Sara Martin

Although overshadowed in the annals of blues history by her contemporaries Gertrude “Ma” Rainey and Bessie Smith, Sara Martin was a true pioneer in her own right as a performer and recording artist. Martin was a popular vaudeville act on the Theater Owners' Booking Association (TOBA) circuit that showcased African-American artists, and she also enjoyed a prolific career as a recording artist on the OKeh and Columbia labels.

In the 1920s she made well over 100 records on those labels, often recording songs she co-wrote, such as “Mean Tight Mama” and “Mama's Got the Blues.” Martin also worked with some of the other early blues giants of the day, such as W.C. Handy, “Georgia Tom” Dorsey, and Fats Waller, before leaving the blues scene in the early 1930s.

Although Louisville did not match the vitality of such jazz and blues centers as St. Louis, New Orleans, or Chicago, it had developed its own vibrant music scene by the late nineteenth century, when the blues singer later known as Sara Martin grew up. Born on June 18, 1884, Martin grew up in a city ruled by harsh racial segregation. By 1900 Louisville had become known for its string bands (with guitar, banjo, and violin) and jug bands (with musicians using various combinations of gallon jugs, kazoos, mandolins, guitars, and harmonicas). Martin later brought one Louisville string-band guitarist, Sylvester Weaver, with her to New York City for one of her recording sessions in 1923; the tracks became the first-ever blues recordings that featured a guitar accompaniment.

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