MA RAINEY Biography - Musicians


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Name: Ma Rainey                                                                             
Birth name: Gertrude Maissa Nix Pridgett                                                     
Born: 15 September 1894 Columbus, Georgia, USA                                               
Died: 22 December 1939 Columbus, Georgia, USA                                               
Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett Rainey, better known as Ma Rainey (September, 1882             
- December 22, 1939), was one of the earliest known American professional blues             
singers and one of the first generation of such singers to record. 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.                                                                           
Rainey was born in Columbus, Georgia. She first appeared on stage in Columbus               
in "A Bunch of Blackberries" at fourteen. She then joined a traveling vaudeville             
troupe, the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. After hearing a blues song at a theater in St.           
Louis, Missouri, sung by a local girl in 1902, she started performing in a blues             
style. She claimed at that time that she was the one who coined the name "blues"             
for the style that she specialized in. Musicians and singers who sang and played             
in the style said there were no such origins and that the blues had always been.             
A pioneer in the style, Bunk Johnson, said that in the 1880s the blues had                   
already been developed.                                                                     
She married fellow vaudeville singer William "Pa" Rainey in 1904, billing                   
herself from that point as "Ma" Rainey. The pair toured with the Rabbit Foot                 
Minstrels as "Rainey & Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues", singing a mix of                 
blues and popular songs. In 1912, she took the young Bessie Smith into the                   
Rabbit Foot Minstrels, trained her, and worked with her until Smith left in 1915.           
Also known, though less discussed, is the fact that she was bisexual. Rainey                 
never shied away from her feelings in her music, as is apparent in the lyrics of             
"Prove It On Me":                                                                           
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.                 
– Ma Rainey, Prove It On Me                                                               
Image from Paramount record label                                                           
Ma Rainey was already a veteran performer with decades of touring in African-American       
shows in the U.S. Southern States when she made her first recordings in 1923.               
Rainey signed with Paramount Records and, between 1923 and 1928, she recorded               
100 songs, including the classics "C.C. Rider" (aka "See See Rider") and "Jelly             
Bean Blues", the humorous "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom", and the deep blues "Bo                 
Weavil Blues". In her career, Rainey was backed by such noted jazz musicians as             
cornet players Louis Armstrong and Tommy Ladnier, pianists Fletcher Henderson               
and Lovie Austin, saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, and clarinetist Buster Bailey.               
Rainey recorded two vocal duets with Papa Charlie Jackson in 1928, which proved             
to be her last recordings; Paramount terminated her contract soon afterwards,               
claiming that her material had gone out of fashion.                                         
Rainey's career dried up in the 1930s--as did the career of just about every                 
other classic female blues singers of the previous decade. But her earnings were             
enough that she was able to retire from performing in 1933.                                 
Rainey returned to her hometown, Columbus, Georgia, where she ran two theaters,             
"The Lyric" and "The Airdrome", until her death from a heart attack in 1939.                 
She was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame in 1983, and the Rock             
and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.