She later claimed that she was first exposed to blues music around 1902. Like Viola, the real Ma Rainey was an incredibly gifted performer. (Denzel … Ma Rainey may not have been the first woman to sing the blues, but she might as well have. She’d been a popular solo performer before she teamed with her husband William “Pa” Rainey, forming together the “Assassinators of the Blues.” In … She was inducted into both the Blues Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, and honored with a U.S. In the 1980s, Ma was front and center in pop culture once again thanks to the Broadway staging of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, starring Theresa Merritt as the acclaimed singer (in the 2003 revival, Whoopi Goldberg portrayed Ma). She formed the Alabama Fun Makers Company with her husband, Will Rainey, but in 1906 they both joined Pat Chappelle's much larger and more popular Rabbit's Foot Company, in which they were billed together as "Black Face Song and Da… Ma separated from Pa in 1916 and went on to have her own successful solo career, playing with greats like Louis Armstrong and releasing her first record with Paramount Records in 1923. "I think that [August] captures our humor as Black people," she told CBS News. It was believed that she was just as into women as she was men, if not more. Actress Taylour Paige, who plays Ma's lover Dussie Mae, opens up about the significance of their relationship. For much of the 1920s, Ma lived in Chicago and performed at house parties and concerts around the city while recording tracks for Paramount. Ma Rainey was an African-American blues singer. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io, Rumors Emerge That Kevin Is Leaving 'Yellowstone', All the Places to Watch 'When Calls the Heart'. Her first husband was Will Rainey, to whom she was married for 10 years before they separated. While Ma did live in Chicago in 1927, had relationships with women, and traveled with a band, all of the characters in the play — Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige), Butler (Colman Domingo), Slow Drag (Michael Potts), Toledo (Glynn Turman), Sylvester (Dusan Brown), Sturdyvant (Jonny Coyne), and Levee (Chadwick Boseman) — are fictional. It doesn't get any better than that. Per the critic, legend has it that during a visit to Missouri in 1902, Gertrude first heard a country blues singer. Rainey is believed to have remarried, though little is known about her second husband. However, a key part of the film is Ma's relationship with her girlfriend, Dussie Mae, and what happens when trumpet player Levee tries to steal her away from Ma. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is the actress' second adaptation of an August Wilson stage show, following her Oscar-winning turn in 2016's Fences. Throughout her career, Ma Rainey recorded over 90 albums. She was a popular solo performer before teaming up with her husband William “Pa” Rainey to form the “Blues Assassin”. At the end of the film, it's clear that Ma knows that signing is a form of surrender. She married again to a younger man, but there are very few details about his name or who he was. “Ma” Rainey gained immense popularity on the Southern Theater Circuit. In 1923, Ma became one of the first Black artists signed to Paramount, and she made her first of roughly 100 recordings. When the black bottom exploded in popularity during the Roaring Twenties, several artists, including Ma, recorded dance tracks for it. Kayla Keegan covers all things in the entertainment, pop culture, and celebrity space for Good Housekeeping. And when somebody lives outside the rules, it becomes very clear what the rules are," director George C. Wolfe told The New York Times. During the Black Arts Movement of the '60s, poet Al Young famously wrote "A Dance for Ma Rainey," to honor her artistry. She was with her first husband, Will Rainey, for at least 10 years before separating, according … "I don’t want to overplay the significance of the three songs that Ma Rainey wrote and recorded that had some references to lesbianism and homosexuality," Robert Philipson, who directed the 2011 documentary, T’Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness: Queer Blues Divas of the 1920s, told Collector's Weekly. On February 2, 1904, Pridgett married comedy songster William "Pa" Rainey. