Ma Rainey: The Mother of Blues. Slept On Sunday

Slept On Sunday shines a light on the best of what’s slept on in music and culture.

It’s not always about who does something first, but who does it the right way. Ma Rainey is a wonderful example of that. Contrary to what some may believe, she was not the first person to record a blues record. That achievement belongs to Mamie Smith. However, while Ma Rainey was among the first to record a blues record, her significance lies in her outreach, as well as the bridge her music created between demographics. It is safe to say that without her, blues as a genre would have seen a very different trajectory.

At the dawn of the 20th century, Ma Rainey began performing around the South. She established herself as an electrifying performer within the vaudeville scene. Her shows were known to be some of the most entertaining. It was not only through her stage presence but through her vocal performance as well.

After moving to Chicago, she signed to Paramount Studios. Paramount was recently transitioned from a furniture company to a recording company. From then on she successfully became a musical celebrity, recording upwards of 100 songs during the 1920s alone. One of these, “See See Rider” featuring Louis Armstrong, has even been added to the Library Of Congress’s National Recording Registry.

The blues pioneer stood boldly in the face of societal norms and expectations. She understood her power as a queer, black singer, and she was always loud in fighting for the respect she knew she deserved.

We are forever grateful for Ma Rainey. The blues would certainly not be the same without her.

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