Before long, Gertrude caught the attention of William "Pa" Rainey, another traveling showman, and in 1904, they married. 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. Shortly after beginning her career, [Gertrude Pridgett] met the man who would become her husband. Together, as “Ma and Pa Rainey,” the couple travelled around Georgia, performing and making a name for their act. ... Ma Rainey … Although some website lists her net worth to be in the range of $5 million to $13 […] She is also rumoured to have had relationships with women including Smith. She married again to a younger man, but there are very few details about his name or who he was. 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. 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. The True Story Of 'Mother Of The Blues' Ma Rainey, This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. 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. 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. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom will stream on Netflix later this month. 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. "All they want is my voice. "I had decided that Ma is her lover, her friend, her mother that she didn't have.". She eventually married again to a younger man, but his name is unknown and other details are scarce. Rainey is believed to have remarried, though little is known about her second husband. 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. They were also recognized for being Rabbit’s Foot Company. Well I done learned that, and they gonna treat me the way I wanna be treated no matter how much it hurt them."). 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. 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'. She is known for her charismatic stage performance and vibrant outfits. Throughout her career, Ma Rainey recorded over 90 albums. Why trust us? "They don't care nothin' about me," she says. Does Height Really Matter in Relationships? To Dussie Mae, Ma represents the possibility of being successful as a Black woman. Sadly, just years after her retirement began, Ma died of a heart attack on December 22, 1939. For much of the 1920s, Ma lived in Chicago and performed at house parties and concerts around the city while recording tracks for Paramount. 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. The couple adopted a son named Danny. And he allows us to talk.". 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. 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. Reflecting on Ma Rainey's personal life, she was a married woman. A member of the First African Baptist Church, she began performing in black minstrel shows. 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. What The Heck Is Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy? 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. And then once they get it, you're just trash to them.". "If you were a Black woman, if you waited around for somebody to acknowledge your power, it was never going to happen. "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. Most recently, in 2017, the Rainey McCullers School of Arts in Columbus, Georgia was named after both Ma and novelist Carson McCullers. During this time, she brought massive blues hits like "Moonshine Blues," "See See Rider," and "Trust No Man" to the mainstream. Her performances thrilled audiences, putting her on the path to become one of the early blues greats. A snippet of William and Ma Rainey. 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. This content is imported from {embed-name}. They just didn’t realize how … Ma claims she invented the term "blues" when asked about the types of songs she liked to sing. Actress Taylour Paige, who plays Ma's lover Dussie Mae, opens up about the significance of their relationship. Over their marital years, both husband and wife traveled together in minstrel shows. 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… "That they put it in my hands, the estate, and trust me. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is actually one of several works included in August's American Century Cycle collection. 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. It doesn't get any better than that. She later claimed that she was first exposed to blues music around 1902. It was believed that she was just as into women as she was men, if not more. Women's Health may earn commission from the links on this page, but we only feature products we believe in. And when somebody lives outside the rules, it becomes very clear what the rules are," director George C. Wolfe told The New York Times. She began her career as a performer at a talent show in Columbus, Georgia, when she was about 12 to 14 years old. Produced by Denzel Washington and starring Viola Davis, the movie centers around real-life blues pioneer Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, on the day that she and her band record a song called "Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.". Inside The Royal Family's Secret Code-Word System, This Soda Tab Hack Will Give You More Closet Space, Diana's Chef Said 'The Crown' Got Things Wrong, The Sussexes' Royal Exit Was Harry's Idea, All The Pop Songs In Netflix's 'Bridgerton', William & Harry's Feud Was "Very Ugly" And Intense. 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. One of Ma's songs, "Prove It on Me Blues" (recorded in 1928) is believed to be a proclamation of her sexual identity: However, Ma did marry twice — to men. 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. The real Ma Rainey came of age in Columbus, Georgia at the turn of the 20th century.She was born Gertrude Pridgett and gained her infamous stage name from marrying Will “Pa” Rainey… "That’s a handful out of hundreds and hundreds of blues songs that were recorded. "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. You certainly never saw it in any other part of American culture. In 1916, Rainey separated from her husband and toured her band … Per the critic, legend has it that during a visit to Missouri in 1902, Gertrude first heard a country blues singer. 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. In 1923, Ma became one of the first Black artists signed to Paramount, and she made her first of roughly 100 recordings. "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. Taylour considered it her duty to carry on that revolution through how she portrayed Ma and Dussie's relationship. 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. 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." Danny joined their act as well. 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. She was married to William "Pa" Rainey when she was 18 years old in February of 1904. The fact that there were any was remarkable, given the times. 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. 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. ", "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. "He captures our humor, our vulnerability, our tragedies, our trauma. Ma Rainey may not have been the first woman to sing the blues, but she might as well have. The New York Times reports that the duo eventually became known as "Ma and Pa Rainey, the Assassinators of the Blues." ", Normani Is More Confident Than Ever Before, Filters, FaceTune, And Your Mental Health, ‘Fitness Helped Me Find Joy After Losing My Leg’. Ma was born Gertrude Pridgett in the South under Jim Crow laws to her mother, Ella, and father, Thomas. (Denzel … Why Sharing Chores Really Matters in a Relationship, Kit Harington And Rose Leslie's Relationship Story, Gabrielle Union And Dwyane Wade’s Relationship. Back in 1904, Ma Rainey was married to William “Pa” Rainey. 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 2004, her hit "See See Rider" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. (One scene shows Ma refusing to sing unless the producers buy her a Coca-Cola. 