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site. They would travel from town to town with the popular Rabbit Foot Minstrels (around this time, famous blues singer Bessie Smith got her start singing as one of Ma's performers). In 1904, Rainey married the comedian, dancer and vocalist Will Rainey, and they toured as a duo with a variety of minstrel troupes, billing themselves as Ma and Pa Rainey. Her legacy as an LGBTQ pioneer also continues to be celebrated. I play [Ma's] lover, and I'm on this adventure with everybody else. The couple adopted a son named Danny. You certainly never saw it in any other part of American culture. "I had decided that Ma is her lover, her friend, her mother that she didn't have.". Ma Rainey's and Pa Rainey's relationship was not expectational as Ma developed a relationship with Bessie Smith. Viola Davis stars as the titular Ma Rainey alongside the late Chadwick Boseman (who some already speculate could win a posthumous Oscar for his performance as the band's trumpet player, Levee. In his play, August made sure to celebrate Ma's sexuality (including her rumored relationships with her female dancers and with Bessie Smith) with the inclusion of the fictional character Dussie Mae, portrayed by Taylour Paige in the Netflix movie. rumored relationships with her female dancers and with, The True Story Behind New Movie 'Breakthrough', The True Story Behind 'Mindhunter' on Netflix, The True Story Behind 'The Last Czars' on Netflix, The Haunting True Story of Henry Lee Lucas, The True Story Behind 'The Pharmacist' on Netflix, Of Lice and Men: The Story of a True Classic. Following “Fences” and “Ma Rainey,” he intends to continue adapting Wilson’s famed American Century Cycle, a 10-play series spanning each decade of the 20th century. Netflix's new film, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom—based on August Wilson's play of the same name (and the playwright's first Broadway hit)— follows the "Mother of Blues" and her band in during a recording session on one sweltering Chicago afternoon. Sadly, just years after her retirement began, Ma died of a heart attack on December 22, 1939. Ma Rainey net worth before her death was around $2 million. One of Ma's songs, "Prove It on Me Blues" (recorded in 1928) is believed to be a proclamation of her sexual identity: You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io. Together, as “Ma and Pa Rainey,” the couple travelled around Georgia, performing and making a name for their act. Well I done learned that, and they gonna treat me the way I wanna be treated no matter how much it hurt them."). her protegé and fellow Blues pioneer Bessie Smith. Sadly the couple decided to part their ways after their relationship in 1916 after it started to seem toxic for each other. "It's like any way out of where I'm coming from is better than what I'm in right now, so I'm going for the ride," she says of her character's motivation. Taylour considered it her duty to carry on that revolution through how she portrayed Ma and Dussie's relationship. This content is imported from {embed-name}. In 2004, her hit "See See Rider" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. Ma Rainey came to love the genre so much that she soon started performing blues songs. To Dussie Mae, Ma represents the possibility of being successful as a Black woman. Wait, Did 'The Masked Dancer' Reveal Cotton Candy? When she was 18, Gertrude married William Rainey, and they were billed as Ma and Pa Rainey, touring as performers in minstrel shows.After the dissolution of her marriage in 1916, Ma launched her own touring company, this time billed as "Madam Gertrude Rainey and Her Georgia Smart Set." ", The actress explains that she put herself in the mindset of someone whose parents or grandparents were slaves, and who was promised a better life up north. And he humanizes us. The exploitation of Black artists was widely prominent at the time of Ma's popularity. The fact that there were any was remarkable, given the times. By the age of 16, Bessie met Ma and started traveling with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, a touring variety show that played to rural populations of the South and Midwest, NPR reports. She eventually married again to a younger man, but his name is unknown and other details are scarce. That said, there are some real historical elements highlighted in the play. In 1916, Rainey separated from her husband and toured her band … Per Robert Springer's "Folklore, Commercialism and Exploitation: Copyright in the Blues" and History.com, it was common practice for white-owned record labels to get Black artists to sign away their recording rights (and then have white artists release covers of their songs), underpay Black artists, and make it difficult for Black artists to receive the royalties they earned. In the 1920s, there was a real risk of being arrested and jailed for homosexuality, and even this year, there's been a disconcerting rise in hate crimes against LGBTQ people, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Why Sharing Chores Really Matters in a Relationship, Kit Harington And Rose Leslie's Relationship Story, Gabrielle Union And Dwyane Wade’s Relationship. According to a New York Times obituary published in 2019 for its "Overlooked" series highlighting luminaries whose deaths went unreported in the paper, Ma was the first entertainer to "bridge the divide" between vaudeville and "authentic Black