12-22-1939

Ma Rainey

MA RAINEY, American singer died (b. 1886); one of the earliest known professional blues singers and one of the first generation of such singers to record. She was billed as “The Mother of the Blues.”

She did much to develop and popularize the form and was an important influence on younger blues women, such as Bessie Smith, and their careers. She was bisexual. Rainey never shied away from her feelings in her music, as is apparent in the lyrics of “Prove It On Me”:

Went out last night with a crowd of my friends,

They must have been women, ’cause I don’t like no men.

Wear my clothes just like a fan, Talk to gals just like any old man

‘Cause they say I do it, ain’t nobody caught me, Sure got to prove it on me.

The 1982 August Wilson play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was based on her career and took its title from her song of the same name recorded before 1928 which ostensibly refers to the Black Bottom dance of the time.