Ma Rainey Home, Columbus

Born in either in Alabama in 1882 or in Columbus in 1886, Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett was interested in music from an early age and played in a talent show at the nearby Springer Opera House at the age of 14. In 1902 she began touring with minstrel shows and by 1904 had met and married William “Pa” Rainey, hence her professional name, “Ma” Rainey. They first operated the Alabama Fun Makers Company but by 1906 were touring with the Rabbit’s Foot Company. In 1914, the pair were known as the “Assasinators of the Blues”.  The marriage didn’t last long after this time, but her musical innovations, introducing blues and jazz into her acts, led to her billing as “Mother of the Blues”.  She was said to be a major influence on Bessie Smith, with whom she toured for a time. She was a pioneer female recording artist and made 94 records for Paramount. At least 47 were her own compositions. She is a member of several halls of fame, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was featured on a 1994 commemorative U. S. postage stamp. She built this house for her mother at the height of her success (likely the mid-1920s) and upon returning to Columbus to manage three theatres in 1935, she moved in. She died in 1939.

By 1991, the house was nearly demolished due to its derelict state, but thanks to the efforts of Fred C. Fussell and Friends of Ma Rainey chairwoman Florene Dawkins, it was saved. Find out more from Columbus Parks and Recreation, who now administer this important historic site.

National Register of Historic Places

 

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