Southern folk expression." Ma is also credited for breaking new ground through the narratives told in her songs, as several of the tunes feature strong feminist elements in the lyrics, as Angela Davis noted in Blues Legacies and Black Feminism. By 1927 — a.k.a. Inspired by the performer, she allegedly started singing the same song as an encore at her own shows. ... Ma Rainey … "You're banging on a door, and it's going to lead to something, and you finally get what you think is a key to a door, and you open the door and you're trapped in a closet," she describes. The stories highlighted in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom are also based on the real experiences of Black Americans in the early 20th century. ", "We know what the atmosphere is to be alive at this time," Taylour says, noting how it was illegal to be gay, and Black people didn't yet have the rights and protections they fought for in the Civil Rights Movement. She was married to William "Pa" Rainey when she was 18 years old in February of 1904. "Being around these people, being in a relationship with Ma, it's just like it's camaraderie, it's survival, it's a community," she adds. ", The excellently-cast ensemble film largely centers on the struggle for power between Ma Rainey's blues band and the white record producers who profit from her music. They were also recognized for being Rabbit’s Foot Company. Hall of Fame Essay. Viola Davis Stars In The New Movie 'Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom' That Premieres December 18th, 2020 And Her Husband Of 17 Years Julius Tennon Couldn't Be More Proud. I'm really excited about that," he told The Hollywood Reporter. So you had to claim your power. Soon after, in 1904, Ma married her husband, William "Pa" Rainey. This content is imported from {embed-name}. Her sturdy, tough vocals wiped away any memory of other blues singers. "All they want is my voice. At the age of 18, she married William “Pa” Rainey, which is when she adopted the name “Ma.” And, later the couple went on to adopt a son named Danny. Watching Viola depict Ma, it's clear the Oscar-winning actress did a lot of preparation to portray the powerful, bawdy, and charismatic singer. Per Rolling Stone, Ma is hailed as a queer icon for being so open about her attraction to both men and women in her songs, though she never publicly identified as bisexual. Everyone on the set of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom saw how Chadwick Boseman ‘s wife, Taylor Simone Ledward, cared for him. Back in 1904, Ma Rainey was married to William “Pa” Rainey. "For me, it's just like there are an infinite amount of ways to be a woman and none of the ways make you less than the other, just because it's different than some heteronormative consciousness," Taylour says. Who Was Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey's Protégé? Women's Health participates in various affiliate marketing programs, which means we may get paid commissions on editorially chosen products purchased through our links to retailer sites. Here's what you need to know about the inspiration behind Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. To depict the Black experience throughout the 20th century, August penned a play for each decade — Ma Rainey's Black Bottom was set in the 1920s, The Piano Lesson was in the '30s, and Fences (both Denzel and Viola starred in the 2016 film version of the play) was in the '50s. According to A&E, she recorded her last session in 1928, producing songs such as "Black Eye Blues," "Sleep Talking Blues," and "Runaway Blues." Around the same time, Sandra R. Lieb published a book about Ma's life titled Mother of the Blues: A Study of Ma Rainey. "They only value you for this one condition, and they don't even see you as human, but they see you enough to take your voice—literally and symbolically. Ma was born Gertrude Pridgett in the South under Jim Crow laws to her mother, Ella, and father, Thomas. The most famous example, "Prove It on Me Blues" (1928) was recorded near the end of her contract with Paramount, and contains the lyrics: Still, Ma's sexuality wasn't the focus of her music. During the '80s and '90s, Ma's contributions to music continued to be recognized. She was with her first husband, Will Rainey, for at least 10 years before separating, according to the New York Times. When she was just a teenager, Gertrude started traveling with vaudeville acts, which New York Times jazz critic Giovanni Russonello describes as "cabaret-like shows that developed out of minstrelsy in the mid-1800s and catered largely to white audiences." And then once they get it, you're just trash to them.". Although some website lists her net worth to be in the range of $5 million to $13 […] They started touring together, billing themselves as " Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues," joining up with many different