Jason Howard Green

Jason Howard Green

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Yesterday I went and saw Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom based on the life of blues legend Gertrude Pridgett (aka Ma Rainey). I remember seeing the show once back in college. It was a student production and it must have been very forgettable because I had forgotten almost everything about this remarkable story. Ma Rainey was my kinda girl. Boldly black and unapolagetically lesbian. Nicknamed “Mother of the Blues,” Ma Rainey was one of those aggressive women that demanded respect and never allowed herself to be intimidated by anyone regardless of gender, color, or status. Women like her oftentimes earn an unwarranted nickname [rhymes with witch] for behavior that would be rewarded if she were a man.

Gender bias aside, the most prominent notion that repeated in my head as I drove home after the show was how much we have progressed with regards to race and how much we have regressed when it comes to sexuality. For Ma Rainey her sexuality was not an issue. She openly flaunted her love of women. In the play all the boys in the band knew she was same gender loving. In fact, after a new guy in the band started flirting with one of the ladies in Rainey’s entourage he was warned, “boy what are you doing, that’s Ma’s girl!” Ma Rainey would even eventually record some lesbian anthems like Prove It On Me and Bull Dykers Dream.

How is it that in the 1920s homophobia was not an issue for Ma Rainey? Today we are repeatedly reminded how homosexuality and homosexuals are detrimental to the world (i.e. Prop 8 and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell). However almost a century ago Rainey was out, proud and phenomenally successful. Today we have celebrities that refuse to come out because it could end their career but 100 years ago Rainey Ma Rainey told her studios when, where, how and what they would record.

I loved watching this woman on stage. She bowed down to no one. Even though her manager and the studio owner tried to “handle” her they were unsuccessful. And although there was no homophobia evident in this production the racial climate of the era came across loud and clear. This was the golden age of Jim Crow. Black men and women were subject to legal discrimination in the areas of housing, education and employment. I think some of the stories shared by the bandsmen on stage made many in the predominately white audience uncomfortable. Truth be told, most of the stories shared on stage made ME uncomfortable.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is filled with witty writing, thought provoking narratives and phenomenal music and if you ever have the opportunity to see it then you should defintely check it out. I won’t spoil the story by giving you the ending. But I will say this, when you meet an angry Black man please understand this – he probably has a reason for being angry.

1 comment:

BronzeBuckaroo said...

There is controversy within the theater today. With the economy being so bad, theater directors want productions that will put butts in seats and not challenge an audience to think too much, nor confront them with a different perspective.

Anyway, I really want to see Black Bottom.