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. Ma Rainey was the real-life "Mother of the Blues," whose cabaret-style tent shows in the 1920s South led her to a lucrative recording career. According to A&E, she recorded her last session in 1928, producing songs such as "Black Eye Blues," "Sleep Talking Blues," and "Runaway Blues." "I just felt like I [had to] honor those that didn't get to do what they wanted to do, or had to live an oppressed, secretive life," she says. Like Viola, the real Ma Rainey was an incredibly gifted performer. During the Black Arts Movement of the '60s, poet Al Young famously wrote "A Dance for Ma Rainey," to honor her artistry. During the '80s and '90s, Ma's contributions to music continued to be recognized. 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). Ma Rainey was also married twice—to two men. 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." The stories highlighted in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom are also based on the real experiences of Black Americans in the early 20th century. And he humanizes us. Kayla Keegan covers all things in the entertainment, pop culture, and celebrity space for Good Housekeeping. That said, there are some real historical elements highlighted in the play. Ma Rainey was an African-American blues singer. Billed as "Ma" and "Pa" Rainey the couple toured Southern tent shows and cabarets. I asked for Ma and August Wilson's blessing, and I just asked for all the powers of the universe to come into me to lend myself to the story—because it's not about me. Whatever you heard before, it was not the blues—because no one else sang the blues like Ma Rainey. 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. 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. 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. "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.". "I think that [August] captures our humor as Black people," she told CBS News. I'm really excited about that," he told The Hollywood Reporter. 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. Songbird of the South Watching Viola depict Ma, it's clear the Oscar-winning actress did a lot of preparation to portray the powerful, bawdy, and charismatic singer. 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. Ma Rainey net worth before her death was around $2 million. "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? Ma Rainey and her husband formed their own group with the name Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues. Her first husband was Will Rainey, to whom she was married for 10 years before they separated. her protegé and fellow Blues pioneer Bessie Smith. The exploitation of Black artists was widely prominent at the time of Ma's popularity. By 1927 — a.k.a. Three of Ma's hundreds of songs contain references to her bisexuality. “Ma” Rainey gained immense popularity on the Southern Theater Circuit. Everyone on the set of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom saw how Chadwick Boseman ‘s wife, Taylor Simone Ledward, cared for him. Sadly the couple decided to part their ways after their relationship in 1916 after it started to seem toxic for each other. She is known as the “Mother of the Blues”. 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." 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. 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. 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). Viola Davis stars as the blues pioneer and queer icon in the film adaptation of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. 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. Her sturdy, tough vocals wiped away any memory of other blues singers. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, a movie adaptation of August Wilson's play starring Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman, came to Netflix on December 18.; Set in 1920s Chicago, the play follows a day in the life of Ma Rainey, a blues singer, and her band. 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. 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. ", Instead, to create the character of Dussie Mae, Taylour says, "I just zoomed in on Ma and her world and what it would be like to be Black in America in 1920. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io. After this, The Guardian reports that Paramount ended up canceling her recording contract "because her style of blues was no longer deemed fashionable.". I play [Ma's] lover, and I'm on this adventure with everybody else. Postal Service commemorative stamp in 1994. She was with her first husband, Will Rainey, for at least 10 years before separating, according to the New York Times. That's good enough for me. On February 2, 1904, Pridgett married comedy songster William "Pa" Rainey. Soon after, in 1904, Ma married her husband, William "Pa" Rainey. The New York Times reports that the duo eventually became known as "Ma and Pa Rainey, the Assassinators of the Blues." Here's what you need to know about the inspiration behind Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. 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. So you had to claim your power. At the end of the film, it's clear that Ma knows that signing is a form of surrender. 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. ", Why the Mayo Clinic Diet Is One of 2021's Best, 7 Major Reasons You Should Try Dry January. Her legacy as an LGBTQ pioneer also continues to be celebrated. ", 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. 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. Hall of Fame Essay. "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. 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. Why trust us? This content is imported from {embed-name}. 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. Around the same time, Sandra R. Lieb published a book about Ma's life titled Mother of the Blues: A Study of Ma Rainey. "We're going to do one a year for the next nine years. (Photo: Netflix) The Black Panther star had been secretly battling colon cancer since 2016, and filmed Ma Rainey … All of the events that unfold in the Netflix movie — which shows a day in the life of Ma Rainey and her band — did not actually happen quite as depicted. "You're setting your boundaries so that people will finally respect you and see you and value you, but they don't," she continues. 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. Ma Rainey was also married twice—to two men. 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. While Ma Rainey was married to William, her lyrics were heavy on lesbian content. She was with her first husband, Will Rainey, for at least 10 years before separating, according … 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). She was a popular solo performer before teaming up with her husband William “Pa” Rainey to form the “Blues Assassin”. "Sexuality is the last thing that [matters]—Ma is a woman, and she happens to sleep with who she wants to sleep with, just like any man does. Ma Rainey came to love the genre so much that she soon started performing blues songs. At the age of eighteen, she married William “Pa” Rainey, who went on to become her manager and mentor. 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. "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. 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. "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. We may earn commission from links on this page, but we only recommend products we back. Some scholars have said Rainey influenced younger performers, such as … Inspired by the performer, she allegedly started singing the same song as an encore at her own shows. ), "I think one of the reasons that August was drawn to her is [that] she lived outside the rules. "There was no one person that I picked to really [base her character off of]," Taylour tells Women's Health. Soon after, in 1904, Ma married her husband, William "Pa" Rainey. ", 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. 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. Where Is Tiger Woods' Ex-Wife Elin Nordegren Now? When the black bottom exploded in popularity during the Roaring Twenties, several artists, including Ma, recorded dance tracks for it. 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