Ma Rainey

“Mother of the Blues”

The first popular stage entertainer to incorporate authentic blues in her song repertoire, Ma Rainey performed during the first three decades of the twentieth century, enjoying widespread popularity during the blues craze of the 1920s. Her consistency over her five year recording career and the high quality of her accompanist’s portray her talents as far more worthwhile than those of many blues singers.

Gertrude Pridgett was born on April 26, 1886, in Columbus, Georgia. Her parents were minstrel show performers, and she went right into the entertainment business since a young age. She worked at the Springer Opera House in 1900, performing as a singer and dancer in the local talent show, “A Bunch of Blackberries.” Around 1902 she heard a ‘strange and poignant lament’ while traveling through Missouri, and afterwards started bringing blues into her act. Pridgett married traveling singer William “Pa” Rainey in 1904 and billed as “Ma and Pa Rainey” the couple toured Southern tent shows and cabarets. By 1915, the Raineys were touring with Fat Chappelle's Rabbit Foot Minstrels. They were billed as the “Assassinators of the Blues” with Tolliver's Circus and Musical Extravaganza. Separated from her husband in 1916, Rainey subsequently toured with her own band, Madam Gertrude Ma Rainey and Her Georgia Smart Sets, featuring a chorus line and a Cotton Blossoms Show, and Donald McGregor's Carnival Show.

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