Rainey, Ma

Rainey, Ma, 1886–1939, African-American blues singer, b. Columbus, Ga., as Gertrude Melissa Nix Pridgett. Known as the Mother of the Blues, she was the first great professional blues singer. She began singing as a teenager, and soon performing in tent shows throughout the South, combining her rich-voiced, earthy, and powerful singing with comic routines and social commentary. Beginning in 1902 she added blues to her repertoire. In 1904 she married performer Will Rainey, and they toured together as Ma and Pa Rainey until their divorce in 1916, when she began to tour as Ma Rainey with her own tent show. She made nearly 100 records in the 1920s, often accompanied by jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, and Thomas Dorsey; some became national hits and are now classics, e.g., See See Rider (1924). Her other songs include Prove It on Me, Oh Papa Blues, Bo-weavil Blues, and Slow Driving Moan. She continued to perform into the 1930s, but the Depression effectively ended her recording career.

See S. Lieb, Mother of the Blues: A Study of Ma Rainey (1983).

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