With the Black Bottom story, viewers can get some interesting details about her life and her rise to fame. But her overlooked legacy is being revisited thanks to the release of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, a film adaptation of August Wilson’s acclaimed 1982 play that arrived on Netflix on Friday. So, yes, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is based on a true story, in that Ma Rainey was a real person, but most of the actual plot is fictional. She and her band could make a sizable $350 a week on tour with the Theater Owners’ Booking Association (for comparison, George Williams and Bessie Brown could make $175, while superstar Bessie Smith raked in $600). Per Rolling Stone, Ma is hailed as a queer icon for being so open about her attraction to both men and women in her songs, though she never publicly identified as bisexual. Inside Viola Davis's Marriage to Julius Tennon, This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. Is The White Tiger based on a true story? ", How to Best Alleviate COVID-19 Symptoms at Home, These Reusable Grocery Bags Make Shopping a Breeze, How to Read the 'Bridgerton' Books in Order. Why trust us? Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images. “I loved the way they dealt with sexuality, with the relationships with men,” she says. A few years later, she would release “Prove It On Me Blues,” considered one of the earliest odes to lesbianism on record: “Went out last night with a crowd of my friends,” she sang. 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. Together, they created a double act known as … 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. 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's Black Bottom is set in 1920s Chicago, and predominantly deals with themes of Black art and culture, racial tensions, and power dynamics. And it would likewise inspire imitators for generations to come. Sadly, just years after her retirement began, Ma died of a heart attack on December 22, 1939. “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. 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. Per the critic, legend has it that during a visit to Missouri in 1902, Gertrude first heard a country blues singer. “They must’ve been women, ‘cause I don’t like no men. "We're going to do one a year for the next nine years. Ma Rainey, which began streaming on Netflix today, marks the final role for Boseman, who died of complications with colon cancer in August after keeping his diagnosis a secret for four years. Even … 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. 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. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is actually one of several works included in August's American Century Cycle collection. 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. All Rights Reserved. Yes, it is. 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. “When she started singing, the gold in her teeth would sparkle,” Rainey’s longtime musical director Thomas A. Dorsey wrote in his unpublished memoirs. 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. 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. This is the true story of the life of Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, the “Mother of the Blues,” and the subject of the Netflix film starring Oscar-winner Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman. While very few public performers were fully out of the closet, Rainey didn’t try very hard to hide her bisexuality. Her shows were also some of the earliest integrated shows to take place in the Jim Crow South, according to Lieb. We may earn commission from links on this page, but we only recommend products we back. But this particular based-on-a-true-story movie is first and foremost a based-on-a-play-that-is-based-on-a-true-story movie; more specifically, August Wilson’s 1982 play of the same name. Ma Rainey Is Best Known as a Pioneer of the Blues. 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). Many of those, like “Moonshine Blues” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” would become standards of the genre to be covered time and again. 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). In an era dominated by white Tin Pan Alley composers, Rainey imbued her songs with the depth and diversity of her own experiences as well those of other Black women, portraying anguish, rage, euphoria, love, sexual desire and much more. 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 … The following story contains spoilers from the movie “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” now streaming on Netflix. Who Is Ma Rainey? When looking at the new Netflix drama Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, one may come to the conclusion that the film is based on a true story.After all, the movie’s lead character — blues singer Ma Rainey — was a real person. During the '80s and '90s, Ma's contributions to music continued to be recognized. The movie traces the journey of this amazing woman who became one of the most popular singers of all time. And he humanizes us. “Her sexual braggadocio, popular in men’s blues songs, helped to create her legend as both fearless and sexually independent,” Mack says. 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. 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. Please try again later. Postal Service commemorative stamp in 1994. “Through storytelling in both the words that she sang and also her lifestyle, she fought against heteronormative ideas of what a woman should be.”, In a 1984 interview with the New York Times, Alice Walker says that the songwriting of Rainey and other blues singers was pivotal in helping to form the characters in The Color Purple. 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’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. "I think that [August] captures our humor as Black people," she told CBS News. They would travel from town to town with the popular Rabbit Foot Minstrels (around this time, famous blues singer Bessie Smith got her start singing as one of Ma's performers). 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). After separating from William in 1916, Ma started her own performing company called Madam Gertrude Ma Rainey and Her Georgia Smart Set, and she continued to grow in popularity. Long before bling was in vogue (or even a word), Rainey traveled with four trunks full of accessories which included ostrich plumes, sequins and jewelry. After this, The Guardian reports that Paramount ended up canceling her recording contract "because her style of blues was no longer deemed fashionable.". Kayla Keegan covers all things in the entertainment, pop culture, and celebrity space for Good Housekeeping. However, it’s based on the 2008 Booker Prize-winning fiction novel of the same name by Aravind Adiga. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is among the leading contenders in several categories for this year’s Academy Awards. This is what you need to know about the real Ma Rainey before (or after) watching. Her legacy as an LGBTQ pioneer also continues to be celebrated. 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. During the Black Arts Movement of the '60s, poet Al Young famously wrote "A Dance for Ma Rainey," to honor her artistry. Rainey gleefully leaned into in the sexual revolution of the Roaring Twenties, excelling at writing and performing the types of double entendres often used at the time. No, ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ is no longer based totally on a real story. Ma is also credited for breaking new ground through the narratives told in her songs, as several of the tunes feature strong feminist elements in the lyrics, as Angela Davis noted in Blues Legacies and Black Feminism. Onstage, she wore satin gowns and diamond tiaras; a necklace of gold coins often hung from her neck. 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. The "Mother of the Blues", she bridged earlier vaudeville and the authentic expression of southern blues, influencing a generation of blues singers. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our. 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. For much of the 1920s, Ma lived in Chicago and performed at house parties and concerts around the city while recording tracks for Paramount. The stage name “Ma Rainey” would come in the aftermath of her 1904 marriage to Will Rainey, a comedian and singer. 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 … Ma Rainey Is Best Known as a Pioneer of the Blues. ', Kevin Costner Shared A New Photo For His Birthday, Watch Steve Harvey Completely Lose It on 'Feud'. On December 18, Netflix released the new film Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, a drama adapted from a play of the same name, written by late Pulitzer-winning playwright August Wilson. In an article for The New York Times before his death in 2005, the legendary dramatist wrote: To honor August, Denzel made it known that he intends to bring all 10 of the American Century Cycle plays to the big screen in the years to come. 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. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission. Inspired by the performer, she allegedly started singing the same song as an encore at her own shows. I'm really excited about that," he told The Hollywood Reporter. In his play, August made sure to celebrate Ma's sexuality (including her rumored relationships with her female dancers and with Bessie Smith) with the inclusion of the fictional character Dussie Mae, portrayed by Taylour Paige in the Netflix movie. “Have you ever been drunk, slept in all your clothes? This approach captured the imagination of many Black Americans at a transformative moment in which, thanks to the Great Migration, the longstanding divides between North and South, rural and urban, antique and modern were becoming eroded or blurred. While the protagonist is based totally on the very actual African-American blues singer Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, the script itself used to be no longer stimulated through proper events. But while Rainey earned a good amount of money, it wasn’t nearly the amount that she deserved. In 1904, she married comedian, dancer, and singer Will Rainey; together they toured the South with a variety of minstrel groups, billing themselves as Ma and Pa Rainey. Gertrude “Ma” Rainey was, without any exaggeration, an icon. Soon after, in 1904, Ma married her husband, William "Pa" Rainey. Please attempt to sign up again. Her ability to negotiate sizable contracts, combined with her generosity, made her a beloved bandleader among musicians.