Ma Rainey

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Ma Rainey
MaRainey.jpg
Background information
Birth name Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett
Born c. (1886-04-26)April 26, 1886
Columbus, Georgia, U.S.
Died December 22, 1939(1939-12-22) (aged 53)
Rome, Georgia, U.S.
Genres Blues
Occupations Vocalist
Years active 1899–1933
Labels Paramount
Associated acts Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues, Rabbit Foot Minstrels, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong

"Ma" Rainey (born Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett; c. 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 began performing as a young teenager (between the ages of 12 and 14), and performed under the name Ma Rainey after she and Will Rainey were married in 1904. They toured with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels and later 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, including "Bo-weevil Blues" (1923), "Moonshine Blues" (1923), "See See Rider" (1924), "Black Bottom" (1927), and "Soon This Morning" (1927).[3]

Ma Rainey was known for her very powerful vocal abilities, energetic disposition, majestic phrasing, and a ‘moaning’ style of singing. Her powerful voice was never adequately captured on her records, due to her recording exclusively for Paramount, which was at the time known for its below-average recording techniques and poor shellac quality. However, Rainey's other qualities are present and most evident in her early recordings, Bo-weevil Blues and Moonshine Blues.

Rainey recorded with Louis Armstrong in addition to touring and recording with the Georgia Jazz Band. She continued to tour until 1935 when she retired to her hometown.[1]

Biography[edit]

Gertrude Pridgett claimed to have been born on April 26, 1886 in Columbus, Georgia.[4] (This can be questioned, however, as the 1900 census listing indicates she may have been born in September 1882 in Alabama.[5]) She was the second of five children of Thomas and Ella (née Allen) Pridgett, from Alabama. She had at least two brothers and a sister named Malissa, with whom Gertrude was later confused in some sources.[4]

She came onto the performance scene at a talent show in Columbus, Georgia when she was 12–14 years old.[1][6] A member of the First African Baptist Church, she began performing in in Black minstrel show tents. She later claimed that she was first exposed to blues music around 1902. She formed the Alabama Fun Makers Company with her husband Will Rainey, but in 1906 they both joined Pat Chappelle's much larger and more popular Rabbit's Foot Company, where they were billed together as "Black Face Song and Dance Comedians, Jubilee Singers [and] Cake Walkers".[7] In 1910, she was described as "Mrs. Gertrude Rainey, our coon shouter",[7] and she continued with the Rabbit's Foot Company after it was taken over by new owner F. S. Wolcott in 1912.[1]

From 1914, the Raineys were billed as Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues. Wintering in New Orleans, she met musicians including Joe "King" Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet and Pops Foster. Blues music increased in popularity and Ma Rainey became well known.[8] Around this time, Rainey met Bessie Smith, a young blues singer who was also making a name for herself.[A] A story later developed that Rainey kidnapped Smith, making her join the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, and teaching her to sing the blues. This was disputed by Smith's sister-in-law Maud Smith.[9]

From the late 1910s, there was an increasing demand for recordings by black musicians.[10] In 1920, Mamie Smith was the first black woman to record a record.[11] In 1923, Rainey was discovered by Paramount Records producer J. Mayo Williams. She signed a recording contract with Paramount, and in December she made her first eight recordings in Chicago.[12] These included the songs "Bad Luck Blues", "Bo-Weevil Blues" and "Moonshine Blues". She made more than 100 more over the next five years, which brought her fame beyond the South.[1][13] Paramount marketed her extensively, calling her "the Mother of the Blues", "the Songbird of the South", "the Gold-Neck Woman of the Blues" and "the Paramount Wildcat".[14]

In 1924 she made some recordings with Louis Armstrong, including "Jelly Bean Blues", "Countin' the Blues" and "See, See Rider".[15] In the same year she embarked on a tour of the Theater Owners Booking Association (TOBA) throughout the South and Midwestern United States, singing both for black and white audiences.[16] She was accompanied by bandleader and pianist Thomas Dorsey, and the band he assembled called the Wildcats Jazz Band.[17] They began their tour with an appearance in Chicago in April 1924 and continued, on and off, until 1928.[18] Dorsey left the group in 1926 due to ill health and was replaced as pianist by Lillian Hardaway Henderson, the wife of Rainey's cornetist Fletcher Henderson, who became the band's leader.[19]

