RLP 12-108
MA RAINEY

TWELVE CLASSIC PERFORMANCES
BY THE FIRST OF THE GREAT BLUES SINGERS

Jazz Archives #100(12”) 

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Ma Rainey with -

The Georgia Band (Side 1, #1 and 2): unknown personnel   Chicago; 1928

Papa Charlie Jackson (Side 1, #3): vocal duet with banjo (possibly Jackson) accompaniment.  Chicago; 1928

Lovie Austin’s Blues Serenaders (Side1, #4 and 5): Tommy Ladnier (cnt) Jimmy O’Bryant (cl) Lovie Austin (p)          Chicago; 1923

The Tub Jug Washboard Band (Side 1, #6; Side 2, #1-3): Probably Tampa Red (kazoo) others unknown           Chicago; 1928

Unknown violins and guitar (Side 2, #4)     Chicago; 1928

The Georgia Jazz Band: Joe Smith (cnt) charlie Green (tb) Buster Bailey (cl) Fletcher Henderson (p) Charlie Dixon (bj)         Chicago; 1926


SIDE 1

  1. Oh Papa Blues (2:51)

  2. Blues, Oh Blues (2:59)

  3. Big Feeling Papa (2:42)

  4. Barrel House Blues (2:54)

  5. Walking Blues (3:13)

  6. Victim of the Blues (2:34)

SIDE 2

  1. Black Cat, Hoot Owl Blues (2:22)

  2. Prove It on Me Blues (2:42)

  3. Hear Me Talking to You (3:01)

  4. Grievin’ Hearted Blues (3:04)

  5. Stack O’ Lee Blues (2:54)

  6. Yonder Comes the Blues (3:03)


   This album features the voice of a woman who must be described, simply and bluntly, as one of the truly great artists of jazz, one of the most remarkably performers in any field of music.

MA RAINEY is, unfortunately, probably far more widely known as the discoverer and teacher of the celebrated Bessie Smith than for her own vast talents. It is true that Bessie was not only by far the most famous of all blues singers, but also one of the greatest. But Ma, although circumstances kept her form having anything like the lasting fame that her protégé achieved, is the only other who can sensibly be mentioned in the same breath as Bessie.

   It is pointless to argue as to which of these two should be raked first, which had the more impressive vocal equipment or could tear more effectively at the emotions of listeners with the passion and lament of the words she sang and the way she sang them. Bessie’s many recorded performances attest to her qualities; as for Ma, this LP should make it fully clear that her low, throbbing contralto was a wondrous instrument. She possessed a direct and firmly undecorative style, and a voice that combined amazing power with a deep, mellow richness; and she commanded the full range of emotions that belong to the blues: from rough humor and irony to overwhelming mournfulness.

   Born Gertrude Pridgett in Columbus, Georgia, in 1886 (a time when the blues itself was rather young), she married Will Rainey when she was probably no more than fifteen, and joined the minstrel show with which he was travelling. Her professional career began then and lasted until she retired in 1935. (She died just four years later.) For most of that time she was billed as “Ma” or “Madame” Rainey, which can be taken as a gesture of respect. For she was the dominant influence in the so-called “classic” school of blues-singing (the term is used to distinguish it from the earlier, cruder “country” blues style) that reached its peak in the 1920s. Throughout this period she was immensely popular with Negro audiences in the South and Midwest, mostly appearing on the stages of the T.O.B.A. vaudeville circuit and in minstrel and tent shows, such as her own “Rabbit’s Foot Minstrels.” She also made a great many recordings for Paramount, the Chicago company that was a notable source of great jazz in the 1920s, but passed out of existence early in the ‘30s.

   On the whole it can be said that Ma was a victim of unfortunate timing. She was too early for nation-wide or lasting fame, a bit too early to have the benefit of really first-class recording techniques, and she was never snapped up by a major recording company (as, of course, Bessie Smith was). Until the early 1950s, hardly any of her records were re-issued, and her voice lived on largely through scarce Paramount originals, most of them woe-fully battered and worn collector’s items that gave only a dim reflection of her true sound. Thus Ma Rainey became a fit subject for myth and legend. A few facts of her life were known; there was the story (perhaps embellished a bit by the passage of time) of her finding young Bessie in Tennessee, recognizing the vast promise in her voice, and starting her on the path to greatness. And from contemporaries have come stories of her lusty life, of the gleaming gold teethe and the necklace she always wore. All this built a mental picture of a jazz pioneer belonging to the dim past: together with those battered records, it helped create the false assumption that today’s listeners could never hope to hear her fabulous voice in all its true warmth and majesty.

