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Ma Rainey: Mother of the Blues



Gertrude "Ma" Rainey

Gertrude "Ma" Rainey (1886-1939):

Gertrude Pridgett was born in Columbus, Georgia on April 26, 1886. At age 14 she began performing with her family in minstrel shows. When she was 16 she heard her first blues song and copied the style in her performances.

Ma & Pa Rainey:

At age 18 Gertrude married entertainer Will "Pa" Rainey. The two began performing together and were known as Ma and Pa Rainey and the Assassinators of the Blues.

Mother of the Blues:

Although Ma Rainey was not the first Black woman to sing the Blues, she has been credited with its rise in popularity. She performed both with Pa Rainey and as a solo act. She signed a record deal with Paramount Records in 1923 and was one of the first performers to record the Blues. Her band included jazz stars Louis Armstrong, Thomas Dorsey and Coleman Hawkins.

Lover of Women:

Even though she was married to Pa Rainey, Ma Rainey did nothing to hide her love of women. In 1928 she recorded "Prove it on Me Blues," which makes no secret of her relationships with women.

The Prove it On Me Blues:

"Went out last night with a crowd of my friends,

They must have been women, 'cause I don't like no men.

Wear my clothes just like a fan, Talk to gals just like any old man

'Cause they say I do it, ain't nobody caught me, Sure got to prove it on me."

Successful Black Business Woman:

Ma Rainey released more than 100 songs with Paramount Records including "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" and "C.C. Rider." She loved to dress up in sequins and diamonds and wore a necklace made of gold coins to symbolize her success. She was sometimes known as The Gold Necklace Woman of the Blues.

Police Raid:

In 1925 the police raided a party hosted by Ma Rainey. When the police arrived, they found some of the women undressed and in "intimate" situations. Ma Rainey was arrested for throwing an "indecent party."

Lover of Bessie Smith?:

Ma and Pa Rainey mentored another famous bisexual Blues singer, Bessie Smith, known as The Empress of the Blues. Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith were close friends and possibly lovers. As a matter of fact, it was Bessie Smith who bailed Ma Rainey out of jail in 1925.
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