Some of Rainey's lyrics contain open references to lesbianism or bisexuality. For example, a 1928 song, "Prove It on Me", states:

They said I do it, ain't nobody caught me. Sure got to prove it on me. Went out last night with a crowd of my friends. They must've been women, cause I don't like no men.[20]

According to the website queerculturalcenter.org, the lyrics refer to an incident in 1925 in which Rainey was "arrested for taking part in an orgy at [her] home involving women in her chorus."[21] "Prove It on Me" further alludes to presumed lesbian behavior, "It's true I wear a collar and a tie... Talk to the gals just like any old man."[22]

Political activist and scholar Angela Y. Davis notes: "'Prove It on Me' is a cultural precursor to the lesbian cultural movement of the 1970s, which began to crystallize around the performance and recording of lesbian-affirming songs."[23] Towards the end of the 1920s, live vaudeville went into decline, being replaced by radio and recordings.[19] Her career was not immediately affected and continued recording with Paramount and earned enough money touring to buy a bus with her name on it.[24] In 1928, she worked with Dorsey again and recording 20 songs, before Paramount finished her contract.[25] Her style of blues was no longer considered fashionable by the label.[26]

Death[edit]

In 1935 Rainey returned to her hometown, Columbus, Georgia, where she ran two theaters, "The Lyric" and "The Airdrome",[27] until her death from a heart attack in 1939 at age 53.[28] in Rome, Georgia.[29]

Legacy[edit]

In 1983, Rainey was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.[30]

Bob Dylan refers to Rainey in the song "Tombstone Blues" on his 1965 album, Highway 61 Revisited in which she is intimate with Beethoven ("Ma Rainey and Beethoven once unwrapped their bedroll").[citation needed]

In 1981 Sandra Lieb wrote the first full-length book about Rainey, Mother of the Blues: a Study of Ma Rainey.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, a 1982 play by August Wilson, is a fictionalized account of the recording of her song of the same name in December 1927.

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

In 2004, "See See Rider Blues" (written in 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.[31]

Recordings[edit]

This sortable table presents all 94 titles recorded by Ma Rainey.[32]

