Netflix had released its brand new flick ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ starring Viola Davis in a lead role on 25th November 2020. The show got lots of positive reviews from critics and viewers. It is a 2020 American biographical musical drama film directed by George C Wolfie that is based on the legendary Mother of Blues singer Ma Rainey.
The film stars the late Chadwick Boseman in his final film appearance, with Glynn Turman, Colman Dingo, and Michael Plotts in supporting roles. The movie is the adaptation of August Wilson’s play ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ and its hed lights on the various professional and personal aspects of the late legendary Mother of Blues singer Ma Rainey.
In this article, we will enlighten you about Ma Rainey, the cause of her death, and some controversies that troubled her for a long time.
Who is Ma Rainey?
Ma Rainey was born on 26th April 1886 as Gertrude Pridgett in Colombus, Georgia, the United States. The birth date of Ma Rainey is quite uncertain because while most sources assert that she was born on 26th April 1886, some sources indicate that she was born in 1882. Even though she claimed to have been born on 26th April 2886, the 1990 census indicates that she was born in September 1882 in Alabama.
She was the second of five children of Thomas and Ella (née Allen) Pridgett who started performing at Black minstrel shows in her teenage years. She got married to William “Pa” Rainey in February 1904 at the age of 18. After that, she adopted the name “Ma Rainey”, which was “a play on her husband’s nickname,’ Pa’ “.
The couple adopted a son named Danny and joined a popular minstrel show at that time, Rabbit’s Foot Company. Later, they formed their own group with the name Rainey and Rainey, Assasinators of the Blues.
She became more and more popular as the genre became popular. Luckily she got discovered by music director J Mayo Williams in 1923, who was an employee of Paramount Records. And in just 5 years, they went on to record more than 100 songs, which only highlights her innate professionalism. She earned various titles such as the “Songbird of the South” and the “Gold-Neck Woman of the Blues.
She collaborated with many renowned artists like Joe “King” Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Richet, and Pops Foster as she earned more fame. She collaborates with iconic artist Armstrong on tracks like “Moonshine Blues”, “Jelly Bean”, ” ‘Countin’the Blues”, and “See, See Rider”. She went on a tour of the Theatre Owners B looking Association (TOBA) with the Wildcats Jazz Band in 1924, which was assembled by Thomas Dorsey.
Ma Rainey’s downfall
Ma Rainey witnessed a downfall at the turn of the decade as her style of music was no longer in demand. But she didn’t quit as she continued recording for Paramount and pocketed enough money from touring to buy a bus with her name on it. However, Paramount decided to cancel her contract because her style of blues was no longer considered fashionable.
She was also involved in some rumors that she was involved in a romantic lesbian affair with the fellow blues singer Bessie Smith. As well as in the song titled “Prove It on Me”, she sang the lyrics that tell “Went out last night with a crowd of my friends. They must’ve been women, ’cause I don’t like no men.”
Florence Dawkins, the director of ‘Ma Rainey House and Blues Mmusem’ said that Rainey couldn’t control the world, segregation, and exploitation, but she could control the audience when she went on stage no matter.
He added “She laid the foundation. A lot of legendary people started with Ma Rainey or grew with Ma Rainey. I read somewhere Thomas Dorsey said, ‘After performing and working with Ma Rainey there was nowhere else to go but to the Lord’.
“I think her voice made a statement. It was strong and unapologetic. They didn’t have all the bells and whistles and the amplifiers we have in music today. It was just music point-blank to your soul. It was how she was feeling. Like the blues is your story, she told her story.”
How did Ma Rainey die?
Ma Rainey returned to her hometown following the deaths of her sister and mother, ran three theatres namely the Lyric, the Airdome, and the Liberty Theatre in 1935. It is revealed that the actual cause of her death is heart disease.
She died on 22nd December 1939 at the age of 53. But, there is a lot of discrepancy in her age as the research of Bob Eagle says that she passed away at the age of 57.
After her death, she was introduced into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 1983 and the ‘Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. In her honor, the U.S Post Office released a 29 cent stamp in 1994.