Musicians You Should Know: Ma Rainey

Basic Facts

Born: April 26, 1886, Columbus, Georgia
Died: December 22, 1939, Rome, Georgia
Type of Performer: Singer, songwriter
Genre: Blues

About Ma Rainey

Ma Rainey was born Gertrude Pridgett in 1886 in Georgia. At age fourteen, she made her debut in a local show called "A Bunch of Blackberries." In 1904 she married William Rainey, who toured along with her as members of the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. She went on to build her career in this manner, performing in show tents around the South and Midwest. In the early 1920s, she moved to Chicago  to pursue a solo career. Between 1923 and 1928, she made over a hundred recordings for the Paramount Records. She attained national fame, and her 1924 recording of "See See Rider," accompanied by Louis Armstrong, was selected for the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. 

Rainey earned the name "Mother of the Blues" for being the first entertainer to combine vaudeville with Southern Black music like that being played by country guitarists. She was also candid about her bisexuality in a way that flew in the face of Victorian norms of the time and she helped to normalize black female autonomy. She wrote many of her songs herself, which allowed her greater flexibility in the stories she told. She retired from the stage in 1935 and spent the next several years operating two theaters before her death in 1939. She was posthumously inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. 


See See Rider, accompanied by Louis Armstrong

Prove It On Me Blues

Further Reading