Blues Then and Now - The History of the Blues (Chapter 2, page 1 of 11)


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Chapter 2

For some unknown reason the women blues singers never got the true recognition as the men did that they rightly deserved. Their songs were not as popular as the men except for a few like Mamie Smith's "Crazy Blues," and Bessie Smith's "Down Hearted Blues." The majority of the women did not receive celebrated status as the men did.

The ladies that sang and played the blues were as talented as the men were and in several cases they excelled their male counterpart. Memphis Minnie McCoy could play the guitar better than most men and often challenged them and won. With the women, their blues was the story of their lives as they had lived it."Sippie" Wallace sang about her drug and alcohol addictions. Lucille Bogan's lyrics were about prostitution and her craving for sex. Ida Cox reveals her weakness for whiskey, moonshine and sex and Alberta Hunter exposes herself as a lesbian. And so many more had to resort to prostitution, whiskey, drugs, cocaine and cigarettes to ease the pain of their blues. But, in spite of it all, there are those whose life story will forever endure.

Gertrude `Ma' Rainey considered one of the greatest blues singers in her time. Her country style blues singing or "Lawd, I'm down Wid de Blues," was a big hit for Paramount Records. This was among the first to be identified as a "race" label, which was what black recording artists on black labels were called "Ma" Rainey. Along with blues singers, Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, Sara Martin, Clara Smith and a few others were among the first to develop the classic blues style. "Ma" Rainey's 1925 hit recording of "Cell Bound Blues," with her own Georgia Jazz Band is an excellent example. This was followed in 1926 with "Jealous Hearted Blues," with the Fletcher Henderson Band. "See See Rider," "Bo-Weavil Blues," and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" were also among her hits for Paramount Records.

She also sang about topics that were commonplace at the time. "Chain Gang Blues," talks about breaking the law and going to jail. "Moonshine Blues," and "Dead Drunk Blues," were about intoxication. Superstition was revealed in "Wringing and Twisting the Blues." "Hustlin' Blues," was about prostitution.

"Ma" Rainey labeled as the "Mother of the Blues," was born Gertrude Pridgett on April 26, 1886 in Columbus, Georgia. At the age of 18 she married William "Pa" Rainey and together they performed with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. In 1905, her blues singing was the highlight of the show. She later became the first black female to be associated with the blues. It was "Ma" Rainey who discovered that Bessie Smith had talent and look Bessie under wing. Gertrude "Ma" Rainey died of a heart attack on December 22, 1939.

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