Known for the deep feelings it provokes, blues captures a pivotal historical moment in history. It evokes what blackness and poverty mean in America, and the many difficulties that brings. When one thinks of the blues, they usually think of a black man with a guitar or harmonica. However, there are not just men in the genre. Women in blues go widely unnoticed when considering the history of blues. While there were much fewer classic blues women than there were men, women like Ma Rainey are still integral to the blues sound.
There was a lot of sexism surrounding women in Blues considering that the lyrics were not always considered “ladylike.” Despite the fact that black people looked down on women in blues, Ma Rainey challenged white patriarchal norms through her lyrics. She was consistently pushing the boundaries by expressing her disdain for men and wearing men’s clothing in “Put It On Me Blues.” Ma Rainey’s distinct moaning voice allowed the audience to feel the music with her, which emphasizes the fact that she is integral to the blues sound. Blues was obviously more than music: it often entranced listeners, bringing them into the world of the singer. Rainey’s music did just that. Rainey demanded the space that she took up in the blues genre, declaring a sense of independence and individualism in her music. Rainey speaking her truth eventually led to similar lyrics became mainstream.
Not only was Rainey a powerhouse in her own right, she was a mentor to Bessie Smith, one of the most salient voices in the blues genre. Both artists identified as bisexual and expressed their love of women in their songs. Ma Rainey’s unashamed nature allowed her mentee to claim their narrative and become one of the most successful blues women in history.
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