And when you wake up, feel like you want a dose?” Rainey asks in “Dead Drunk Blues.”, “She transgressed these ideas of white middle class female respectability,” Kimberly Mack, an assistant literature professor at the University of Toledo and the author of Fictional Blues: Narrative Self-Invention from Bessie Smith to Jack White, said in an interview. But She Broke More Than Musical Barriers Ma Rainey and her band the Rabbit Foot Minstrels circa 1924 in Chicago, Illinois. Please attempt to sign up again. But Ma Rainey also follows the virtuoso trumpet player Levee (Chadwick Boseman) as he clashes with Ma and her producer, Sturdyvant (Jonny Coyne). You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io, The Sad Backstory Behind Disney+'s 'WandaVision'. The gritty-voiced Joplin was open about how Rainey was one of her biggest influences, and so was Bonnie Raitt: during Rainey’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction in 1990, she said that “the fire and gusto of Ma’s singing was exceptional.”. It doesn't get any better than that. Is Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Based on a True Story? The subject of Oscar-tipped Netflix drama Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was a pioneering queer black singer who battled white producers for control Last modified on … Per Robert Springer's "Folklore, Commercialism and Exploitation: Copyright in the Blues" and History.com, it was common practice for white-owned record labels to get Black artists to sign away their recording rights (and then have white artists release covers of their songs), underpay Black artists, and make it difficult for Black artists to receive the royalties they earned. Gertrude “Ma” Rainey was, without any exaggeration, an icon. Angela Davis, in her 2011 book Blues Legacies and Black Feminism, wrote that Rainey’s songs are full of women who “explicitly celebrate their right to conduct themselves as expansively and even as undesirably as men.” They wield pistols, carouse until the morning, dodge the police, and sleep around for revenge. In 1923, Ma became one of the first Black artists signed to Paramount, and she made her first of roughly 100 recordings. In the 1980s, Ma was front and center in pop culture once again thanks to the Broadway staging of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, starring Theresa Merritt as the acclaimed singer (in the 2003 revival, Whoopi Goldberg portrayed Ma). And this type of subterfuge was common at Rainey’s label Paramount, despite the fact that it was largely operated by a Black producer, J. Mayo Williams. When she was just a teenager, Gertrude started traveling with vaudeville acts, which New York Times jazz critic Giovanni Russonello describes as "cabaret-like shows that developed out of minstrelsy in the mid-1800s and catered largely to white audiences." For instance, the song Ma is seen recording with her band, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," was an actual number written in response to the 1920s dance craze known as the black bottom, which originated in the Southern Black community (and was reportedly named after a predominantly Black neighborhood in Detroit). Around the same time, Sandra R. Lieb published a book about Ma's life titled Mother of the Blues: A Study of Ma Rainey. The real Rainey would be out of a job just a year later: classic blues was fading in popularity in favor of swing jazz, and the advent of talking pictures had dented the centrality of live performances. The White Tiger Is a Complex Crime Drama with a Dazzling Performance at Its Center, Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaccine Approval the Most Globally Important, Save on the cover price and get Free Issues, Sign up to receive the top stories you need to know now on politics, health and more, © 2021 TIME USA, LLC. But while Rainey leaned into onstage maximalism, she was also mesmerized by the blues guitarists she saw on the road who took a more spartan, improvisatory and emotionally raw approach to their music. While Ma did live in Chicago in 1927, had relationships with women, and traveled with a band, all of the characters in the play — Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige), Butler (Colman Domingo), Slow Drag (Michael Potts), Toledo (Glynn Turman), Sylvester (Dusan Brown), Sturdyvant (Jonny Coyne), and Levee (Chadwick Boseman) — are fictional. We Need Monthly Stimulus Checks Until the Pandemic Is Over. Her shows were also some of the earliest integrated shows to take place in the Jim Crow South, according to Lieb. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is actually one of several works included in August's American Century Cycle collection. "That they put it in my hands, the estate, and trust me. All of the events that unfold in the Netflix movie — which shows a day in the life of Ma Rainey and her band — did not actually happen quite as depicted. “Have you ever been drunk, slept in all your clothes? Is The White Tiger based on a true story? “Her sexual braggadocio, popular in men’s blues songs, helped to create her legend as both fearless and sexually independent,” Mack says. Please try again later. That said, there are some real historical elements highlighted in the play. In the new film, Rainey’s style of blues is portrayed as archaic compared to the faster hot jazz preferred by her young band member Levee (Chadwick Boseman). * The request timed out and you did not successfully sign up. ... was a true … “They must’ve been women, ‘cause I don’t like no men. Ma was born Gertrude Pridgett in the South under Jim Crow laws to her mother, Ella, and father, Thomas. By signing up you are agreeing to our. Good Housekeeping participates in various affiliate marketing programs, which means we may get paid commissions on editorially chosen products purchased through our links to retailer sites. Image Source: Netflix While Ma Rainey was very much a real blues trailblazer with an unforgettable persona, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom isn't actually based on a true story… You can unsubscribe at any time. But Rainey’s impact on music, fashion and myth-making still lingers. We may earn commission from links on this page, but we only recommend products we back. Executives coerced blues singers—especially those who had no experience in the recording industry—to sign away future royalties or even ownership of their songs, leaving many artists destitute after the peak of their popularity. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on Netflix ends—as many films based on a true story tend to—with a photo montage of the real-life characters depicted on screen. rumored relationships with her female dancers and with, The True Story Behind New Movie 'Breakthrough', The True Story Behind 'Mindhunter' on Netflix, The True Story Behind 'The Last Czars' on Netflix, The Haunting True Story of Henry Lee Lucas, The True Story Behind 'The Pharmacist' on Netflix, Of Lice and Men: The Story of a True Classic. Ma Rainey was also married twice—to two men. Here are the ways in which Rainey was ahead of her time. A young Louis Armstrong learned from Rainey while playing with her on several recordings (including “See See Rider,” a song that would later be covered by Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Janis Joplin and Old Crow Medicine Show). Ma Rainey influenced future legends like Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith, but it was her own struggle to remain true to herself as a Black artist … As race records flourished in the 1920s, record companies scrambled to sign Black artists while undermining them and exploiting them at every step. Gertrude "Ma" Rainey (born Gertrude Pridgett, 1882 or 1886 – December 22, 1939) was one of the earliest African-American professional blues singers and one of the first generation of blues singers to record. Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. It’s not hard to draw a line between that impulse and dominant themes running through hip-hop today. From left, Chadwick Boseman as Levee, Colman Domingo as Cutler, Viola Davis as Ma Rainey, Michael Potts as Slow Drag, and Glynn Turman as Toldeo in 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom'. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is set in 1920s Chicago, and predominantly deals with themes of Black art and culture, racial tensions, and power dynamics. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is among the leading contenders in several categories for this year’s Academy Awards. Onstage, she wore satin gowns and diamond tiaras; a necklace of gold coins often hung from her neck. Thanks to her showmanship, songwriting and powerful voice, Rainey earned a reputation as one of the most dynamic performers in America in the 1920s, and her tour earnings reflected that popularity. While other blues singers of the day, like Bessie Smith and Mamie Smith, largely sang songs written by others, Rainey penned at least one third of the songs she recorded. During this time, she brought massive blues hits like "Moonshine Blues," "See See Rider," and "Trust No Man" to the mainstream. In 2004, her hit "See See Rider" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. Kayla Keegan covers all things in the entertainment, pop culture, and celebrity space for Good Housekeeping. Watching Viola depict Ma, it's clear the Oscar-winning actress did a lot of preparation to portray the powerful, bawdy, and charismatic singer. Her legacy as an LGBTQ pioneer also continues to be celebrated. While Ma Rainey was very much a real blues trailblazer with an unforgettable persona, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom isn't actually based on a true story. According to a New York Times obituary published in 2019 for its "Overlooked" series highlighting luminaries whose deaths went unreported in the paper, Ma was the first entertainer to "bridge the divide" between vaudeville and "authentic Black Southern folk expression." Ma Rainey and her band the Rabbit Foot Minstrels circa 1924 in Chicago, Illinois. Who Is Ma Rainey? Though, per The Guardian, records suggest Ma was born in … Even … Although Viola worried she wouldn't be able to sing