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Leila Kamali

African‐American jazz vocalist and vaudeville star. Born on 20 October 1901 in Brooklyn, New York, Hall made her debut with the 1921 Broadway musical Shuffle Along. She went on to perform at Harlem's famous Cotton Club, alongside great bandleaders and musicians including Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, and Cab Calloway, and introduced her signature wordless phrase on the recording of ‘Creole Love Call’ in 1927.

From 1928 to 1929 Hall starred in the musical Blackbirds, the show that featured her notable hits ‘I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby’ and ‘I Must Have That Man’. Her solo concert tour brought her to London in 1931, and she visited again in 1938, appearing in The Sun Never Sets at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and this time settling in Britain.

Hall hosted her own radio series making her the first black star to be given a ...

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Barry Kernfeld

vaudeville, musical theater, and jazz singer and actress, was born in New York City, the daughter of William Hall, a white man of Pennsylvania German roots who worked as a music teacher at the Pratt Institute, and Elizabeth Gerrard, an African American. She made many jokes about her birth year; on her birthday in 1991 she declared that she was ninety years old, hence the conjectural 1901.

Hall and her sister sang at school concerts. After her father's death she began her stage career. From its debut in 1921 and into 1922 she appeared in the pioneering African American musical revue Shuffle Along as one of the Jazz Jasmines chorus girls; she also sang a duet with Arthur Porter, “Bandana Days.” In the revue Runnin' Wild (1923) she introduced the song “Old Fashioned Love.” At some point in 1925 she ...

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Gayle Murchison

musician, singer, and educator, was born Ravella Eudosia Hughes in Huntington, West Virginia, the daughter of George W. Hughes, a postman, and Annie B. (maiden name unknown), a piano teacher and seamstress. At age five Hughes began studying piano with her mother and, at eight or nine, violin with a musician friend of her father's. She attended Huntington's segregated public schools. Disturbed when she was racially harassed, her parents sent her to Hartshorn Memorial College (later part of Virginia Union University) in Richmond, which she attended from 1909 to 1911, graduating with a degree in music and elementary studies. She attended Oberlin High and Conservatory, graduating in 1915. In 1917 she earned a bachelor of music in Piano from Howard's Conservatory of Music, where she studied piano with LeRoy Tibbs and voice with the conservatory director Lulu Vere Childers Hughes then taught violin ...

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Navneet Sethi

early blues singer often called the Mother of the Blues. Born in Columbus, Georgia, to parents who were minstrels, Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett debuted as an entertainer at the age of fourteen in a revue at the Springer Opera House in Columbus. Having well learned many vaudeville songs from her parents as well as from country folk, Gertrude, by the sheer audacity of her art created a country-brewed variety of classic blues. Soon after her first stage performance she joined a traveling vaudeville troupe, the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, and while in Saint Louis in 1902 she first heard a blues style and thereafter developed her own.

In 1904 Gertrude Pridgett married a fellow vaudeville performer, William “Pa” Rainey after which she styled herself as Ma Rainey The two toured the South with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels singing blues and popular songs as Rainey and Rainey Assassinators of the Blues ...

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Farah Jasmine Griffin

Born Gertrude Pridgett on 26 April 1886 in Columbus, Georgia, Ma Rainey began performing at the age of fourteen at the Springer Opera House in Columbus. In 1904 she married William “Pa” Rainey. Early in her career Rainey became leader of her own show and proved herself to be both an exciting blues performer and a capable manager. In 1923 she began her recording career with Paramount Records; she stayed with the company until 1928. Rainey's performances and records incorporated rural as well as jazz elements. She recorded with jug bands as well as with jazz greats. One of her most well-known songs, “See See Rider,” exemplifies her style. Her biographer, Sandra Lieb, characterized Rainey's style as a rich contralto filled with slurs and moans and “lisping diction” (Ma Rainey, 1959).

Throughout her career Rainey appealed most to southern audiences both black and white ...

