Performers reasearched…:Gertrude "Ma" Rainey (1886-1939)
By Dani Miller
Gertrude “Ma” Rainey was born as Gertrude Pridgett on April 26, 1886 in Columbus, Georgia, to Thomas Pridgett and Ella Allen.
Ma Rainey is known as the “Mother of Blues”, being the first popular stage performer of authentic blues. She first performed as a singer and a dancer in a local talent show called “A Bunch of Blackberries”.
On February 2, 1904 she married a comedian songwriter named William “Pa” Rainey, thus earning the title “Ma” Rainey. The couple toured the south together in a cabaret show.
In 1905 Ma Rainey was brought into contract with authentic country blues. Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith were first introduced while performing with “The Moses Strokes” in 1912. Bessie was a newly recruited dancer for the group. They quickly became friends and it is said that Ma Rainey had much influence on Bessie’s singing style.
When touring with “Fat Chappelle’s Rabbit Foot Minstrels” the group was dubbed as the “Assassinators of the Blues” along with “Toliver’s Circus and Musical Extravaganza.
Ma Rainey and Pa Rainey were separated in 1916, and Ma Rainey then toured with her own band called “Madame Gertrude Ma Rainey and her Georgia Smart Sets”. The band had a chorus line and a five-piece band.
Ma Rainey first signed with Paramount labels in 1923. Rainey retired from Paramount labels in 1935, following the deaths of her mother and sister and established back into Columbus. She then opened a theater.
On December 22, 1939, Ma Rainey passed of a heart attack in either Rome or Columbus, Georgia.
It is said that Gertrude Ma Rainey had inspired Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, when writing the Pulitzer Prized novel. Rainey had recorded over 100 songs with Paramount between the years of 1923 and 1928.Bessie Smith (1894-1937)
By Dani Miller
Bessie Smith, daughter of William and Laura Smith since April 15, 1894 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She was often referred to as “The Empress of Blues”.
She began singing for small change with her brother, Andrew Smith, who played the guitar, at age nine. In 1912 a traveling show came to Chattanooga. Andrew scheduled an audition for Bessie, where she was taken on as a singer and a dancer, but this was just the begging of Bessie’s career.
At that same show, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey and her husband, “Pa” Rainey, a comedic songwriter, were performing with the troupe with Bessie. Ma Rainey and Bessie became friends, and it is said that Ma had tutored Bessie at one point.
In 1915 Bessie left Ma and Pa behind to begin traveling T.O.B.A. vaudeville circuit. She traveled most of the country with them, gaining more fans and fame. In 1916 she married Earl Love.
Then, in 1923 Bessie auditioned for race records at Columbia. Frank Walker signed the contract that raised her salary to $1,500 a week, giving her a bigger show and cast, and more intricate sets. Clarence Williams negotiated her contract. After Earl Love’s death, Bessie remarried to a man named Jack Gee on June 7, 1923.
In 1925, while with Columbia she recorded many songs with Louis Armstrong, a few being, “St. Louis Blues”, “Reckless Blues”, and “Cold in Hand Blues”.
Bessie moved around frequently, moving from Philadelphia to Detroit, to Chicago, to Washington, to Atlanta then New York. At every city extra detail had to be recruited because fans became riotous at her arrival.
In 1926 Bessie and Jack had adopted a child and named him Jack Gee Jr. Bessie and Jack separated in 1929.
Bessie’s career was like a roller coaster during the depression, she had her highs and lows. Her lows being with a liquor bottle and her highs being with the swingers of the depression. But at one point she had to sell her rail car.
The morning of September 26, 1937 was Bessie’s last. She died in a car accident in the early morning hours. Bessie’s funeral was on October 4, 1937. It was one of the most spectacular funerals ever.Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (1899-1974)
By: Dani Miller
Edward Ellington, better known as “Duke Ellington”, was born April 29, 1899 to James Edward Ellington, and Daisy Kennedy Ellington in Washington D.C.
Ellington was born into a musical and religious family; both his father and mother could play the piano. They taught him how to play the piano in hopes that he would later switch to playing the church organ.
When Ellington first began lessons he was adamant. His teacher said that he was the only student to forget his part in a yearly piano recital.
Instead of playing the piano, Ellington became interested with drawing and painting. He once won a prize from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, otherwise know as the NAACP. After that he went back to his piano lessons because it is said that he said that he “noticed that pretty girls tended to flock around piano players.”
He began to take music more seriously in high school, and learned a great deal from his teacher, Henry Grant. At fifteen, when working at a local soda shop after school, he wrote his first song, called “Soda Fountain Rag.” He also obtained the nickname “Duke” approximately this time.
Ellington began his career as a musician at the age of 18 (in 1917), in Washington D.C. after dropping out of high school. Around the 1920’s was when Duke’s band began to play regularly at clubs and parties. Shortly thereafter he moved to New York City and signed a three contract with Cotton Club.
Later in the 1920’s and 30’s was when Ellington began to write musical revenues, musicals, and appearing in movies with his band. He experimented musically with jazz and Latin American music.
In 1974, on May 24th, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington died of lung cancer. Afterward his son Mercer took lead of his band.
Another great Jazz performer…
Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong
For Gertude "Ma" Rainey Biography
"Ma Rainey." Redhotjazz. Red Hot Jazz Archive. 3 Mar. 2009 http://redhotjazz.com/rainey.html
Cohassy, John. "Ma Rainey Biography." musicianguide 3 Mar. 2009 http://www.musicianguide.com/biographies/1608001009/Ma-Rainey.html
For Bessie Smith
"Bessie Smith." Redhotjazz. Red Hot Jazz Archive. 3 Mar. 2009 http://redhotjazz.com/bessie.html
For Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington
Thomas, Elizabeth. “Duke Ellington Biography.” MusicianGuide 3 Mar. 2009. http://www.musicianguide.com/biographies/1608000462/Duke-Ellington.html