  • The recording dates are approximate.
  • The Classification by Sandra Lieb is almost entirely by form. Blues songs which are only partly of twelve-bar structure as classified as "Mixture of Blues and Popular Song Forms". Blues songs without any twelve-bar or eight-bar structure are classified as "Non-blues".[33]
  • The JSP and DOCD columns refer to the two complete CD reissues[34][35]
  • Click any label to sort. To return to chronological order, click #.
# Matrix Recording
date
Title Accompaniment Paramount
Issue No.
Sandra Lieb
Classification
JSP
77933
Document
DOCD
Notes
01 1596 1923/12 Bad Luck Blues Lovie Austin
Blues Serenaders
12081 Twelve-Bar Blues A 5581
02 1597 1923/12 Bo-Weavil Blues Lovie Austin
Blues Serenaders
12080 Mixture of Blues and
Popular Song Forms
A 5581 another take on both JSP & DOCD
03 1598 1923/12 Barrel House Blues Lovie Austin
Blues Serenaders
12082 Twelve-Bar Blues A 5581
04 1599 1923/12 Those All Night Long Blues Lovie Austin
Blues Serenaders
12081 Non-blues A 5581 another take on both JSP & DOCD
05 1608 1923/12 Moonshine Blues Lovie Austin
Blues Serenaders
12083 Mixture of Blues and
Popular Song Forms
A 5581
06 1609 1923/12 Last Minute Blues Lovie Austin
Blues Serenaders
12080 Twelve-Bar Blues A 5581
07 1612 1923/12 Southern Blues Lovie Austin
Blues Serenaders
12083 Twelve-Bar Blues A 5581
08 1613 1923/12 Walking Blues Lovie Austin
Blues Serenaders
12082 Twelve-Bar Blues A 5581
09 1698 1924/03 Lost Wandering Blues Pruit Twins 12098 Twelve-Bar Blues A 5581
10 1699 1924/03 Dream Blues Pruit Twins 12098 Twelve-Bar Blues A 5581
11 1701 1924/03 Honey Where You Been So Long? Lovie Austin
Blues Serenaders
12200 Non-blues A 5581
12 1702 1924/03 Ya-Da-Do Her Georgia Jazz Band 12257 Non-blues A 5581 another take on both JSP & DOCD
13 1703 1924/03 Those Dogs of Mine
(Famous Cornfield Blues)
Lovie Austin
Blues Serenaders
12215 Non-blues A 5581
14 1704 1924/03 Lucky Rock Blues Lovie Austin
Blues Serenaders
12215 Mixture of Blues and
Popular Song Forms
A 5581
15 1741 1924/04 South Bound Blues Her Georgia Jazz Band 12227 Non-blues A 5581
16 1758 1924/05 Lawd Send Me A Man Blues Her Georgia Jazz Band 12227 Non-blues A 5581
17 1759 1924/05 Ma Rainey's Mystery Record Lovie Austin
Blues Serenaders
12200 Twelve-Bar Blues A 5581
18 1824 1924/08 Shave 'Em Dry Blues two unknown guitars 12222 Eight-Bar Blues B 5581
19 1825 1924/08 Farewell Daddy Blues unknown guitar 12222 Twelve-Bar Blues B 5581
20 1922 1924/10 Booze And Blues Her Georgia Jazz Band 12242 Twelve-Bar Blues B 5582
21 1923 1924/10 Toad Frog Blues Her Georgia Jazz Band 12242 Twelve-Bar Blues B 5582
22 1924 1924/10 Jealous Hearted Blues Her Georgia Jazz Band 12252 Twelve-Bar Blues B 5582
23 1925 1924/10 See See Rider Blues Her Georgia Jazz Band 12252 Mixture of Blues and
Popular Song Forms
B 5582 with Louis Armstrong, another take on both JSP & DOCD
24 1926 1924/10 Jelly Bean Blues Her Georgia Jazz Band 12238 Mixture of Blues and
Popular Song Forms
B 5582 with Louis Armstrong
25 1927 1924/10 Countin' The Blues Her Georgia Jazz Band 12238 Twelve-Bar Blues B 5582 with Louis Armstrong, another take on both JSP & DOCD
26 10001 1924/11 Cell Bound Blues Her Georgia Jazz Band 12257 Mixture of Blues and
Popular Song Forms
B 5582
27 2136 1925/05 Army Camp Harmony Blues Her Georgia Jazz Band 12284 Twelve-Bar Blues B 5582 another take on both JSP & DOCD
