LGBT History Month 2013: Ma Rainey, Singer

LGBT History Month By Equality Forum Part 24 Photo Credit by Associated Press

LGBT History Month celebrates the achievements of 31 lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Icons. Each day in October, a new LGBT Icon is featured with a video, bio, bibliography, downloadable images and other resources.

In 1994, Rodney Wilson, a Missouri high school teacher, believed a month should be dedicated to the celebration and teaching of gay and lesbian history, and gathered other teachers and community leaders. They selected October because public schools are in session and existing traditions, such as Coming Out Day (October 11), occur that month.

October 24: Ma Rainey, Singer

Ma Rainey, called the “Mother of the Blues,” was one of the earliest known American blues singers and recording artists. She is recognized as one of the first great female blues vocalists.

Born Gertrude Pridgett in Columbus, Georgia, she was one of five children in a family of performers. From age 14, she sang and danced with traveling minstrel shows. At 18, she married singer Will “Pa” Rainey, and took the stage name Ma Rainey. Billed as the Assassinators of the Blues, the couple toured the Southern minstrel circuit. In 1916, Rainey separated from her husband and began touring the nation with her own band.

In 1923, Paramount Records signed Rainey. Over the next five years, she recorded more than 100 songs with some of the great musicians of her era, including Louis Armstrong and Thomas Dorsey, the “father of black gospel music.”

In 1928, Paramount considered Rainey’s classic style of blues no longer fashionable and terminated her contract. Before that, she recorded one of her last songs for the label, “Prove It On Me Blues,” which was cited as a watershed for its lyrics about lesbian desire. In the mid-1930s, she returned to her hometown, where she was the proprietor of two theaters.

Her song “See See Rider Blues” was included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

In 1983, Rainey was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame. Seven years later, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In 2007, the Gertrude “Ma” Rainey House and Blues Museum in Columbus, Georgia, opened to the public.