September 17

“Ma” Rainey

September 17, 1994 - Columbus

Macon usually gets top billing when it comes to Georgia’s musical heritage, but Columbus has a trump card – “Ma” Rainey, the “Mother of the Blues,” who was honored on this day in 1994 by the U.S. Postal Service. 

Gertrude “Ma” Rainey was born in 1886 in Columbus, where she first started performing in vaudeville and minstrel shows, where she met her husband, Will “Pa”, Rainey and together they toured the South. 

During the 1920s she recorded over 100 records in five years with such jazz legends as Louis Armstrong and Coleman Hawkins. Her style —wild hair, gold teeth, and chains—and deep raspy voice electrified audiences.   It also influenced her young protégé, Bessie Smith, who performed with her for a short time. 

When the Great Depression stalled Rainey’s career, she returned to Georgia where she died in 1939 at age 53. But her music continued to influence jazz singers for generations. 

The stamp bearing her likeness honored a true musical icon when it debuted on September 17, 1994, Today in Georgia History.