Ma Rainey (1886–1939), known as the “Mother of the Blues,” was one of the earliest known American professional blues singers.
Ma Rainey was born Gertrude Pridgett in Columbus, Georgia, on April 26, 1886, to parents Thomas and Ella Pridgett. She married William Rainey at the age of 18 and the two toured as performers with multiple minstrel and vaudeville shows, including the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. After her marriage ended, Rainey established her own performance company and named it, “Madame Gertrude Rainey and her Georgia Smart Sets.”
In 1923, Rainey signed a contract with Paramount records and became one of the first recorded blues musicians. Between 1923 and 1928, she recorded almost 100 records. After the death of her sister and mother, Rainey retired to Columbus, Georgia, in 1935. Rainey passed away as the result of a heart attack on December 22, 1939.
Most recently, Rainey was portrayed by actor Viola Davis in the film “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” on Netflix, based on the August Wilson play of the same name.