28 2137 1925/05 Explaining The Blues Her Georgia Jazz Band 12284 Twelve-Bar Blues B 5582 another take on both JSP & DOCD
29 2138 1925/05 Louisiana Hoo Doo Blues Her Georgia Jazz Band 12290 Twelve-Bar Blues B 5582
30 2138 1925/05 Goodbye Daddy Blues Her Georgia Jazz Band 12290 Mixture of Blues and
Popular Song Forms
B 5582
31 2209 1925/05 Stormy Seas Blues Her Georgia Band 12295 Twelve-Bar Blues B 5582 another take on DOCD5625
32 2210 1925/08 Rough And Tumble Blues Her Georgia Band 12311 Twelve-Bar Blues B 5582
33 2211 1925/08 Night Time Blues Her Georgia Band 12303 Twelve-Bar Blues B 5582 another take on both JSP & DOCD
34 2212 1925/08 Levee Camp Moan Her Georgia Band 12295 Non-blues B 5582
35 2213 1925/08 Four Day Honorary Scat Her Georgia Band 12303 Non-blues B 5582 misprint for 'Fore Day, another take on both JSP & DOCD
36 2214 1925/08 Memphis Bound Blues Her Georgia Band 12311 Twelve-Bar Blues B 5582
37 2369 1925/12 Slave To The Blues Her Georgia Band 12332 Twelve-Bar Blues C 5583
38 2370 1925/12 Yonder Come The Blues Her Georgia Band 12357 Non-blues C 5583
39 2371 1925/12 Titanic Man Blues Her Georgia Band 12374 Mixture of Blues and
Popular Song Forms
C 5583 another take on both JSP & DOCD
40 2372 1925/12 Chain Gang Blues Her Georgia Band 12338 Twelve-Bar Blues C 5583
41 2373 1925/12 Bessemer Bound Blues Her Georgia Jazz Band 12332 Twelve-Bar Blues C 5583 another take on both JSP & DOCD
42 2374 1925/12 Oh My Babe Blues Her Georgia Band 12374 Non-blues C 5583
43 2375 1925/12 Wringing And Twisting Blues Her Georgia Band 12338 Non-blues C 5583
44 2369 1925/12 Stack O'Lee Blues Her Georgia Band 12357 Ballad C 5583
45 2448 1926/03 Broken Hearted Blues Her Georgia Band 12364 Twelve-Bar Blues C 5583 another take on DOCD5625
46 2451 1926/03 Jealousy Blues Her Georgia Band 12364 Non-blues C 5583 another take on DOCD5660
47 2452 1926/03 Seeking Blues Her Georgia Band 12352 Mixture of Blues and
Popular Song Forms
C 5583 another take on both JSP & DOCD
48 2466 1926/03 Mountain Jack Blues Jimmy Blythe (piano) 12352 Twelve-Bar Blues C 5583 another take on both JSP & DOCD
49 2627 1926/06 Down In The Basement Her Georgia Band 12395 Non-blues C 5583
50 2628 1926/06 Sissy Blues Her Georgia Band 12384 Twelve-Bar Blues C 5583
51 2629 1926/06 Broken Soul Blues Her Georgia Band 12384 Non-blues C 5583
52 2631 1926/06 Trust No Man Lillian Henderson (piano) 12395 Non-blues C 5583
53 405 1926/11 Morning Hour Blues Jimmy Blythe (piano)
Blind Blake (guitar)
12455 Twelve-Bar Blues D 5584
54 407 1926/11 Weepin' Woman Blues Her Georgia Boys 12455 Twelve-Bar Blues D 5584
55 408 1926/11 Soon This Morning Her Georgia Band 12438 Twelve-Bar Blues D 5584
56 4019 1926/12 Little Low Mamma Blues Blind Blake (guitar)
poss Leroy Picket (violin)
12419 Twelve-Bar Blues D 5584
57 4020 1926/12 Grievin Hearted Blues Blind Blake (guitar)
poss Leroy Picket (violin)
12419 Mixture of Blues and
Popular Song Forms
D 5584
58 4021 1926/12 Don't Fish In My Sea Jimmy Blythe (piano) 12438 Twelve-Bar Blues D 5584
59 4082 1927/08 Big Boy Blues Her Georgia Band 12548 Twelve-Bar Blues D 5584
60 4083 1927/08 Blues Oh Blues Her Georgia Band 12566 Non-Blues D 5584
61 4090 1927/08 Damper Down Blues Her Georgia Band 12548 Twelve-Bar Blues D 5584
62 4091 1927/08 Gone Daddy Blues Her Georgia Band 12526 Mixture of Blues and
Popular Song Forms
D 5584
