Gertrude Rainey

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Dubbed “The Mother of the Blues,” Rainey (who went by her stage name Ma Rainey) was an early 20th century American vocalist known for her powerful style and showmanship. She began with live shows, touring with her husband “Pa” Rainey, and eventually signed a record deal with Paramount, a company that relied on albums by African-American artists for much of its profit; unfortunately, the company’s records were of poor quality, and did not produce top-quality recordings of Rainey’s voice. Her lyrics, while often featuring brokenhearted women wailing over men, also included seminal lesbian works like “Prove It On Me Blues,” which featured a cover image of a butch woman (identified in the text with Rainey) flirting with two femmes. Between her sapphic stories and arrest after a lesbian orgy, Rainey was one of several blues musicians now considered gay or bisexual.

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