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At the age of eighteen, she married William “Pa” Rainey, who went on to become her manager and mentor. 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). So you had to claim your power. "I think that [August] captures our humor as Black people," she told CBS News. 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. "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. 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. Her first husband was Will Rainey, to whom she was married for 10 years before they separated. The New York Times reports that the duo eventually became known as "Ma and Pa Rainey, the Assassinators of the Blues." I play [Ma's] lover, and I'm on this adventure with everybody else. "All they want is my voice. "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.". 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. 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. 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. 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. This content is imported from {embed-name}. 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. How Would You Solve This Hard Letter Math Problem? Tensions rise between Ma Rainey, her ambitious horn player and the white management determined to control the uncontrollable "Mother of the Blues". 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. Watching Viola depict Ma, it's clear the Oscar-winning actress did a lot of preparation to portray the powerful, bawdy, and charismatic singer. Before long, Gertrude caught the attention of William "Pa" Rainey, another traveling showman, and in 1904, they married. Viola reveals her favorite Christmas song, and talks about the moment she realized she was going to be an actress, her mom inviting 40 extra people to her wedding, her new movie Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, the late great Chadwick Boseman, getting an amazing note and gifts from Oprah, her ten-year-old daughter's Christmas list, and her husband's birthday falling on December 24th. 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. 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. We may earn commission from links on this page, but we only recommend products we back. Her legacy as an LGBTQ pioneer also continues to be celebrated. Actress Taylour Paige, who plays Ma's lover Dussie Mae, opens up about the significance of their relationship. 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. A member of the First African Baptist Church, she began performing in black minstrel shows. Ma was born Gertrude Pridgett in the South under Jim Crow laws to her mother, Ella, and father, Thomas. After a year packed with Mank, The Trial of the Chicago Seven and Da Five Bloods, Netflix is ending 2020 with another hit original film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. "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. She eventually married again to a younger man, but his name is unknown and other details are scarce. Together, as “Ma and Pa Rainey,” the couple travelled around Georgia, performing and making a name for their act. Meghan And Harry Are 'Happier Than Ever' In 2021, Aquarius Season Will Help You Reset And Recharge. I'm really excited about that," he told The Hollywood Reporter. 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. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io, A ‘Cobra Kai’ Scene Explains Why Ali Dumped Daniel, Why Carson Daly Objected to Gwen and Blake Dating, Bindi Irwin Posts Pregnancy Tribute to Her Father, The 60 Best Country Love Songs of All Time, How to Watch All the Marvel Movies in Order, 'Law and Order: SVU' Fans Missed This Easter Egg, All We Know About 'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 4, Royal Outfits That Were Recreated on 'The Crown', See How the 'Groundhog Day' Cast Has Changed, People Think Queen Victoria Was "Planted" by ABC. To Dussie Mae, Ma represents the possibility of being successful as a Black woman. "That’s a handful out of hundreds and hundreds of blues songs that were recorded. At the end of the film, it's clear that Ma knows that signing is a form of surrender. 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. Back in 1904, Ma Rainey was married to William “Pa” Rainey. In “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Viola Davis looks unlike any character we’ve ever seen her play. Sadly the couple decided to part their ways after their relationship in 1916 after it started to seem toxic for each other. According to A&E, she recorded her last session in 1928, producing songs such as "Black Eye Blues," "Sleep Talking Blues," and "Runaway Blues." The couple separated in 1916, after which Rainey began touring with her own show, Madam Gertrude Ma Rainey … Her sturdy, tough vocals wiped away any memory of other blues singers. 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). Like Viola, the real Ma Rainey was an incredibly gifted performer. Chicago, 1927. "They don't care nothin' about me," she says. "I had decided that Ma is her lover, her friend, her mother that she didn't have.". It doesn't get any better than that. He was also a singer, and together they toured as a double act under the billing ‘Ma and Pa Rainey’. American blues singer Ma Rainey was born Gertrude Pridgett on the26 April 1882in Columbus, Georgia. For much of the 1920s, Ma lived in Chicago and performed at house parties and concerts around the city while recording tracks for Paramount. ", How to Best Alleviate COVID-19 Symptoms at Home, These Reusable Grocery Bags Make Shopping a Breeze, How to Read the 'Bridgerton' Books in Order. Ma Rainey's and Pa Rainey's relationship was not expectational as Ma developed a relationship with Bessie Smith. 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. She later claimed that she was first exposed to blues music around 1902. However, Ma did marry twice — to men. 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. 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. During the '80s and '90s, Ma's contributions to music continued to be recognized. Around the same time, Sandra R. Lieb published a book about Ma's life titled Mother of the Blues: A Study of Ma Rainey. 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." For instance, the song Ma is seen recording with her band, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," was an actual number written in response to the 1920s dance craze known as the black bottom, which originated in the Southern Black community (and was reportedly named after a predominantly Black neighborhood in Detroit). What The Heck Is Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy? 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. Danny joined their act as well. Though Ma Rainey's lovers aren't documented, she was arrested for hosting an orgy with female members of her chorus, according to PBS, and may have had a relationship with her protegé and fellow Blues pioneer Bessie Smith, per Billboard. Why trust us? Though her music temporarily fell out of print when the Great Depression hit and Paramount closed down, her catalog was revived in the 1960s when the songs were picked up by Milestone and Biograph labels, per the New York Times. "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. Simone Boseman finished her tribute by saying, "Chad, thank you. The 55-year-old actress shared a look at one of her workouts that she said helped get her back in shape after gaining weight to play the title character in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." Hall of Fame Essay. She married again to a younger man, but there are very few details about his name or who he was. 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. Inspired by the performer, she allegedly started singing the same song as an encore at her own shows. ... Ma Rainey … Directed by George C. Wolfe. Soon after, in 1904, Ma married her husband, William "Pa" Rainey. This content is imported from {embed-name}. Is 'One Night In Miami' Based On A True Story? Well I done learned that, and they gonna treat me the way I wanna be treated no matter how much it hurt them."). Although married to William Rainey for decades, Ma 'Gertrude Pridgett' Rainey constantly wrote and sang about lesbian affairs, lading some to even believe that her relationship to fellow Blues singer Bessie Smith wasn't just that of a mentor, but a sexual one too. The couple adopted a son named Danny. Most recently, in 2017, the Rainey McCullers School of Arts in Columbus, Georgia was named after both Ma and novelist Carson McCullers. Rainey is believed to have remarried, though little is known about her second husband. The stories highlighted in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom are also based on the real experiences of Black Americans in the early 20th century. She’d been a popular solo performer before she teamed with her husband William “Pa” Rainey, forming together the “Assassinators of the Blues.” In … 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. ", "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. 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. "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. Per the critic, legend has it that during a visit to Missouri in 1902, Gertrude first heard a country blues singer. For his role as feisty trumpet player Levee, he was … "We're going to do one a year for the next nine years. 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