She was born Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett on April 26, 1886, in Columbus, Ga.
Gertrude made her first public appearance about the age of 14 in a talent show called “Bunch of Blackberries” at the Springer Opera House in her native Columbus. Not much else is known of her early years.
In 1904 she married William Rainey, a vaudeville performer known as Pa Rainey, and for several years they toured with African-American minstrel groups as a song-and-dance team. It was in a small Missouri town that she first heard the sort of music that was to become known as the blues.
Ma Rainey, as she became known, began singing blues songs and influenced the evolution of the music and the growth of its popularity. In her travels she appeared with jazz and jug bands throughout the South. While with the Tolliver’s Circus and Musical Extravaganza troupe, she exerted a direct influence on young Bessie Smith. Her deep contralto voice was a powerful instrument by which to convey the pathos of her simple songs of everyday life and emotion.
In 1923 Ma Rainey made her first phonograph recordings for the Paramount company. Over a five-year span she recorded some 92 songs for Paramount — such titles as “See See Rider,” “Prove It on Me,” “Blues Oh Blues,” “Sleep Talking,” “Oh Papa Blues,” “Trust No Man,” “Slave to the Blues,” “New Boweavil Blues” and “Slow Driving Moan” — that later became the only permanent record of one of the most influential popular musical artists of her time. She continued to sing in public into the 1930s, and she died in 1939.
In 2008 a small museum opened in a house she had built in Columbus for her mother.
Not much is know about her time in Rome, according to Rome Area History Museum officials. “What we know is that she moved to Rome because her brother lived here, and she ran a successful black theater and blues club here in Rome for about 20 years,” said Leigh Barba, museum director. “However, there is much more that we would like to know about the history of the ‘mother of the blues’ and her time here in Rome.”
So anyone who may have photos or details about Ma Rainey is asked to contact the Rome history museum by calling 706-235-8051 or by emailing email@example.com.