63 4092 1927/08 Oh Papa Blues Her Georgia Band 12566 Non-blues D 5584
64 4707 1927/08 Misery Blues Her Georgia Band 12508 Non-blues D 5584
65 4708 1927/08 Dead Drunk Blues Her Georgia Band 12508 Twelve-Bar Blues D 5584
66 4709 1927/08 Slow Driving Moan Her Georgia Band 12526 Mixture of Blues and
Popular Song Forms
D 5584
67 20228 1927/12 Blues The World Forgot — Part 1 Her Georgia Band 12647 Comedy D 5584
68 20229 1927/12 Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Her Georgia Band 12590 Non-blues D 5584
69 20230 1927/12 Blues The World Forgot — Part 2 Her Georgia Band 12647 Comedy D 5584
70 20231 1927/12 Hellish Rag Her Georgia Band 12612 Non-blues D 5584
71 20232 1927/12 Georgia Cake Walk Her Georgia Band 12590 Comedy D 5584
72 20233 1927/12 New Bo-Weavil Blues Her Georgia Band 12603 Mixture of Blues and
Popular Song Forms
D 5584
73 20232 1927/12 Moonshine Blues Her Georgia Band 12603 Mixture of Blues and
Popular Song Forms
D 5584
74 20233 1927/12 Ice Bag Papa Her Georgia Band 12612 Non-blues D 5584
75 20661 1928/06 Black Cat Hoot Owl Blues Her Tub Jug Washboard Band 12687 Twelve-Bar Blues E 5156 band led by Georgia Tom
76 20662 1928/06 Log Camp Blues Her Tub Jug Washboard Band 12804 Twelve-Bar Blues E 5156 band led by Georgia Tom
77 20663 1928/06 Hear Me Talking To You Her Tub Jug Washboard Band 12668 Twelve-Bar Blues E 5156 band led by Georgia Tom
78 20664 1928/06 Hustlin' Blues Her Tub Jug Washboard Band 12804 Twelve-Bar Blues E 5156 band led by Georgia Tom
79 20665 1928/06 Prove It On Me Blues Her Tub Jug Washboard Band 12668 Non-blues E 5156 band led by Georgia Tom
80 20666 1928/06 Victim Of The Blues Her Tub Jug Washboard Band 12687 Twelve-Bar Blues E 5156 band led by Georgia Tom
81 20667 1928/06 Traveling Blues Her Tub Jug Washboard Band 12707 Twelve-Bar Blues E 5156 band led by Georgia Tom
another take on JSP and on DOCD5216
82 20668 1928/06 Deep Moaning Blues Blues Her Tub Jug Washboard Band 12707 Twelve-Bar Blues E 5156 band led by Georgia Tom
another take on both JSP & DOCD
83 20878 1928/09 Daddy Goodbye Blues Georgia Tom Dorsey (piano)
Tampa Red (guitar)
12963 Eight-Bar Blues E 5156
84 20879 1928/09 Sleep Talking Blues Georgia Tom Dorsey (piano)
Tampa Red (guitar)
12760 Twelve-Bar Blues E 5156 another take on both JSP & DOCD
85 20880 1928/09 Tough Luck Blues Georgia Tom Dorsey (piano)
Tampa Red (guitar)
12735 Twelve-Bar Blues E 5156
86 20881 1928/09 Blame It On The Blues Georgia Tom Dorsey (piano)
Tampa Red (guitar)
12760 Twelve-Bar Blues E 5156
87 20882 1928/09 Sweet Rough Man Georgia Tom Dorsey (piano)
Tampa Red (guitar)
12926 Twelve-Bar Blues E 5156
88 20883 1928/09 Runaway Blues Georgia Tom Dorsey (piano)
Tampa Red (guitar)
12902 Twelve-Bar Blues E 5156
89 20885 1928/09 Screech Owl Blues Eddie Miller (piano) 12735 Twelve-Bar Blues E 5156
90 20886 1928/09 Black Dust Blues Eddie Miller (piano) 12926 Twelve-Bar Blues E 5156
91 20897 1928/09 Leaving This Morning Georgia Tom Dorsey (piano)
Tampa Red (guitar)
12902 Twelve-Bar Blues E 5156
92 20898 1928/09 Black Eye Blues Georgia Tom Dorsey (piano)
Tampa Red (guitar)
12963 Twelve-Bar Blues E 5156 another take on both JSP & DOCD
93 20921 1928/10 Ma And Pa Poorhouse Blues Papa Charlie Jackson (duet & Banjo) 12718 Twelve-Bar Blues E 5156
94 20144 1928/10 Big Feeling Blues Papa Charlie Jackson (duet & Banjo) 12718 Twelve-Bar Blues E 5156

