A hugely popular touring singer during the 1920s Ma Rainey was one of the earliest popular entertainers to perform and record Blues, spreading the popularity of the genre beyond traditional Blues audiences and earning her the nickname “The Mother of the Blues.”
Ma Rainey was born Gertrude Pridgett in 1886 in Columbus, Georgia. She showed her abilities as an entertainer at an early age and went from local talent shows to touring with vaudeville and minstrel shows while still in her teens. In 1904 she married William "Pa" Rainey, a minstrel show manager, and took the stage name Ma Rainey.
Discovered by Paramount Records in 1923, just as the country’s appetite for Blues was mounting, Rainey would record over 100 songs for the label (many of her own composition), which sold handsomely, building her into one of the most popular Blues performers of the era. A compelling entertainer with a powerful voice, and a style both earthy and sophisticated, she drew large crowds throughout the South and the Midwest, performing with musicians that at various points included Jazz greats Fletcher Henderson, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins and Willie “the Lion” Smith.
Her popularity kept her on the road through the early 1930s when, due to changing tastes and the increasing popularity of radio and cinema, the age of vaudeville came to an end. She returned to Georgia and managed a pair of theaters until her death from a heart attack in 1939.