“Ma” Rainey began performing and entertaining when she was a teenager. Her birth name was “Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett,” but she preferred performing under the name “Ma” Rainey. She was born either in 1886 or 1882 according to the census taken in 1910. She was the 2nd child of five children. Her talent was first seen during a talent show in Georgia. She would later go on to perform in #Black minstrel show tents. She formed her own troupe the Alabama Fun Makers Company with her husband Will Rainey, whom she married in 1904. The couple later joined Pat Chappelle’s larger and popular Rabbit’s Foot Company.
She was known during the early 1900s as the young “coon shouter” who was making a name for herself. During this time she was meeting famous entertainers such as Louis Armstrong, Joe “King” Oliver, Pops Foster, and many others. Rainey was discovered by Paramount records in 1923, and signed a contract which she made 8 recordings including: “Moonshine Blues”, “Bo-Weevil Blues”, and “Bad Luck Blues” under. She was marketed by Paramount as being “the #Mother of the Blues”, and “the Songbird of the South.”
Even though, #Ma Rainey was not the first Black woman to sing the Blues, she is credited for its rise in popularity. In 1935, Rainey operated two theaters in Columbus, Georgia, “The Lyric,” and “The Airdrome.” She had a passion for dressing up in diamonds and sequins and wore a necklace made of gold coins to show off her success. She was also known as The Gold Necklace Woman of the Blues. “Ma” Rainey died in 1939 at the age of 53 from a heart attack.
In 1983, she was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Many people might also remember hearing her name mentioned in the 2015 film Bessie, where Mo’Nique played Ma Rainey.