences ranging from Whites to southern Blacks. Her songs were based on emotion and harshness. Her music intersected minstrel and vaudeville shows. She performed with jazz and jug bands throughout the South. At one specific point, she was signed to Paramount Records. Ma Rainey produced over a hundred well known records ranging from Oh Papa’s Blues, Black Bottom, New Boweavil Blues, Slow Driving Moan, etc. She influenced a variety of artists especially Bessie Smith, who would soon become competition within the music industry. Ma Rainey was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990  and the Blues Hall of Fame in 1983. 

circa 1923: Portrait of American blues singer Ma Rainey (1886-1939), smiling, wearing a headband, beaded necklace, and a sequined dress. (Photo by Frank Driggs Collection/Getty Images)
A 1924 photo of blues singer Bessie Smith. (AP Photo)

Impact on the Present

Ma Rainey was very popular in the 1900s while performing all over the United States. She continues to influence dozens of artists. Within the last year, a film by the name of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was filmed and produced by Netflix. It was solely based on the cultivation of the song, Black Bottom and how the Black culture was surrounded by it. Actors like Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman  and Taylour Paige brought this film alive through the interpretation of what was occurring during this time period. It was considerably a great film that my family personally enjoyed. Ma Rainey continues to be in the conversations surrounding real and true music. It is amazing to see and hear a Black Woman doing being a part of the noise. 

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