Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Ma Rainey's "shop" keeps her

Women's History Month

Keep you shop and you shop will keep you. (Jamaica)

Ma Rainey (April 26, 1886 - December 22, 1939)

I first came across Ma Rainey when a friend took me to see August Wilson’s play, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” in Houston, Texas. For a while I thought Wilson was being disrespectful to Ma Rainey, till I learned “Black Bottom” was a popular dance in the 1920s.

Ma Rainey (April 26, 1886 - December 22, 1939) was known as The Mother of the Blues. She was one of the first professional blues singers (male or female), and also one of the first to make records. She influenced other singers such as Bessie Smith.

Ma Rainey was born Gertrude Pridgett, and recorded as “Ma Rainey" after she married Will “Pa” Rainey in 1904. Ma and Pa Rainey performed song and dance shows in Southern tent shows and cabarets. They were on a tour of the South when Ma Rainey met and befriended Bessie Smith.

Hailed as “The Mother of the Blues”, Ma Rainey made about one hundred records between 1923 and 1928, including Black Bottom and See See Rider. As a recording artiste contracted to Paramount, she was accompanied by such musicians as Louis Armstrong, and Coleman Hawkins. She was the first great female vocalist to include authentic rural blues in her repertoire, and she was very popular in the 1920s.

Ma Rainey was known as a shrewd businessperson. She "kept her shop" when she was at the top of her game; later, and "her shop kept her". She managed her money well enough to own her home and build and operate two theatres after she retired. She died in 1939 of a heart attack.

Her contribution to Rock & Roll has been acknowledged. In 1983, Ma Rainey was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame, and in 1990, she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In 2004, her song "See See Rider Blues" (1925) was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

No comments:


When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at