African American History Culture : BLUES WOMEN...

Discussion in 'African American History Culture' started by Isaiah, Jan 14, 2006.

  1. Isaiah

    Isaiah Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Jun 8, 2004
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    1900-1920s -- Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ida Cox and the Southern Circuit

    When Ma Rainey comes to town,
    Folks from anyplace miles aroun',
    From Cape Girardeau, Poplar Bluff,
    Flocks in to hear Ma do her stuff.

    First among the Classic Blues singers was "Ma" Rainey. Tagged as the Mother of the Blues (probably by a record promoter), she was "the earliest link between the male country blues artists that roamed the backroads of the South and their female counterparts... the 'classic blues' singers." (Chris Albertson, "Bessie.")

    Like many of her contemporaries, Ma Rainey began her career young and moved up quickly.

    She made her professional debut in 1900 (age l4) at the Springer Opera House in Columbus, Georgia
    She was one of the first to feature the blues, as such, on stage -- around l902
    By 1904, with her husband "Pa" Rainey, she was barnstorming across the South with such traveling entertainment extravaganzas as the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, Tolliver's Circus, and the Florida Cotton Blossoms.

    In his history "The Devil's Music," Giles Oakley writes,

    "The blues was taken into a new relationship with its folk cultural origins; the blues singer -- at least the women singers of the 1920s -- was no longer an ordinary member of black society singing the songs of working people or playing for local dances. They were set up on stage, watched and listened to from afar, using every trick and stage device to 'present' their songs."

    The stage effects were designed to impress the crowds. Dazzling with her ostrich feather fans and glitter headbands, Ma would appear on stage blowing kisses from an enormous box made to look like a phonograph, set against a huge eagle backdrop. (You can see the eagle in our picture.)

    New Orleans jazz legend Danny Barker on "Ma"

    "When you say 'Ma,' that means Mother. 'Ma,' that means the tops. That's the boss, the shack bully of the house. Ma Rainey. She's take-charge Ma. 'Ma Rainey's coming to town, the boss blues singer.' And you respect Ma. Grandma, my ma, and ma ma, that's Ma, that's something you respect when you say Mother. That's the boss of the shack, eh? Not papa. Mamma."

    From "Wild Women Don't Have the Blues"

    Bessie Smith -- future Empress of the Blues -- entered the entertainment circuit when she was nine years old, making her debut at the Ivory Theatre in her home town, Chattanooga, Tennesee.

    Between 1913 and 1916, Bessie and Ma Rainey met while both were working for the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, when Ma was just short of 30 and Bessie was still in her teens. Legend has it that Ma Rainey kidnapped Bessie, acted a a mother figure to her, and taught her to sing the blues. What is true is that Ma Rainey's influence would be heard in Bessie's early recordings, and certainly in learning the new formalities of performance Rainey must have been a formidable model.

    Among the tricks of presentation were stage makeup and elaborate costumes -- for Bessie, spectacular gold and jewels, plumes and fringed dresses.

    Mae Barnes remembers...
    "Bessie used to wear the most fabulous costumes. Birds of paradise all in her hair. Along the sides of her gowns there were feathers sticking out from everywhere. Then she changed and wore evening gowns with beads and rhinestones; they were popular in those days. No sequins, but just beads, beads, loads of beads and rhinestones, big rhinestones."

    Both from "Wild Women Don't Have the Blues"

    Ida Goodson played piano for Bessie in Florida:
    "Her hair was way down here, shoulder length, and it was beautiful. That was a good looking woman. She was really pretty -- and she could sing, baby! Those men would just throw money up on the stage there -- I'd be saying, 'Throw something down here on the piano!'"

    As these pioneering women changed the presentation, they also changed the blues themselves --

    in the content of their songs
    in the style of their singing
    in their musical accompaniment.
    Classic Blues singers like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith retained much of the country blues: in their twelve-bar, three-line structure, in their use of antiphonal accompaniments, and (especially in the case of Ma) in their rough-voiced moans, slurs, and blue notes.

    But they combined the country blues elements with non-blues minstrelsy and vaudeville qualities that had audience appeal. Their songs were narrative and more universal in their appeal; they were popular music rather than folk music.

    Some women vocalists (most notably Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Ida Cox) composed their own songs. But as music historian Jeff Todd Titon points out, most lyrics were "composed by professonal black tunesmiths who wrote sophisticated songs and skits for stage revues."

    Folk or country blues singers, on the other hand, "obtained their lyrics by borrowing or trying to memorize traditional stanzas from other singers which they mixed with improvised stanzas" of their own.

    There were still country elements of struggle and sorrow particular to black circumstances:

    Many days of sorrow, many nights of woe,
    Many days of sorrow, many nights of woe,
    And a ball and chain, everywhere I go.
    "Chain Gang Blues" (Ma Rainey)

    But the central subject was now more often love, usually gone wrong, between men and women, dramatically acted out by the performers:

    I'm leavin' this mornin' with my clothes in my hand,
    I'm leavin' this mornin' with my clothes in my hand,
    I won't stop movin' 'til I find my man.
    "Lost Wandering Blues" (Ma Rainey)

    And there were elements of hokum, lightheartedness, fun and parody, as well as topical songs and "ballits."

    Ida Goodson:
    "I don't know, it's just something about it -- a woman can always sing the blues better than a man can."

    Ida is featured in "Wild Women Don't Have the Blues"

    "Sprightly blues and gospel performer Ida Goodson -- the scene stealer of the film -- gives a stunning exhibition of the intimate connection between gospel and blues when she takes the song 'Precious Lord' from a rich, slow gospel opening to a rollicking boogie-woogie conclusion." -- Chris Heim, Chicago Tribune

    The blues women rarely accompanied themselves. Instead of singing to a lone guitar or banjo as the folk singers did, women were accompanied by jazz bands that now were becoming popular, music hall professionals like themselves who were veterans of the theatrical circuit.

    The Classic Blues, 1900-1920s
  2. MississippiRed

    MississippiRed Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Aug 11, 2004
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    I love Ma Rainey ,Bessie Smith and Ida Cox among's another lady I love to hear....and she plays also...and sung on some songs with Memphis Jug Band, and Bukka among others....check her out

    she plays to bruh....them good Country Blues ....I think you'll enjoy that site also....if you listen to a lot of women singers songs in comparison to some of the men's songs to me at least it's like putting both sides of a story together what we go through as men dealing with women and what they go through dealing with's a trip....or maybe I just have too much time on my hands...


    I wore my .44 so long, I've made my shoulder sore.
    I wore my .44 so long, I done made my shoulder sore.
    Well, I'm wondrin everybody, where'd my baby go.
  3. Isaiah

    Isaiah Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Jun 8, 2004
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    "That's What I'm Talkin' 'bout!", and here we are talkin' 'bout it too!(smile!)

    Red, have you ever seen the documentary on Alberta Hunter, WILD WOMEN DON'T HAVE NO BLUES??? Very insightful historical document!