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Ma Rainey

Background information
Birth name Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett
Died December 22, 1939, Columbus, Georgia, U.S.
Genres Blues
Occupations Vocalist
Years active 1900–1933
Labels Paramount
Associated acts Rainey & Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues
Rabbit Foot Minstrels

Ma Rainey (April 26, 1886 - December 22, 1939)[1]was one of the earliest known American professional blues singers and one of the first generation of such singers to record.[2] She was billed as The Mother of the Blues. She did much to develop and popularize the form and was an important influence on younger blues women, such as Bessie Smith, and their careers.

Born as Gertrude Pridgett, Ma Rainey came onto the performance scene at a talent show in Columbus, Georgia when she was 12 years old. She recorded under the name ‘Ma Rainey’ after she and Will Rainey were married in 1904. They toured with F.S. Wolcott’s Rabbit Foot Minstrels and later in 1916, formed their own group called ‘Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues.’ From the time of her first recording in 1923 to five years later, Ma Rainey made over 100 recordings. Some of them include, Bo-weevil Blues (1923), Moonshine Blues (1923), See See Rider (1924), Black Bottom (1927), and Soon This Morning (1927). [1]

Ma Rainey was known for her very powerful vocal abilities, energetic disposition, majestic phrasing, and a ‘moaning’ style of singing similar to folk tradition. Though her powerful voice and disposition are not captured on her recordings, the other characteristics are present, and most evident on her early recordings, Bo-weevil Blues and Moonshine Blues. Ma Rainey also recorded with Louis Armstrong in addition to touring and recording with the Georgia Jazz Band. On tour in the South and Mexico during the 1920s, she was referred to as “Madame.” Ma Rainey continued to tour until 1935 when she retired to her hometown. [3]



Rainey returned to her hometown, Columbus, Georgia, where she ran two theaters, "The Lyric" and "The Airdrome",[4] until her death from a heart attack in 1939.[5] She was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame in 1983, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.[6]


Ma Rainey on a 1920 Paramount Records sleeve.

One year after Rainey's death, blues singer and guitarist Memphis Minnie recorded a tribute.[7]

French singer/song writer Francis Cabrel refers to Rainey in the song "Cent Ans de Plus" on the 1998 album Hors-Saison. Cabrel cites the artist as one of a number of blues influences, including Charley Patton, Son House, Blind Lemon, Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, Blind Blake, Willie Dixon, and Blues Boy Willie, whose father toured with Rainey.

American singer/songwriter Bob Dylan refers to Rainey in the song "Tombstone Blues" on his 1965 album, Highway 61 Revisited.

The 1982 August Wilson play Ma Rainey's Black Bottom took its title from her song of the same name recorded before 1928, which ostensibly refers to the Black Bottom dance of the time.

In 1994, the U.S. Post Office issued a Rainey 29-cent commemorative postage stamp.

In 2004, her song "See See Rider Blues" (1925) was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame, and was included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry in 2004.[8] The board selects songs in an annual basis that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."


  1. ^ a b Oliver, Paul. "Rainey, Ma". Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. 
  2. ^ Southern, Eileen (1997). The Music of Black Americans: A History (3rd edition ed.). W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-97141-4. 
  3. ^ Oliver, Paul (2007). "Rainey, Ma [Pridgett, Gertrude]". Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. 
  4. ^ Lieb, Sandra R. Mother of the Blues: A Study of Ma Rainey, Univ of Massachusetts Press, Page 1, (1981) - ISBN 0870233947
  5. ^ Santelli, Robert. The Big Book of Blues, Penguin Books, page 387
  6. ^ Ma Rainey Induction Year: 1990
  7. ^ Memphis Minnie Ma Rainey. OK 08511
  8. ^ 2004 National Recording Registry choices


  • Lieb, Sandra (1981). Mother of the Blues: A Study of Ma Rainey. Univ. of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 0870233343. 
  • Davis, Angela Y. (1998). Blues Legacies and Black Feminism. Pantheon. ISBN 067945005X. 

External links

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