Music History

Music History Biographies

Music History Of The Week

Music History Calendar

Ma Rainey

On 26/04/1886 Ma Rainey was born in Columbus, Georgia probably. The 1900 census suggested she was born in September 1882 in Russell County, Alabama. Her full birth name was Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett. In around 1902, she would first hear blues music. When she was about 12 or 14, she performed at a talent show in Columbus, Georgia. She was a member of the First African Baptist Church and began performing in black minstrel shows.
Rainey formed the Alabama Fun Makers Company with her husband Will Rainey.
In 1906, Rainey and her husband joined Pat Chappelle's Rabbit's Foot Company. They were billed together as "Black Face Song and Dance Comedians, Jubilee Singers and Cake Walkers".
In 1912, Rabbit's Foot Company was taken over by a new owner, F. S. Wolcott. Rainey would continue to perform with the company.
From 1914, the Raineys were billed as Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues. Rainey would spend the winter months in New Orleans and would musicians such as Joe "King" Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet and Pops Foster. She would also meet Bessie Smith around that time who joined Rabbit's Foot.
In 1923, Rainey was discovered by Paramount Records producer J Mayo Williams. She was signed to Paramount. In December, she made eight recordings in Chicago which included the songs "Bad Luck Blues", "Bo-Weevil Blues" and "Moonshine Blues". Over the next five years, she recorded over 100 more recordings. Paramount billed her as the Mother of the Blues, the Songbird of the South, the Gold-Neck Woman of the Blues and the Paramount Wildcat.
In 1924, Rainey collaborated with Louis Armstrong on some recordings which included "Jelly Bean Blues", "Countin' the Blues" and "See, See Rider". Also in 1924, Rainey went on tour with the Theater Owners Booking Association in the US. She was accompanied by bandleader and pianist Thomas Dorsey and his band the Wildcats Jazz Band. They would tour together on and off until 1928.
In 1925, Rainey was reportedly arrested at her house in Harlem for having a lesbian party. She was bailed out the next morning by Bessie Smith.
In 1926, Dorsey left the group because of illness and was replaced by pianist Lillian Hardaway Henderson who was the wife of Rainey's cornetist Fuller Henderson who became the band's leader.
In 1928, Rainey worked with Dorsey again and recorded 20 songs before Paramount terminated her contract. They felt that her style of blues was no longer popular enough.
In 1935, Rainey moved back to her hometown Columbus, Georgia. She ran three theatres there, the Lyric, the Airdrome and the Liberty Theatre.
In 1939, Rainey died of a heart attack in Rome, Georgia.
In 1983, Rainey was posthumously inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame.
In 1990, Rainey was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 2004, Rainey's song "See See Rider Blues was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and was added to the National Recording Registry by the National Recording Preservation Board of the Library of Congress.

The Music History Calendar is written by the Blues Rock artist Marshland Pete
If you would like more, come join our Music News and History Facebook Group Community