/arts-days

April 26

Ma Rainey

One of Ma Rainey’s songs was named for a dance, the Black Bottom. It’s also the name of a play about Rainey’s life and music.

1886: Mother of the Blues
Ma Rainey is born in Columbus, Georgia
She was born Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett Rainey, but it was as Ma Rainey that this Southern singer became one of the first professional blues singers ever, and certainly one of the first to make records. She started performing in vaudeville when she was still a teenager. Once, hearing another girl sing a sad song, Ma Rainey noticed how attentively the audience listened, so she began developing an emotional, world-weary singing style, a style she claims to have dubbed “blues.”

People loved it, and Rainey sang live at shows for decades before she recorded for Paramount Records. From 1923 to 1928, Rainey recorded about 100 songs, including “Jelly Bean Blues” and “Bo Weevil Blues,” a song partly about the beetle that destroyed cotton crops across the U.S. in the 1920s, but also about disappointments in love. In fact, many blues songs sung by Ma Rainey and other blues artists to this day have double meanings.
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