Today is the birthday of Ma Rainey. She was born in Columbus, Georgia on April 26, 1886. She wasn't the first recorded female blues singer, but she very well could have been. She had been performing for years before she was ever recorded.
She was on stage as early as 1900 (Encyclopedia of the Blues, Gerard Herzhaft). She was multi-talented, she sang, danced and acted in a traveling vaudeville show. In 1904 she married the dancer William "Pa" Rainey and adopted the nickname of "Ma" Rainey.
Her show was a part of the Tolliver circus and the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. During this time she took a young Bessie Smith under her wing and gave her advice.
During her time women were the marquee names in blues music, and Ma Rainey was the most celebrated of them all. That is why she is often called the "Mother of the blues." She had been singing and performing for more than 20 years before she made her first recording for Paramount in 1923.
Her best known songs include, "See See Rider," "Bo-Weavil Blues," and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." Her vocal delivery was tough and her music included jug bands, guitars, and she also played with bluesmen like Tampa Red and Blind Blake. She also sang with early jazz musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory and Fletcher Henderson.
You can read all about her here, Ma Rainey @ Wikipedia
And if you would like to hear some of her music, consider the following;
Ma Rainey @Amazon.com