*(Records by "Ma" Rainey are available elsewhere on this site)
Gertrude "Ma" Rainey (1886-1939)
Gertrude Pridgett was born into a showbiz family that performed in minstrel shows. She first appeared onstage in 1900, singing and dancing in minstrel and vaudeville stage revues. In 1902 she married the song and dance man William "Pa" Rainey and from then on became known as Ma Rainey. The couple formed a song and dance act that included Blues and popular songs. They toured the country, but primarily the South and became a popular attraction as part of Tolliver's Circus, The Musical Extravaganza and The Rabbit Foot Minstrels, where Rainey befriended a young Bessie Smith. In the 1920s Rainey was a solo star of the T.O.B.A. vaudeville circuit.
It was not until 1923 that Ma Rainey signed a recording contract with Paramount. She was billed as the "Mother of the Blues", which wasn't far off the mark. Few historians can point to any real Blues singers before Ma Rainey. She ended up recording 100 songs between 1923 and 1928 on Paramount Records.
Some sessions feature the great Ma Rainey accompanied by many of the best Black jazz musicians of the 1920s. All of the New York sessions feature members of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, which in 1924 included Louis Armstrong. The Chicago sessions feature such greats as Johnny Dodds and Kid Ory, The sessions were released under the names of either Ma Rainey and her Georgia Jazz Band or as Ma Rainey and her Georgia Band.
Many other noted jazz musicians such as, Louis Armstrong, Tommy Ladnier and Coleman Hawkins also sometimes accompanied her. She continued working until 1935 and retired to Columbus, Georgia.
Ma had been smart with her money and managed to build and operate two theaters; she also owned her own home in Columbus. Ma Rainey died in 1939, of a heart attack.