Blues is at the epicenter of almost all American Music that we hear. This genre has created a blueprint or guide for the artists and sounds that we hear today. One person who was extremely influential to the Blues genre, and who we can give thanks to for some of our favorite songs is Ma Rainey. Ma had a way of singing and writing songs that aided in Black women embracing themselves and feeling like their voices were heard.
Known as the Mother of Blues, Gertrude ‘Ma Rainey’ Pridgett was born on April 26, 1886 in Columbus, GA. Ma Rainey began her in the Springer Opera House. She had a voice of steel that could swing anyone to their feet and dance.
She bridged the gap between vaudeville and authentic Black folk expression. Allowing her to appeal to a multitude of audiences while doing what she loved, singing. Vocalizing through her music about her bisexuality, she was also a favored representation for those who were not considered a part of what were the “norms”.
This is found in her song, Prove It On Me Blues,
Went out last night with a crowd of my friends.
They must’ve been women, ‘cause I don’t like no men.
It’s true I wear a collar and a tie,
Makes the wind blow all the while.
Don’t you say I do it, ain’t nobody caught me.
You sure got to prove it on me.
In 1923, Ma Rainey was blessed with the opportunity to travel to Chicago and record for the first time ever. She was able to assemble a touring band and made money off of her recordings and her tour.
She is extremely important to take note of because it is very rare that you seen a Black woman taking over multiple different categories at this time and still being loved and adored by everyone. She was authentically herself and was loved for it, which is how it should always be for artists who put their blood, sweat, and tears into creating the magic that is music.
She went on to record about 92 songs, allowing her sound to be immortalized forever and influence singers like Bessie Smith and Mamie Smith.
Recently, Netflix released a biopic staring Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman called Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. This would help bring her story to life and to translate of this knowledge into a form that this new generation would sit still long enough to understand and hopefully respect.