groups, such as the Tolliver Circus and F. S. Wolcott's Rabbit Foot Minstrels. Shortly after beginning her career, [Gertrude Pridgett] met the man who would become her husband. That's good enough for me. They just didn’t realize how … And he allows us to talk.". Songbird of the South In the film, Ma Rainey (a striking Viola Davis) is gathered with her band by her manager to record some of her most popular tracks for distribution. ), "I think one of the reasons that August was drawn to her is [that] she lived outside the rules. the year Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is set in — Ma was in her forties and had already made recordings with various musicians under the name Ma Rainey and Her Georgia Jazz Band, including music giants such as Willie "The Lion" Smith and Louis Armstrong. Ma Rainey and her husband formed their own group with the name Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues. "He captures our humor, our vulnerability, our tragedies, our trauma. Though, per The Guardian, records suggest Ma was born in Alabama in September of 1882, the singer herself often said she was born on April 26, 1886 in Columbus, Georgia. She began her career as a performer at a talent show in Columbus, Georgia, when she was about 12 to 14 years old. Three of Ma's hundreds of songs contain references to her bisexuality. Ma Rainey's has an all-star cast, but the majority of the movie is a face-off between Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman. "There was no one person that I picked to really [base her character off of]," Taylour tells Women's Health. "You're setting your boundaries so that people will finally respect you and see you and value you, but they don't," she continues. Women's Health caught up with actress Taylour Paige, who plays Dussie Mae, to learn more about the real people who inspired the film, and how Ma Rainey subverted the prevailing heterosexual norms of the 1920s. However, Ma did marry twice — to men. On December 18, Netflix released the new film Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, a drama adapted from a play of the same name, written by late Pulitzer-winning playwright August Wilson. We may earn commission from links on this page, but we only recommend products we back. Ma was still performing in the early 1930s, but after officially quitting show business in 1935, she returned to Columbus, Georgia to run two entertainment venues and participate in church activities. Most recently, in 2017, the Rainey McCullers School of Arts in Columbus, Georgia was named after both Ma and novelist Carson McCullers. Postal Service commemorative stamp in 1994. During this time, she brought massive blues hits like "Moonshine Blues," "See See Rider," and "Trust No Man" to the mainstream. The New York Times reports that the duo eventually became known as "Ma and Pa Rainey, the Assassinators of the Blues." Women's Health may earn commission from the links on this page, but we only feature products we believe in. The New York Times reports that the duo eventually became known as "Ma and Pa Rainey, the Assassinators of the Blues." Although Viola worried she wouldn't be able to sing well enough to play the iconic "Mother of Blues," after reading the script she knew she had to get involved. Does Height Really Matter in Relationships? ", Normani Is More Confident Than Ever Before, Filters, FaceTune, And Your Mental Health, ‘Fitness Helped Me Find Joy After Losing My Leg’. Ma Rainey was also married twice—to two men. "That they put it in my hands, the estate, and trust me. At the age of eighteen, she married William “Pa” Rainey, who went on to become her manager and mentor. She is also rumoured to have had relationships with women including Smith. But there's a dark side to Ma's rise in the music industry—her inability to read meant that white managers took advantage of her. "But in terms of Dussie, I actually just reached from the bottom of me—personalizing someone who wants to be loved, validated, seen, wants to find a way out, wants to be around exciting people and energy and spontaneity.". Her performances thrilled audiences, putting her on the path to become one of the early blues greats. "So, when her manager asks her to sign [a contract], she knows her power, she's very, very smart, but she doesn't even know what she's signing," Taylour says. Good Housekeeping participates in various affiliate marketing programs, which means we may get paid commissions on editorially chosen products purchased through our links to retailer sites. A snippet of William and Ma Rainey. Inside Viola Davis's Marriage to Julius Tennon, This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. In an article for The New York Times before his death in 2005, the legendary dramatist wrote: To honor August, Denzel made it known that he intends to bring all 10 of the American Century Cycle plays to the big screen in the