Women in Blues: Ma Rainey

The south is where Blues was born. Ma Rainey is known to be one of the first African American women to be involved in the genre of Blues.

Gertrude “Ma” Rainey was born in 1886 and raised in Columbus Georgia by her two parents Thomas Pridgett Sr. and Ella Allen-Pridgett.

Going into her teenage years she began to preform by singing, and dancing, at the Springer Opera House in downtown Columbus. In 1904 Ma married a comedian "songster" named William "Pa" Rainey.

It wasn’t until after William and Ma got married that she started to discover what Blues music had to offer. Ma and William traveled around the deep south attending cabarets and shows that broadcasted the magic behind “country blues.” During this time period (late 1800’s into the early 1900’s) Blues were created to express the emotions of depression and, agitation from enslaved African Americans. When listening to Blues being attentive to the lyrics can help to depict the story/obstacle that is that is being communicated.  

Around 1915 Ma began to release her Blues music to African American’s throughout the south from her tours with “Fat Chappelle’s Rabbit Foot Minstrels.” These shows assisted in having her voice and talent spread to her demographic. She split from her husband William Rainey in 1916 but prevailed and continued touring with her own band. She preformed her own music, whilst recording different versions of Blues hits by various artists such as Mamie Smith.

Ma Rainey's Music

Over the years Ma worked with Paramount for 5 years and during this time she recorded over 92 songs. Her most popular ones known as “Prove it on me,” “See See Rider,” “Blues Oh Blues,” “Slave to the Blues,” “Sleep Talking” “Oh Papa Blues,” “Trust No Man,” and “New Boweavil Blues.”

Altogether, Ma Rainey was an influential woman in Blues music and contributed to the cause. She helped to share her stories, trials, and tribulations. Alongside other women in Blues she was one of the first to be involved to kickstart this genre. Rainey passed away in 1939 but her music will always hold a place in history.

Work Cited

“History.” National Women in Blues, www.nationalwomeninblues.com/history/.


The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Ma Rainey.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 22 Apr. 2020, www.britannica.com/biography/Ma-Rainey.




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