On This Gay Day: Blues singer Ma Rainey was born

Ma Rainey was born on this day in 1886

Ma Rainey is acknowledged as one of the most influential blues singers of all time, part of the first generation to be recorded, she is often referred to as the ‘Mother of the Blues’.

Born Gertrude Pridgett, she gained her name through marriage when she wed Will ‘Pa’ Rainey in 1904 and began touring with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, later the couple formed their own group. They toured around the USA until the separated in 1916.

She made her first recording in 1923 and over the next five years laid down over 100 different tracks.

During her career it was often suggested that Ma Rainey was involved in a romantic relationship with another singer, Bessie Smith. While most of her songs have lyrics about heterosexual romances, a few delve into lesbian and bisexual relationships.

On of her songs Prove It On Me is allegedly about an incident in 1925 when Rainey was arrested for taking part in an orgy at her house involving the women of her chorus. The song would become a lesbian anthem in the 1970s.

In 1982 the play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was a bit on Broadway, in 2020 it was adapted into a film for Netflix with Viola Davis portraying Ma Rainey. The film was also the final appearance of actor Chadwick Boseman, who passed away after filming concluded.

Today the film was among the nominees at the Academy Awards with both Davis and Boseman nominated for their work. The film picked up the awards for Best Costume, and Best Hair and Makeup.

OIP Staff


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