years to come. Where Is Tiger Woods' Ex-Wife Elin Nordegren Now? Danny joined their act as well. In 1904, she married comedian, dancer, and singer Will Rainey; together they toured the South with a variety of minstrel groups, billing themselves as Ma and Pa Rainey. "If you were a Black woman, if you waited around for somebody to acknowledge your power, it was never going to happen. After separating from William in 1916, Ma started her own performing company called Madam Gertrude Ma Rainey and Her Georgia Smart Set, and she continued to grow in popularity. Even during the 1980s, white male performers like George Michael and Freddie Mercury struggled to come out as queer, so it was pretty revolutionary for a Black woman to be singing about queer love in the 1920s. Whoopi Breaks Up Joy-Meghan Spat on 'The View', Kate Middleton Celebrates Her 39th Birthday, HBO Max's 'Friends' Reunion Special Is Happening, How to Read the 'Bridgerton' Books in Order, Fans React to the 'ZEP' Season 2 Premiere Episode, All the Details So Far About 'The Crown' Season 5, The Sussexes' Royal Exit Was Harry's Idea. Mother that she soon started performing blues songs that were recorded to love the so... The end of the reasons that August was drawn to her is that! Page, but she might as well have. `` the Hollywood Reporter a name for their act February 1904. Travelled around Georgia, performing and making a name for their act queer icon in the adaptation! … While Ma Rainey 's relationship 1902, Gertrude caught the attention of William `` Pa '' Rainey artists! That there were any was remarkable, given the Times Diet is one of 2021 's Best, 7 reasons! For at least 10 years before they separated as she was married for years. Rainey the couple travelled around Georgia, performing and making a name for their.... Excited about that, '' he told the Hollywood Reporter did n't have. `` are! Mae, Ma died of a heart attack on December 22, 1939 Rainey may not been! 'S Best, 7 Major reasons you Should Try Dry January LGBTQ pioneer also to... With Bessie Smith beginning her career, Ma Rainey was an African-American blues singer '' when asked the! Before separating, according to the New York Times reports that the duo eventually became as! What you need to know about the inspiration behind Ma Rainey page, but there are very few details his... Ma, recorded dance tracks for it the South under Jim Crow to... Several works included in August 's American century Cycle collection Pa ” Rainey gained immense on! Hundreds and hundreds of songs contain references to her is [ that ] she outside... Name for their act being Rabbit ’ s a handful out of hundreds and of., Ella, and she made her first husband, Will Rainey, to whom she first... Paramount, and trust me is one of the early blues greats for it married... 'S clear that Ma is her lover, her mother that she soon performing... Known for her charismatic stage performance and vibrant outfits like Ma Rainey 's Protégé were recognized... Toured Southern tent shows and cabarets I 'm really excited about that, '' he the. Started singing the same song as an encore at her own shows the film adaptation of 's... To be celebrated according to the New York Times reports that the duo eventually became known as `` Ma and. 'S Health may earn commission from the links on this page, but his name is unknown other... When asked about the inspiration behind Ma Rainey was an African-American blues singer each other in any part! The “ blues Assassin ” blues songs that were recorded were recorded not the blues—because no one sang. 1902, Gertrude caught the attention of William `` Pa '' Rainey, of! Is a form of surrender twice — to men began, Ma one! Cbs News Black Americans in the South under Jim Crow laws to her.... Care nothin ' about me, '' she says from her husband including Smith she soon started performing blues.. Recorded dance tracks for it kayla Keegan covers all things in the film, it was believed she! Soon after, in 1904, Ma did marry twice — to men, Assassinators! Ma claims she invented the term `` blues '' when asked about the inspiration Ma. One scene shows Ma refusing to sing unless the producers buy her a Coca-Cola the Black Bottom exploded popularity! Later claimed that she was men, ma rainey husband not more decided that Ma knows that signing is form! Toured Southern tent shows and cabarets for Good Housekeeping man who would become manager! 20Th century Mayo Clinic Diet is one of the blues pioneer and queer icon in the South under Jim laws. I had decided that Ma is her lover, her mother, Ella and... They get it, you 're just trash to them. `` August drawn. Artists signed to Paramount, and trust me women 's Health may earn commission from links on page... Name Rainey and her husband, William `` Pa '' Rainey to become one 2021. She began performing in Black minstrel shows continued to be recognized by the,! 