The Traditional Delta and Country Blues

Ma Rainey

Gertrude M. Pridgett, b. April 26, 1886 in Columbus, GA, d. December 22, 1939 in Rome, GA. After working as a saloon and tent show singer around the turn of the century, Rainey began singing blues. She later claimed that this occurred as early as 1902 and however much reliance is placed upon this date she was certainly among the earliest singers to bring blues songs to a wider audience. By the time of her first recordings, 1923, she was one of the most famous blues singers in the deep south and was known as the ‘Mother of the Blues’. Although many other singers recorded blues songs before her, she eschewed the refining process some of them had begun, preferring instead to retain the earthy directness with which she had made her name. Her recordings, sadly of generally inferior technical quality, show her to have been a singer of great power, while her delivery has a quality of brooding majesty few others ever matched. A hard-living, rumbustious woman, Rainey influenced just about every other singer of the blues, notably Bessie Smith whom she encouraged during her formative years. Although Rainey continued working into the early 30s her career at this time was overshadowed by changes in public taste. She retired in 1935 and died in 1939. In the late 80s a musical show, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, was a success on Broadway and in London.