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  • Toured with vaudeville and minstrel shows

  • Settled in New York City in 1913, where she worked as a cabaret singer

  • She appeared in Perry Bradford’s musical Made in Harlem in 1918

Early Recording Career

  • In early 1920, Okeh Records planned to record popular singer Sophie Tucker performing a pair of songs by Perry Bradford

  • Tucker was ill and could not make it to the session, so Bradford persuaded Okeh to allow Mamie Smith to record in Tucker’s place

  • Smith recorded two sides (That Thing Called Love and You Can't Keep A Good Man Down) on February 14, 1920, backed by a white studio band

  • Smith’s record sold moderately well, so she and Bradford were invited back to make additional recordings

Recording Success

  • On August 10, 1920, Smith recorded the Bradford-penned Crazy Blues and It's Right Here For You, If You Don't Get It, 'Tain't No Fault of Mine

  • These were the first recordings of vocal blues by an African-American singer, and the record became an explosive best seller, selling a million copies in one year

  • The success of Smith’s record prompted record companies to seek to record other female blues singers and started the era of what is now known as classic female blues

Ma Rainey (1886 – 1939)

  • Born Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett on April 26, 1886

  • Billed as “The Mother of the Blues”

  • One of the earliest known professional blues singers

  • One of the first generation of blues singers to record

Early Career

  • First appeared on stage in Columbus, Georgia in A Bunch of Blackberries at 14

  • She then joined a traveling vaudeville troupe, the Rabbit Foot Minstrels

  • She married fellow vaudeville singer William “Pa” Rainey in 1904, billing herself from that point as “Ma” Rainey

  • The pair toured with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels as Rainey & Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues, singing a mix of blues and popular songs

  • Rainey was outspoken on women's issues

  • She was a role model for future women entertainers who took control of their own careers

  • Rainey was bisexual and never shied away from those feelings in her music

Recording Career

  • Ma Rainey was already a veteran performer with decades of touring in the South

when she made her first recordings in 1923

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