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Barbara L. Tischler

Rainey, Ma (26 April 1886–22 December 1939), vaudeville, blues, and jazz singer and self-proclaimed “Mother of the Blues, †vaudeville blues and jazz singer and self proclaimed Mother of the Blues was born Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett in Columbus Georgia the daughter of Thomas Pridgett and Ella Allen an employee of the Georgia Central Railroad Gertrude began her musical career at age fourteen in a local talent show and soon was singing at the Springer Opera House in Columbus Early in her career she met William Pa Rainey whom she married in 1904 They toured the South performing in tent shows honky tonks carnivals and vaudeville houses with F S Wolcott s Rabbit Foot Minstrels and later with their own troupe Ma Rainey earned a reputation as a flamboyant performer who wore gaudy costumes and had a wild stage persona that manifested itself in her seductive movements ...

Article

Born in Columbus, Georgia, to minstrelists Thomas and Ella Pridgett, Gertrude Pridgett entered show business at fourteen as a member of the traveling stage show “The Bunch of Blackberries.” In 1904 she married showman William “Pa” Rainey, and they formed a song and dance act called “Rainey and Rainey: The Assassinators of the Blues” that lasted until 1916. While touring mostly in the South during that period, and subsequently as a soloist with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels on the Theater Owners' Booking Association (TOBA) circuit, Ma Rainey developed her “classic Blues” style of rough-edged reality moans and humorous shouts.

In 1923 Ma Rainey began a brief but prolific recording career with Chicago-based Paramount Records with “Moonshine Blues.” By 1928 she had recorded ninety three songs many of which she wrote herself As a result of the wide circulation of these records Rainey gained ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

vaudeville artiste and “Mother of the Blues,” was born Gertrude Pridgett in Columbus, Georgia, the daughter of Ella Allen, an employee of the Georgia Central Railroad, and Thomas Pridgett, whose occupation is unknown. Around 1900, at the age of fourteen, Pridgett made her debut in the Bunch of Blackberries revue at the Springer Opera House in Columbus, one of the biggest theaters in Georgia and a venue that had been graced by, among others, Lillie Langtry and Oscar Wilde. Within two years she was a regular in minstrel tent shows—troupes of singers, acrobats, dancers, and novelty acts—which traveled throughout the South. At one show in Missouri in 1902 she heard a new musical form the blues and incorporated it into her act Although she did not discover or name the blues as legend would later have it Gertrude Pridgett was undeniably one of the pioneers ...

Article

Rainey is the earliest well-known woman blues singer. Her style, the classic blues, was a female-dominated mixture of folk blues and black professional entertainment that flourished in the 1920s. She was a great vocalist, comedienne, and songwriter; a star in minstrelsy, vaudeville, and recording; a dancer, producer, and theater manager. She sang blues as early as 1902, earning the title “Mother of the Blues,” leading a great tradition of women blues singers from Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie to Big Mama Thornton and Koko Taylor.

Ma Rainey was born Gertrude Pridgett in Columbus, Georgia, the second of Thomas and Ella Allen Pridgett’s five children. Her family came from Alabama, and her grandmother may have gone into show business after Emancipation. At the age of fourteen, she debuted in “A Bunch of Blackberries,” a revue at the Springer Opera House in Columbus. In Missouri in 1902 ...

Article

Barry Kernfeld

vaudeville singer, was born Irene Gibbons in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Frank Gibbons and Julia Evans. Her father died when she was fifteen months old and her mother had difficulty providing for her, and so her career in show business began as a toddler, dancing and singing with Josephine Gassman and her Pickaninnies, a vaudeville act headed by a former opera singer. In this capacity she toured America annually and also visited Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand from around 1904 to 1906, Europe in 1906, and Australia again from 1914 to 1915.

Gibbons met the songwriter and publisher Clarence Williams while performing in Chicago. Married in New York in 1921, they had three children; their daughter Joy, using the stage name Irene Williams, later became an actress and singer, touring in Porgy and Bess Having grown too old ...