Happy birthday Ma Rainey!

Ma-Rainey-9542413-1-402Ma Rainey (April 26, 1886 – December 22, 1939) was one of the first female blues singers in the United States. She started off her career doing minstrel shows, and made a name for herself as a singer and a comedienne. She went on to produce upwards of 90 recordings alongside the likes of Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, and other jazz and blues greats. She was also known for her shrewd business sense, managing two theaters toward the end of her life. She is remembered as one of the most influential African American females in history, defining aspects of American feminism and creativity.


Rainey, born Gertrude Pridgett, was most likely born in Columbus Georgia to Thomas and Ella Pridgett. Her parents were minstrel singers, and she was first exposed to the performance scene at a talent show in her early teen years. When she was 18, she married William "Pa" Rainey, and the two became known as "Rainey and Rainey." The two spent a number of years performing with F.S. Wolcott's Rabbit Foot Minstrels, known as the "Assassinators of the Blues." It was while touring with this group that she met blues singer Bessie Smith.

Rainey became a featured performer on the Theater Owner's Booking Association circuit and by 1923, she signed to Paramount Records. Her first recordings included "Bad Luck Blues", "Bo-Weevil Blues" and "Moonshine Blues." She recorded alongside jug bands as well as jazz impresarios. By 1924, she was recording with Louis Armstrong, and released "Jelly Bean Blues", "Countin' the Blues" and "See, See Rider." She also recorded with Kid Ory, Fletcher Henderson, and Coleman Hawkins, among others.


The character of her voice is said to have consisted of slurs, moans, and "lisping whispers."

She continued to record throughout the 1920s, but by the early 1930s her male counterparts in the blues world were accruing much of the genre's notoriety. She had accumulated enough savings through her recordings that she was able to retire comfortably. Her success as a performer and a businesswoman turned her into a role model for poor, Southern, black women.


She retired back to Columbus in 1935. She ran two theaters, "The Lyric" and "The Airdrome" until her death in 1939.

Throughout her career, Rainey recorded upwards of 90 titles. She was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Saturday, 26 April 2014
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