Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey (April 26, 1886 – December 22, 1939)

Ma Rainey, mother of the blues, was able to make huge strides for women with her subversive lyrics, shrouded in blatant metaphors.  At a times when women were not able to be heard, she served as a voice that screamed about what was happening in the lives of black women. She is truly a woman that transcends time, and despite her lack of traditional education, outsmarted and outwitted the white men who recorded her albums, not realizing what it was she sang about.  Her voice and tradition lives on today, but no one has been able to attain quite the subversive power and sexuality that Ma Rainey was able to harness in a single song.  I could go on for quite some time, analyzing lyrics, explaining parallels, and what not.  I have an entire thesis on her influence and importance (really, I do, but I will spare you)  Instead, I will leave you with a song, thus allowing her to voice to carry on.

To the best of our knowledge, she was born today in 1886.  

Join in celebrating the life of a pioneer in women’s music and feminism.

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One thought on “Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey (April 26, 1886 – December 22, 1939)

  1. Great post. I well remember your thesis built around Ma Rainey how she broke ground, racially, sexually, and culturally. Great piece of work.

    I first became aware of Ma Rainey in 1965 via Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” when he sang the line,
    “Where Ma Rainey and Beethoven once unwrapped their bedroll
    Tuba players now rehearse around the flagpole
    And the National Bank at a profit sells road maps for the soul
    To the old folks home and the college

    Now I wish I could write you a melody so plain
    That could hold you dear lady from going insane
    That could ease you and cool you and cease the pain
    Of your useless and pointless knowledge

    Mama’s in the fact’ry
    She ain’t got no shoes
    Daddy’s in the alley
    He’s lookin’ for the fuse
    I’m in the streets
    With the tombstone blues”

    The juxtaposition of of Ma Rainey and Beethoven seemed odd at the time, but now I see the parallels thanks in part to your guidance on the matter.

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