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Sources are unclear on the exact date and circumstances under which Rainey and Smith met, although it was probably some time between 1912 and 1916.[9]

References[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Oliver, Paul, "Rainey, Ma (née Pridgett, Gertrude)", Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (Oxford University Press), retrieved 20 April 2010 
  2. ^ Southern, Eileen (1997). The Music of Black Americans: A History (3rd edition ed.). W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-97141-4. 
  3. ^ Lieb, Sandra (1983). Mother of the Blues: A Study of Ma Rainey (3rd ed.). University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 0-87023-394-7. 
  4. ^ a b Lieb, p. 2
  5. ^ 1900 Census for Columbus Ward 5, Muscogee, Georgia, District 4, Enumeration district 91, Sheet 16A, line 20, 'Prigett, Gertrude, Sept 1882, 17.
  6. ^ Lieb, p. 3
  7. ^ a b Lynn Abbott, Doug Seroff, Ragged But Right: Black Traveling Shows, Coon Songs, and the Dark Pathway to Blues and Jazz, Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2009, p.261
  8. ^ Lieb, p. 5
  9. ^ a b Lieb, p. 15
  10. ^ Lieb, p. 19
  11. ^ Lieb, p. 20
  12. ^ Lieb, p. 21
  13. ^ Lieb, p. 23
  14. ^ Lieb, p. 25
  15. ^ Lieb, p. 26
  16. ^ Lieb, p. 27
  17. ^ Lieb, p. 28
  18. ^ Lieb, p. 35
  19. ^ a b Lieb, p. 37
  20. ^ Kelly Brown Douglas. Marvin Mahan Ellison, ed. Sexuality and the Sacred: Sources for Theological Reflection. p. 54. 
  21. ^ "Gladys Bentley". queerculturalcenter.org. Retrieved December 22, 2013. 
  22. ^ Peppers, Margot (July 11, 2013). "The lesbian blues singers of 1920s Harlem: How speakeasies and underground jazz bars became a home-from-home for New York's 'sexual deviants'". Daily Mail. Retrieved December 22, 2013. 
  23. ^ Davis, Angela Y. (1999). Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday. Vintage. pp. 40,238. ISBN 978-0679771265. 
  24. ^ Lieb, p. 39
  25. ^ Lieb, p. 40
  26. ^ Lieb, p. 90
  27. ^ Lieb, p. 1
  28. ^ Santelli, Robert. The Big Book of Blues, Penguin Books, page 387
  29. ^ "Ma Rainey (American singer) profile". Britannica.com. 1939-12-22. Retrieved 2011-12-30. 
  30. ^ Ma Rainey Induction Year: 1990, rockhall.com; accessed February 26, 2014.
  31. ^ 2004 National Recording Registry choices, loc.gov/rr; accessed February 26, 2014.
  32. ^ Robert M. W. Dixon John Godrich and Howard W. Rye (compilers), Blues & Gospel Records 1890-1943 (October 30, 1997). Oxford University Press; ISBN 978-0198162391
  33. ^ Lieb pp. 189-191
  34. ^ JSP Records: Ma Rainey, Mother of the Blues JSP7793 (A-E) 5 CD box set
  35. ^ Document Records: Ma Rainey Vol 1 1923-24 DOCD5581, Ma Rainey Vol 2 1924-1925 DOCD5582, Ma Rainey Vol 3 1925-1926 DOCD5583 , Ma Rainey Vol 4 1925-1927 DOCD5584, Ma Rainey Vol 5 1928 DOCD5156, Too Late Too Late Vol 2 1897-1935 DOCD5216, Too Late Too Late Vol 11 DOCD5625, 1924-1929, Too Late Too Late Vol 13 1921-1930 DOCD5660

Sources[edit]

  • Lieb, Sandra (1983). Mother of the Blues: A Study of Ma Rainey. Univ. of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 0-87023-334-3. 
  • Davis, Angela Y. (1998). Blues Legacies and Black Feminism. Pantheon. ISBN 0-679-45005-X. 

External links[edit]