Gertrude Pridgett was born into a showbiz family that performed in minstrel shows. She first appeared onstage in 1900, singing and dancing in minstrel and vaudeville stage revues. In 1902 she married the song and dance man William "Pa" Rainey and from then on became known as Ma Rainey. The couple formed a song and dance act that included Blues and popular songs. They toured the country, but primarily the South and became a popular attraction as part of Tolliver's Circus, The Musical Extravaganza and The Rabbit Foot Minstrels, where Rainey befriended a young Bessie Smith. In the 1920s Rainey was a solo star of the T.O.B.A. vaudeville circuit. It was not until 1923 that Ma Rainey signed a recording contract with Paramount. She was billed as the "Mother of the Blues", which wasn't far off the mark. Few historians can point to any real Blues singers before Ma Rainey. She ended up recording 100 songs between 1923 and 1928 on Paramount Records. During that time she was accompanied by many noted jazz musicians such as, Louis Armstrong, Tommy Ladnier, Fletcher Henderson and Coleman Hawkins. She continued working until 1935 and retired to Columbus, Georgia. Ma had been smart with her money and managed to build and operate two theaters; she also owned her own home in Columbus. Ma Rainey died in 1939, of a heart attack.

Ma Rainey and her Georgia Jazz Band Ma Rainey and Papa Charlie Jackson
Ma Rainey accompanied by Lovie Austin and her Blues Serenaders
Ma Rainey accompanied by The Pruitt Twins
Ma Rainey and her Tub Jug Washboard Band
Title Recording Date Recording Location Company
Black Dust Blues
(Davis / Ma Rainey)
9-1928 Chicago, Illinois Paramount
12926
Black Eye Blues
(Thomas A. Dorsey)
9-1928 Chicago, Illinois Paramount
12963
Blame It On The Blues
(Thomas A. Dorsey / Ma Rainey)
9-1928 Chicago, Illinois Paramount
12760
Daddy Goodbye Blues
(Ma Rainey)
9-1928 Chicago, Illinois Paramount
12963
Dead Drunk Blues
Piano Acc. Hop Hopkins

(Ma Rainey)
8-1927 Chicago, Illinois Paramount
12508-A
Don't Fish In My Sea
Piano Accompaniment James Blythe

(Ma Rainey / Smith)
12-1926 Chicago, Illinois Paramount
12438-B
Farewell Daddy Blues
(Ma Rainey)
8-1924 Chicago, Illinois Paramount
12222-B
Grievin' Hearted Blues
(unknown)
12-1926 Chicago, Illinois Paramount
12419-B
Hellish Rag
(unknown)
12-1927 Chicago, Illinois Paramount
12612
Ice Bag Papa
(K. Mills)
12-1927 Chicago, Illinois Paramount
12612
Leaving This Morning
(Davis / Ma Rainey)
9-1928 Chicago, Illinois Paramount
12902
Little Low Mama
(Ma Rainey)
12-1926 Chicago, Illinois Paramount
12419-A
Misery Blues
(Ma Rainey)
8-1927 Chicago, Illinois Paramount
12508-B
Morning Hour Blues
(Ma Rainey / Smith)
11-1926 Chicago, Illinois Paramount
12455
Mountain Jack Blues
Jimmy Blythe - Piano

(Sid Harris)
3-1926 Chicago, Illinois Paramount
12352-A
Runaway Blues
(Ma Rainey)
9-1928 Chicago, Illinois Paramount
12902
Screech Owl Man
(Ma Rainey)
9-1928 Chicago, Illinois Paramount
12735-B
Shave ' Em Dry Blues
(Ma Rainey / H. Jackson)
8-1924 Chicago, Illinois Paramount
12222-A
Sleep Talkin' Blues
(Randall / Ma Rainey)
9-1928 Chicago, Illinois Paramount
12760
Sweet Rough Man
(Randall / Ma Rainey)
9-1928 Chicago, Illinois Paramount
12926
Tough Luck Blues
(Ma Rainey)
9-1928 Chicago, Illinois Paramount
12735-A
Trust No Man
(Lil Henderson)
6-1926 Chicago, Illinois Paramount
12395
Artist Instrument
Blind Blake Guitar
Jimmy Blythe Piano
Shirley Clay Cornet
Thomas A. Dorsey Piano
Lil Henderson Piano
Claude Hopkins Piano
Leroy Pickett? Violin
Kid Ory? Trombone
Milas Pruitt Guitar
Miles Pruitt Guitar
Artie Starks? Clarinet
Tampa Red Guitar
Al Wynn? Trombone
Ike Rodgers Trombone
unknown Banjo, Tuba
Mother Of The Blues: A Study of Ma Rainey, by Sandra Lieb, University of Massachusetts Press, 1981
Ma Rainey And The Classic Blues Singers, by Derrick Stewart-Baxter, Stein and Day Press, 1970
Blues Legacies And Black Feminism, by Angela Davis, Pantheon Books, 1998