Monday, June 16, 2008

Owl Songs & Ma Rainey

I've checked on my iTunes and besides Gerry Raferty these are what I have.....

Night Owl Carly Simon
Black Cat Hoot Owl - Ma Rainey
Screech Owl Blues - Ma Rainey
Nite Owl - The Dukays

Strange that two of the four owl songs I should have are by Ma Rainey.

Ma Rainey’s real name was Gertrude M. Pridgett, she was the daughter of a couple of minstrel performers who was born on 26 April, 1886. She first performed on stage in 1900, becoming ‘Ma’ Rainey four years later when she married the minstrel performer William ‘Pa’ Rainey; they billed themselves as ‘Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues’. The pair toured extensively through the South on various tent shows, including The Rabbit Foot Minstrels; it was during this period that she is alleged to have ‘coached’ a young Bessie Smith. Rainey later claimed that she was singing the blues as early as 1902, while this may be debatable but there is no doubt that she was one of the very first blues singers of either sex.

In late 1923 she was signed to Paramount Records, who billed her as ‘The Mother of The Blues’. Her first recordings were made in December and included her debut, ‘Last Minute Blues’ and ‘Bo-Weevil Blues’. During the next five years she recorded around a hundred sides for Paramount often backed by her Georgia Band. A young Louis Armstrong, as well as Fletcher Henderson, Coleman Hawkins, Blind Blake and Tampa Red also accompanied her on record. Her success as a singer, and her ongoing reputation, rests on the fact that she bridged the gap between urban and country blues. She never lost touch with her country fan base, writing songs with which they could identify, singing them in a style that they loved. The fact that she was a powerful singer cannot by disguised by the poor quality of her recordings; she delivered her songs in a rich, earthy and direct manner. She was a performer first and not necessarily in order, a jazz singer, dancer, a singer of bawdy songs and a great blues singer.

Rainey was known to free with her favours, a fact made more surprising as she was hardly a looker. But she always dressed the part of a Blues Queen; she covered her stocky frame with all manner of outrageous costumes, glittery headbands and feathers too. With the onset of the depression her career came to a close, but she was already a rich lady. She retired to the town of her birth; she lived there in luxury until she died of a heart attack in 1939.

“Ma was loaded with real diamonds – in her ears, around her neck, in a tiara on her head. Both hands were full of rocks, too; her hair was wild and she had gold teeth. What a sight!”

A teenage Mary Lou Williams at a show in early 1920’s in Pittsburgh

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