- Barbara L. Tischler
Rainey, Ma (26 April 1886–22 December 1939), vaudeville, blues, and jazz singer and self-proclaimed "Mother of the Blues", vaudeville, blues, and jazz singer and self-proclaimed “Mother of the Blues,” was born Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett in Columbus, Georgia, the daughter of Thomas Pridgett and Ella Allen, an employee of the Georgia Central Railroad. Gertrude began her musical career at age fourteen in a local talent show and soon was singing at the Springer Opera House in Columbus. Early in her career, she met William “Pa” Rainey, whom she married in 1904. They toured the South, performing in tent shows, honky-tonks, carnivals, and vaudeville houses with F. S. Wolcott’s Rabbit Foot Minstrels and later with their own troupe. “Ma” Rainey earned a reputation as a flamboyant performer who wore gaudy costumes and had a “wild” stage persona that manifested itself in her seductive movements to her blues music. At the time the Raineys and many other black entertainers were booked into their engagements by the Theatre Owners Booking Association (TOBA). The wages paid to black entertainers were so low and the working conditions so exploitative that TOBA came to stand for “Tough on Black Artists,” or, more colloquially, “Tough on Black Asses.”...