MA RAINEY (By Shaun Mather)

Born Gertrude Pridgett, 26 April 1886, Columbus, Georgia
Died 22 December 1939, Columbus, Georgia

Gertrude Pridgett began singing professionally when she was still a teenager, performing with minstrel and medicine shows. In 1904, she married William "Pa" Rainey and she changed her name to "Ma" Rainey. The couple performed as "Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues" and toured throughout the South, performing with several minstrel shows, circuses, and tent shows. According to legend, she gave a young Bessie Smith vocal lessons during this time.

In 1923, Ma Rainey signed with Paramount Records. She recorded with the likes of Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory and Coleman Hawkins, cutting future classics like CC Rider and Bo Weavil Blues. Her repertoire ranged from blues and pop to minstrel songs. After reaching the height of her popularity in the late '20s, her career faded away in the early '30s as female blues singing became less popular with the blues audience. She retired from performing in 1933, settling down in her hometown of Columbus. In 1939, she died of a heart attack having left behind an immense recorded legacy, which continued to move and influence successive generations of blues, country, and rock & roll musicians. In 1983, the "Mother of the Blues" was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame, followed in 1990 with her induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

(Adapted from All Music Guide.) Further reading: Sandra R. Lieb, Mother of the Blues : A Study of Ma Rainey. Amherst, MA : University of Massachusetts Press, 1981. Angela Davis, Blues legacies and black feminism : Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday. New York : Pantheon Books, 1998. Document Records has released her "Complete Recorded Works" on five CD's. There is also "The Essential Ma Rainey" on Classic Blues (a 2-CD set, issued in 2001).

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