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LGBTQ History #5: Ma Rainey

Ma Rainey is recognized as one of the great female blues vocalists, and known as the “Mother of the Blues.”

She signed a record deal with Paramount Records in 1923 and was one of the first performers to record the blues. Her band included jazz stars Louis Armstrong, Thomas Dorsey, and Coleman Hawkins. Ma Rainey released more than 100 songs with her record company.

She was married to Pa Rainey, but did not hide her love for women. In 1928, she recorded Prove it on Me Blues, with lyrics expressing her infatuation with women.

In 1925, the police raided a party hosted by Ma Rainey. When the police arrived, they found women undressed and in intimate situations with each other. She was arrested for throwing an indecent party.

Ma Rainey mentored another famous bisexual blues singer, Bessie Smith. Rainey and Smith were close friends and possibly lovers. In fact, it was Bessie Smith who bailed Rainey out of jail in 1925.

There were several lesbian and bisexual Blues singers including Alberta Hunter, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Ethel Waters. All were pioneers of the blues era. If you like jazz, blues, and women, check out the documentary T’Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness: Queer Blues Divas of the 1920s on YouTube.

 

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