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Jazz Archives #1000(10”) 

Eight selections by the first of the great blues


Accompanied by –

Lovie Austin’s Blues Serenaders (#1, 2,3 ): Tommy Ladnier (cnt) Jimmy O’Bryant (cl) Lover Austisn (p) Harris (ts) (on #1, 2 only)      Chicago; 1924

Jimmy Blythe (p) (#4)     Chicago; 1926

The Georgia Band (#5, 6, 7); Fuller (tp) Al Wynn (tb) unknown sax Thomas Dorsey (p) Cedric Odom (drs)

Chicago; 1926

The Georgia Band (#8); unknown personnel  Chicago; 1928


1. Honey, Where you Been So Long (2:52) (Rainey)

2. Ma Rainey’s Mystery Record (2:52) (Early – Dorsey)

3. Lawd, Send Me a Man Blues (2:55) (Rainey)

4. Mountain Jack Blues (3:14) (Rainey)


5. Broken Hearted Blues (2:50) (Rainey)

6. Jealousy Blues (3:23) (Glasco and Glasco)

7. Seeking Blues (2:51) (Rainey)

8. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2:40) (Rainey)

   GERTRUDE RAINEY, who was generally known as Madame Rainey and most often billed as “Ma,” was unquestionably either the greatest or the second greatest of all the women who have sung in the magnificent blues tradition of the American Negro.

   Bessie Smith, who was Ma’s protégé and learned much from her, is known to a far larger audiences. But only Bessie, of the very many who followed or imitated Ma, can possibly be rated as her peer. For Ma Rainey was a very great singer, and her throbbing, low contralto was a wondrous instrument.

   She was the dominant influence in the entire ‘school’ of blues-singing that reached its peak in the jazz heyday of the 1920s. Possessing a voice of great, mellow richness and amazing power, a style that was direct and firmly undecorative, she could run the full range of emotions that belong to the blues – from rough humor to overwhelming sadness – with equal effectiveness.

   One trait that marks the true artist is evident immediately in almost any record she made: the feeling of complete, quiet mastery, implying total confidence in her ability to make a song ‘behave’ as she wanted it to. This is the sort of control of relaxation, that usually is called “effortless,” but that actually only comes with long effort – a combination of talent, love of the task at band and strong identification with it, and a good deal of sheer experienced professionalism. It is the deceptive appearance of simplicity that masks great art.

   Despite all this, Madame Rainey’s name is today comparatively unknown. You might call it a matter of bad timing. She was born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1886 – which was not too long after the blues themselves fully came into being. Beginning her career at an early age – probably before 1920, she spent some 35 years as an entertainer, retired in 1935, and died four years later. She was immensely popular with Negro audiences in the South and Midwest, mostly in minstrel and tent shows and on the stages of the T.O.B.A. vaudeville circuit, and she made a great many records in Chicago. But she was a bit too early for nation-wide or lasting fame, too early to have the benefit of first-rate recording techniques, and she was never snapped up by a major record company. Very few of her records have ever been re-issued: her voice has lived, for the most part, on scarce Paramount originals jealously hoarded by jazz collectors.

   Thus, surprisingly few of today’s listeners have actually heard more than a handful of the many sides she recorded. And so a false myth has sprung up. Along with the personal legends about Ma (about the necklace she always wore, the gleaming gold teeth, and such), there is the story that her fabulous voice was never adequately recorded, that it is forever lost to us. That this myth is – very fortunately – far from being the truth was first demonstrated in Ma Rainey, Volume 1 (RLP 1003), which led the New York Times, in an enthusiastic review by John S. Wilson, to call her a “singer of rare authority and warmth.” The eight numbers of the present LP offer further proof of her greatness. Clearly reproduced with the aid of the best of modern recording techniques, the powerful voice shines through again with all of its original strength, depth and remarkable beauty.

   When Ma Rainey went into recording studio, obviously nothing but the finest available accompaniment would do, and many of her sides include the work of some of the most important jazz talent of her day. Here, the strong and sensitive horn of Tommy Ladnier stands out on Lawd, Send Me a Man Blues (Para. 12227) and Honey, Where You Been So Long / Ma Rainey’s Mystery Record (Para 12200) – the second side of which got its odd name as part of a you-provide-the-best-title contest). On these three numbers, the pianist of the era; and on Mountain Jack Blues (Para 12352) the sole backing is by another of the Chicago piano greats, Jimmy Blythe. On Broken Hearted Blues / Jealously Blues (Para 12364) and Seeking Blues (Para 12352), the band includes Thomas Dorsey, one of the most notable Negro song-writers of the ‘20s.

   Ma Rainey was, above all, a great entertainer. The spirit of the blues is present at all times, but on occasion, it can readily noted, the standard 12-bar blues form is not. Several of these numbers are songs of a good deal of complexity or sophistication, such as Jealousy Blues, with its haunting, thoroughly Spanish chord-pattern, and the rowdy Black Bottom (Para 12590). The latter, played by an unknown group that may have been the and from Ma’s own Rabbit’s Foot Minstrels troupe, is a good-time romp with more than a passing resemblance to Sister Kate.

But, in whatever she sang, be it traditional blues or not, Madame Rainey was an incomparable artist. As this LP proves, the songs she sang three decades ago remain extremely moving and enjoyable experiences, and surely must be counted as an important part of this country’s musical heritage.

   This material is 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 tone qualities.

Produced by Bill Grauer

Notes by Oriin Keepnews

Cover by Robert J. Lee


125 LaSalle Street, New York 27, New York

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