Ma Rainey / April 26, 1886ish - Dec 22, 1939

The Mother of the Blues, Gertrude Pridgett aka Ma Rainey, was an early singing star for that newfangled phonograph record player invention, as well as traveling and performing since the age of 12. She came from Georgia and heard the blues around 1902. She and her husband Will Rainey started groups called Alabama Fun Makers Company and then Assassinators of the Blues(!) and hit the road, also joining minstrel & medicine shows.

She found herself in New Orleans in 1914 and started hanging with King Oliver, Louie Armstrong and Sidney Bechet. With her powerfully expressive vocals she cut her first disks in 1923 and became well-known, recording over 100 sides in just about six years, making enough money to buy her own tour bus.

Her soon-to-be classic tunes included "CC Rider", "Bo-Weevil Blues" and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom". She recorded with Armstrong in '24 before touring with gospel/blues pianist Thomas A. Dorsey (aka Georgia Tom) for four years. She also recorded and/or appeared with Tampa Red, Blind Blake, Fletcher Henderson, Coleman Hawkins and others. She retired in '35.

Openly bisexual, she was a lover of Bessie Smith and was arrested in 1925 for hosting a lesbian orgy. "Went out last night with a crowd of my friends. They must've been women, cause I don't like no men...It's true I wear a collar and a tie... Talk to the gals just like any old man."--"Prove It On Me Blues", 1928.

Tagged: blues, Celebrate Icons, jazz, Louis Armstrong, Ma Rainey, NOLA, women in jazz

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