   Riverside has for some time been seeking to do away with this particular misconception. For the fact is that Ma’s voice was adequately recorded, that there is a great wealth of material on which – with the aid of modern re-processing techniques – its strength, authority and beauty can be heard again. Several ten-inch LPs (as listed below) have included selections from her vast Paramount repertoire. Now this twelve-inch album (which does not duplicate any previous choices) offers a further distinguished sampling.

   Something of Ma’s great variety is at least suggested here. As the very first number indicates, being a “blues singer” did not limit her to the strictly 12-bar form. There were a good many songs in her repertoire that fall into the category of “the blues” largely for the simple reason that this thoroughly blues-imbued performer made them belong there. Also, her accompaniment varied widely. The “Georgia Band” designation sometimes presumably meant the group that worked with her on-stage; on other occasions, as on the last two numbers here, the names covered a Fletcher Henderson unit. These offer an opportunity to hear the great lyric horn of Joe Smith; similarly, the two earliest selections, on which the baking is by a Lovie Austin group, feature another of the most formidable blues trumpets, that of Tommy Ladnier. Also represented are such unusual supporting artists as the vigorous members of the non-standard “Tub” Jug Washboard Band,” the violin-guitar combination on Grievin’ Hearted Blues, and Papa Charlie Jackson, composer of such jazz standards a Salty Dog and a recording star of the ‘20s in his own right, who shares the spotlight on Big Feeling Papa.


   A discographical not eon the original recordings. All of these selections were originally issued on Paramount, with label numbers and (in parentheses) master umbers as follows; Oh Papa Blues (master numbers 949) and Blues, Oh Blues (948) were coupled on Paramount 12566; Big Feeling Paramount (21044) was on Paramount 12718; Barrel House (1598) / Walking (1613) were Paramount 12082; Victim of the Blues (20666) / Black Cat, Hoot Owl (20661) were Paramount 12687; Prove It on Me (20665) / Hear Me Talking (20663) made up Paramount 12668; Grievin’ Hearted (404) was on Paramount 12419; and Stack O’ Lee (2376) / Yonder Comes the Blues (2370) were couple on Para 12357.

Additional rainey recordings can be heard on these ten-inch Riverside “Jazz Archives” albums:


MA RAINEY, Volumes 1, 2 and 3 (RLPs 1003, 1016, 1045)

THE GREAT BLUES SINGERS: Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, Chippie Hill (RLP 1032)

LOUIS ARMSTRONG Plays the Blues (RLP 1001)

TOMMY LADNIER Plays the Blues (RLP 1044)

   Riverside’s twelve-inch LP series features great early recordings by such notable figures as:

Young LOUIS ARMSTRONG (RLP 12-101)

“N. O. R. K.” – New Orleans Rhythm Kings with Jelly Roll Morton (RLP 12-102)

FATS WALLER: Rediscovered Early Solos (RLP 12-103)

JOHNNY DODDS: New Orleans Clarinet (RLP 12-104)

Giants of BOOGIE, WOOGIE: Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson (RLP 12-106)

MUGGSY SPANIER: Chicago Jazz (RLP 12-107)

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   This material reissued by special arrangement with Paramount Records and John Steiner. The slight surface noise audible on this LP is due to the limitations of early recording processes; it has not been entirely removed in order to preserve highest fidelity possible and to give more faithful reproduction of original tone qualities.


Produced by Bill Grauer

Notes by Orrin Keepnews

Cover designed by Gene Gogerty


RIVERSDIE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.

418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.


[from back cover address as 553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.]

   Ma Rainey can also be heard on some selections in –

GREAT BLUES SINGERS: Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, Chippie Hill, etc. (RLP 12-121)

Young LOUIS ARMSTRONG (RLP 12-101)

   Other outstanding Riverside “Jazz Archives” reissued albums featuring major early-jazz artists include –

LOUIS ARMSTRONG: 1923; with King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band (RLP 12-122)

Young FATS WALLER (RLP 12-103)

The Amazing Mr. WALLER: organ, piano and voice (RLP 12-109)

BIX BEIDERBECKE (RLP 12-123)

JELLY ROLLMORTON: Classic Piano Solos (RLP 12-111)

The Incomparable JELLY ROLL MORTON (RLP 12-127)

The Birth of Big Band jazz: DUKE ELLINGTON/ JOHNNY DODDS (RLP 12-104)


Produced by Bill Grauer

Notes by Orrin Keepnews

Cover designed by Gene Gogerty


RIVERSDIE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.

553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.