Gertrude "Ma" Rainey

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Gertrude Rainey (Pridgett)

Also Known As: "The Mother of the Blues"
Birthplace: Columbus, Muscogee County, Georgia, United States
Death: December 22, 1939 (53)
Rome, Floyd County, Georgia, United States (Heart attack)
Place of Burial: Columbus, Muscogee County, Georgia, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Thomas Pridgett and Ella Pridgett
Wife of William "Pa" Rainey and unknown unknown
Mother of Danny Rainey
Sister of Essie Pridgett; Thomas M. Pridgett, Jr.; unknown Pridgett and Malissa Nix

Occupation: Blues singer
Managed by: Erica Howton
Last Updated:

About Gertrude "Ma" Rainey

"Ma" Rainey (born Gertrude Pridgett; c. April 26, 1886 – December 22, 1939) was one of the earliest known American professional blues singers and one of the first generation of such singers to record.

From Georgia Women honorees

"Ma’s musical style was “down-home,” or “country” blues. It was more raw and direct than the blues we now know. There weren’t always words: sometimes there was only a rising and falling moan in which the audience would join. Ma didn’t often have a skilled jazz band to accompany her, but a primitive assemblage of jugs, kazoo, banjo, tinny piano and musical saw. The down-home blues were largely improvised, seldom written down. Exactly how many blues songs Ma Rainey composed is not known, but it was probably well over 100."


  • Father: Thomas Pridgett, Alabama
  • Mother:Ella Allen, Alabama. Daughter of John & Lettie Allen
  • Siblings: Thomas, Essie, unknown, Melissa "Lizzy" (Pridgett) Nix
  • husband: 1) William "Pa" Rainey 2) unknown
  • Children: adoptive son Danny

Family notes

Brief Biography

From Find A Grave Memorial# 2477

The "Mother of the Blues" first appeared on stage in 1900. In 1902 she married song and dance man William Pa Rainey. She was then know as Ma even though the marriage did not last. Her band included jazz stars Louis Armstrong, Thomas Dorsey and Coleman Hawkins. Between 1923 and 1928 she recorded more than 100 songs for Paramount. She helped mentor the career of Bessie Smith. The Great Depression ended her career as her fan base lost their ability to buy her records. She retired back to Columbus and died of a heart attack. She was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. (bio by: Paul G. Healy)


From Rock & Roll Hall of Fame - Ma Rainey Bio

In 1914, she and her husband began touring as Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues. They often spent their winters in New Orleans, and there she met such musicians as Joe “King” Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet and Pops Foster. 

In 1923, Rainey signed with Paramount Records. That December, she made her first eight recordings for the label. These included the songs “Bad Luck Blues,” “Bo-Weevil Blues” and “Moonshine Blues.” Over the next five years, she recorded more than 100 songs for the label. Paramount marketed her extensively, calling her the “Mother of the Blues,” the “Songbird of the South,” the “Gold-Neck Woman of the Blues" and the “Paramount Wildcat.” In 1924, she made some recordings with Louis Armstrong, including "Jelly Bean Blues,” "Countin' the Blues" and "See, See Rider.”

  • *With her broad, toothy smile, multidirectional horsehair wig and necklace of $20 gold coins, Rainey was a sight to behold. “They said she was the ugliest woman in show business,” Alberta Hunter once said. “But Ma Rainey didn’t care, because she pulled in the crowds. Some of us used to laugh at her, because she was so countryfied. But I think her looks were part of her act – just look at some of those kids out there today, those young med with the wild hair and makeup. Are they pretty? No, but people notice them, and they’re making money.”

When the blues faded from popularity in the Thirties, the earthy Ma Rainey returned home to her Georgia hometown, where she ran two theaters. Ma Rainey died from a from a heart attack on December 22, 1939.

Ma Rainey was inducted into the Blue Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 1990, the same year she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2004, “See, See Rider” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

From Ma Rainey: The Life and Music of “The Mother of the Blues” byJas Obrecht

One of five children of Thomas and Ella Allen Pridgett, Ma Rainey was born Gertrude Pridgett in Columbus, Georgia, on April 26, 1886. She was baptized into the First African Baptist Church. According to her brother, Thomas Jr., “at a very early age her talent as a singer was very noticeable.” When Gertrude was ten, her father passed away and her mother took a job with the Central Railway of Georgia. Around 1900 she made her singing debut with the Bunch of Blackberries revue at the Springer Opera House. Soon afterwards, she joined a tent show.

Early in 1904, Will “Pa” Rainey, a singer, dancer, and comedian, was smitten by Gertrude’s charms. She accepted his proposal, and became “Ma” to his Pa. The couple hit the road, performing song-and-dance routines for a variety of black minstrel troupes that worked under tents.

By 1917 Ma [without Pa] was packing them in. The fact that her shows were integrated – half the tent reserved for whites, half for blacks – testifies to her drawing powers in the South. When whites outnumbered blacks – not an uncommon occurrence, according to witnesses – the overflow sat peacefully in the black section.

With the deaths of her mother and sister in 1935, Ma Rainey retired from the road to live with her brother Thomas in a house she’d built for her mother in the historic black community of Liberty District in Columbus, Georgia. A good businesswoman, Ma also owned two theaters in the area. She joined the Friendship Baptist Church, where her brother was a deacon.

Ma Rainey died of heart disease on December 22, 1939, and was buried in Columbus’ Portersdale Cemetery. In an ironic postscript for The Mother of the Blues, her death certificate listed her profession as “housekeeping.” Six months later, Memphis Minnie recorded a tribute song entitled “Ma Rainey”:


From Wikipedia

  • In 1983, Rainey was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
  • Bob Dylan refers to Rainey in the song "Tombstone Blues" on his 1965 album, Highway 61 Revisited in which she is intimate with Beethoven ("Ma Rainey and Beethoven once unwrapped their bedroll")
  • In 1981 Sandra Lieb wrote the first full-length book about Rainey, Mother of the Blues: a Study of Ma Rainey.
  • Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, a 1982 play by August Wilson, is a fictionalized account of the recording of her song of the same name in December 1927.
  • Poet Sterling A. Brown wrote a poem entitled "Ma Rainey" in 1932 about how "When Ma Rainey/Comes to town" people everywhere would hear her sing.
  • In 1994, the U.S. Post Office issued a Rainey 29-cent commemorative postage stamp.
  • In 2004, "See See Rider Blues" (written in 1925) was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame, and was included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry in 2004.[31]
  • Academy Award winner Mo'Nique played Ma Rainey in the 2015


  • From Persephone Magazine
  • Orr, N. L.. "Gertrude "Ma" Rainey (1886-1939)." New Georgia Encyclopedia. 29 March 2013. Web. 12 May 2015.
    • Angela Y. Davis, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday (New York: Pantheon, 1998).
    • Daphne D. Harrison, Black Pearls: Blues Queens of the 1920s (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1988).
    • Sandra R. Lieb, Mother of the Blues: A Study of Ma Rainey (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1981).
    • Derrrick Stewart-Baxter, Ma Rainey and the Classic Blues Singers (New York: Stein and Day, 1970).
  • Updated from Find A Grave Memorial by SmartCopy: May 12 2015, 20:05:01 UTC
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Gertrude "Ma" Rainey's Timeline

April 26, 1886
Columbus, Muscogee County, Georgia, United States
December 22, 1939
Age 53
Rome, Floyd County, Georgia, United States
December 22, 1939
Age 53
Columbus, Muscogee County, Georgia, United States