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Real name: Gertrude Pridgitt, born in 1886. Gertrude changed her name in 1904 when she married William "Pa" Rainey.

In the mid to late 1920s Rainey wrote and recorded over a hundred songs for Paramount Records. She was unique in that while many blues songs sang by women were about lost love, Rainey sang freely about women's rights, sexuality, politics and religion. With her music she encouraged women to be self-reliant. Her breakup songs usually had the women leaving the man.

Rainey was raised a Baptist but that didn't stop other Black Christians from opposing her "sinful" lyrics and lifestyle. According to a persistant rumor, Ma Rainey kidnapped Bessie Smith, taught her to sing the blues and then became her lover. No one knows for sure if that's true but Rainey and Smith did work together and Rainey was openly bisexual.

When Rainey's mother and sister died, she left her career rejoined the church. When the "mother of the blues" died in 1939 her death certificate listed her occupation as housekeeper.

More Fascinating Facts on the "Mother of the Blues

Ma Rainey insisted that she be called "Madame." She was one of the first Roaring 20's female stars of any kind.

Her birth in Columbus, Georgia on April 26, 1886 was to a show business family, and they named her Gertrude Melissa Nix Pridgett.

Will Rainey not only gave her new name, he gave her professional boost in the career southern circuit in his band: "The Assassinators of the Blues." in 1904.

The marriage was short, and she joined, as one of the touring troupes, the famous "Rabbit Foot Minstrels". After this understudy she formed her own "Georgia Jazz Band." This formal nightclub decked out ensemble featured trombone, saxaphone, and trumpets, and had "Georgia Tom" 'tickling the ivories. (Thomas A. Dorsey -- who later, after going the religious route, wrote Precious Lord.) Tampa Red, another Georgian, was a guitarist in her band, who later played with "Georgia Tom" in 1928.

In her heyday with this band, in 1923, she was a 38 year old who had already 25 years of performing experience behind her bejewelled belt. She made up in dramatics onstage for her slight "dumpy" figure, by her elaborate fine feathered fashion, and low lascivious deliberate delivery: making her debut for the night's -- show popping out from behind a gargantuan gramophone. Her prolific number of recordings for Paramount was way above the average for that time.

It has been reported that Ma Rainey's protegés were more "citified" than the branch that her other famous follower took, Bessie Smith. But the rural background was still in "Madame"'s music with sounds of Tampa Red and Blind Blake in her recordings.

One writer has attributed the Depression and new phenomenon of the Movie Houses as causing a decline in her style of shows, so she retired and invested her money in 1933. It was 6 years later that she died back in Georgia of a heart attack 3 days before Christmas in 1939.

There was a play written and produced in the 1980's, called Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, even had John Carpenter in the role of Sturdyvant in the control booth of the recording studio in the opening scenes. The title song of hers, is as follows:

Way down south in Alabamy
I got a friend they call dancing Sammy,
Who's crazy about all the latest dances,
Black Bottom stomping, two babies prancing.

The other night as a swell affair,
As soon as the boys found out that I was there.
They said, "Come on, Ma, let's go to the Cabaret."
When I get there, you ought to hear them say:

"I want to see the dance you call the Black Bottom,
I want to learn that dance.
I want to see the dance you call your big Black Bottom,
It'll put you in a trance.

All the boys in the neighborhood,
They say your Black Bottom is really good.
Come on and show me your Black Bottom,
I want to learn that dance.

I want to see the dance you call the Black Bottom.
I want to learn that dance.
Come on and show the dance you call you big Black Bottom,
It puts you in a trance."

Early last morning about the break of day,
Grandpa told my grandma, I heard him say:
"Get up and show your old man your Black Bottom,
I want to learn that dance."

(Instrumental break)

I done showed you all my Black Bottom,
You ought to learn that dance.
p> Source: The Blues, Roots and Inspiration, John Collis; Salamander Books Ltd., London: 1997

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