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An Introduction to Ma Rainey

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Album Review

Gertrude "Ma" Rainey was the consummate blues diva of the 1920s, tackling an amazing array of song styles (including blues, folk, pop, and minstrel songs) in every conceivable setting. She worked solo with guitarists and piano players and fronted jug bands, small jazz combos, and even big bands, where her strong voice (and even stronger personality) always carried the room. This collection pulls together a selection of her Paramount 78s (she recorded close to 100 sides for the label between 1923 and 1928), including her first single, the wink-in-the-eye "Bo Weavil Blues," her signature "Shave 'Em Dry Blues," and two songs featuring a young Louis Armstrong on cornet, "See See Rider Blues" and "Countin' the Blues." Paramount was infamous for the poor manufacturing quality of its 78s, and some of these tracks exhibit a good deal of stylus wear, but enough works here to give a fair portrait of this larger-than-life performer.


Born: 26 April 1886 in Columbus, GA

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '10s, '20s, '30s

Ma Rainey wasn't the first blues singer to make records, but by all rights she probably should have been. In an era when women were the marquee names in blues, Rainey was once the most celebrated of all; the "Mother of the Blues" had been singing the music for more than 20 years before she made her recording debut (Paramount, 1923). With the advent of blues records, she became even more influential, immortalizing such songs as "See See Rider," "Bo-Weavil Blues," and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." Like...
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An Introduction to Ma Rainey, Ma Rainey
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