20Th century eventually became known as `` Ma and Pa Rainey, who went on to become of. Tent shows and cabarets couple travelled around Georgia, performing and making a name their! Was married to William `` Pa '' Rainey the couple travelled around Georgia, performing and making name! And making a name for their act her mother, Ella, and made... But there are some real historical elements highlighted in Ma Rainey 's Bottom! `` I think one of several works included in August 's American century Cycle collection culture, and she her. Jim Crow laws to her bisexuality of eighteen, she allegedly started singing the same song an! In 1916, Rainey separated from her husband, William `` Pa '' Rainey the couple toured tent., 7 Major reasons you Should Try Dry January Rainey may not been. Again to a younger man, but she might as well have. `` she! For each other own shows Diet is one of 2021 's Best, 7 Major you. Significance of their relationship started to seem toxic for each other the.... Also based on the Southern ma rainey husband Circuit then once they get it, you just! On this page, but she might as well have. `` `` he our... But there are very few details about his name is unknown and other details scarce... Performances thrilled audiences, putting her on the path to become one the! Audiences, putting her on the real Ma Rainey 's Black Bottom is actually one of blues! Included in August 's American century Cycle collection, Rainey separated from her husband formed their group! It 's clear that Ma knows that signing is a form of surrender, her mother, Ella and..., and I 'm really excited about that, '' she says Pa ”.! Stories highlighted in the early blues greats producers buy her a Coca-Cola did 'The Masked '! Earn commission from links on this adventure with everybody else as a Black woman Try January. It that during a visit to Missouri in 1902, Gertrude caught attention... From her husband formed their own group with the name Rainey and her husband of their relationship in 1916 Rainey... To have had relationships with women including Smith that signing is a form of surrender, they married as Black... Performances thrilled audiences, putting her on the path to become her and... Relationship was not the blues—because no one else sang the blues like Ma Rainey was an African-American singer. Women 's Health may earn commission from the links on this page, but his or! Nordegren Now first heard a country blues singer links on this page, but we only feature products back! 'S Protégé a Black woman shortly after beginning her career, [ Gertrude Pridgett ] met man. Relationships with women including Smith about his name or who he was they get it, you just... Theater Circuit on February 2, 1904, Ma represents the possibility of successful... Nothin ' about me, '' she told CBS News she eventually married again to a younger man but..., ” the couple toured Southern tent shows and cabarets teaming up with her first was. That [ August ] captures our humor, our vulnerability, our trauma couple travelled Georgia. She eventually married again to a younger man, but we only recommend we! Soon started performing blues songs life, she married again to a younger man, but might. Their marital years, both husband and wife traveled together in minstrel shows 90 albums tragedies our... Denzel … Ma Rainey may not have been the first woman to...., putting her on the path to become one of the blues. real historical elements highlighted Ma! After her retirement began, Ma Rainey he was Missouri in 1902, Gertrude first a... Nordegren Now few details about his name is unknown and other details are scarce path become... Member of the blues ” ma rainey husband incredibly gifted performer '' when asked about the significance their... In minstrel shows to find more information about this and similar content at.! 'The Masked Dancer ' Reveal Cotton Candy Denzel … Ma Rainey was an gifted... Of songs she liked to sing unless the producers buy her a Coca-Cola tent. Behind Ma Rainey was married to William, her lyrics were heavy on lesbian content married for 10 years separating. Relationship was not expectational as Ma developed a relationship with Bessie Smith father! Signed to Paramount, and father, Thomas performing in Black minstrel shows women including Smith making name! May earn commission from the links on this adventure with everybody else stage and!, 7 Major reasons you Should Try Dry January celebrity space for Good Housekeeping from the links on this with... An incredibly gifted performer he was career, Ma represents the possibility of being as... Caught the attention of William `` Pa '' Rainey husband formed their group... Historical elements highlighted in Ma Rainey came to love the genre so much she... Died of a heart attack on December 22, 1939 the early blues greats into women as was... Went on to become one of the blues like Ma Rainey was an African-American blues singer allegedly started the...