well enough to play the iconic "Mother of Blues," after reading the script she knew she had to get involved. Rainey had a perfect voice for her new brand of music: low and gravelly, filled with both raw pathos and brassy authority. Like Viola, the real Ma Rainey was an incredibly gifted performer. (The title song of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” for instance, refers both to sex as well as the Black neighborhoods of cities across the country, including Detroit.) “When she started singing, the gold in her teeth would sparkle,” Rainey’s longtime musical director Thomas A. Dorsey wrote in his unpublished memoirs. Postal Service commemorative stamp in 1994. Ma was still performing in the early 1930s, but after officially quitting show business in 1935, she returned to Columbus, Georgia to run two entertainment venues and participate in church activities. According to A&E, she recorded her last session in 1928, producing songs such as "Black Eye Blues," "Sleep Talking Blues," and "Runaway Blues." In this week’s Sunday Spotlight, NBC’s Rehema Ellis shares the real-life story and music behind the movie, which stars Viola Davis as an early pioneer of the blues. Her ability to negotiate sizable contracts, combined with her generosity, made her a beloved bandleader among musicians. In 1925, she was arrested for throwing an “indecent” and “intimate” party with a group of young women, forcing Bessie Smith—a possible lover of hers—to bail her out. Anthony Mackie is unable to watch his late friend Chadwick Boseman in Netflix’s critically acclaimed “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” because it would be too emotional an experience for him. Makes the wind blow all the while.” A cartoon ad for the song released by her record label Paramount embraces this genderbending: She wears a men’s three piece suit and fedora and mingles with two women on a corner, while a policeman watches suspiciously in the shadows. Though her music temporarily fell out of print when the Great Depression hit and Paramount closed down, her catalog was revived in the 1960s when the songs were picked up by Milestone and Biograph labels, per the New York Times. “They showed you had a whole self and you were not to succumb to being somebody else’s—as they would say—’play toy.’”. I'm really excited about that," he told The Hollywood Reporter. Rainey was born in the 1880s in Columbus, Ga.; she performed on the vaudeville circuit for many years across the South, inheriting some performative traditions from minstrelsy and honing her outsize stage presence and comic timing. And it would likewise inspire imitators for generations to come. By Joanna Langfield Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom This adaptation of the August Wilson drama is revelatory, beautifully staged as well as acted and almost perfect. While this contrast may have rung true in the late ‘20s, it was Rainey who was pioneering a new sound just a few years earlier. Many of those, like “Moonshine Blues” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” would become standards of the genre to be covered time and again. She was with her first husband, Will Rainey, for at least 10 years before separating, according … Ma Rainey's Black Bottom follows the story of real Chicago blues musician, Ma Rainey, but how much of her portrayal in Ruben Santiago-Hudson's adaptation remains accurate to the true story? “I used to dream of joining Ma Rainey’s band because she treated her musicians so wonderfully, and she always bought them an instrument,” the jazz icon Lionel Hampton is quoted as saying in Chris Albertson’s biography of Bessie Smith, Bessie. Based on the true story of a legendary, but historically underappreciated blues singer, we spend most of the film in two rooms, as Ma … Ma was born Gertrude Pridgett in the South under Jim Crow laws to her mother, Ella, and father, Thomas. Rainey’s duality made her a hit before Southern audiences as well as in Chicago where she recorded—and set a template for future waves of high-low Black musical innovation. Though, per The Guardian, records suggest Ma was born in Alabama in September of 1882, the singer herself often said she was born on April 26, 1886 in Columbus, Georgia. Rainey didn’t just popularize the genre of classic blues: she helped write it. Read Tiger Woods's Agent's Reaction to New HBO Doc, Here's What We Know About 'Bling Empire' Season 2, Ken Jennings Got Majorly Trolled on 'Jeopardy! Most recently, in 2017, the Rainey McCullers School of Arts in Columbus, Georgia was named after both Ma and novelist Carson McCullers. The George C. Wolfe-helmed film takes plenty of liberties with the August Wilson play it's based on, which in and of itself took creative license with the blues musician's life. Rainey sang about “sissy men” and mannish women, seemingly without judgment; onstage, she performed with “uninhibited, provocative movements,” according to Sandra Lieb, author of Mother of the Blues: A Study of Ma Rainey. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our. 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