Gertrude “Ma” Rainey went on to become one of the first African American women out there to not only sing the blues but also record the songs. Her contributions to the genre have been immense and one cannot disregard her popularity at the height of her career. Known for her charismatic stage presence, vibrant outfits, and her “moaning” style of singing, Ma really did carve a niche for herself.
However, she also faced blatant sexism and racism in the 1920s. Nevertheless, she was a pioneer in her own right, and you can learn more about her in ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.’ If you’re curious to learn more about what her net worth and sources of income were, then we’ve got you covered.
How Did Ma Rainey Make Her Money?
Ma Rainey started performing in black minstrel shows when she was just a teenager. At 18, she got married to William “Pa” Rainey, and the two would then go on to perform together. They worked for Rabbit’s Foot Company (a popular show at the time), before launching their own endeavor by the name of Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues, in 1914. Eventually, they separated and she pursued a solo career.
It should come as no surprise that Ma’s fame and popularity surged when the blues became a more well-known genre. In 1923, producer J. Mayo Williams discovered her, and she signed a deal with Paramount Records. Her first 8 songs were recorded in Chicago, and over the next 5 years, she recorded more than 100 songs. She also worked with the likes of Joe “King” Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, and Pops Foster.
In 1924, Ma went on a tour of the Theater Owners Booking Association (TOBA) in the South and the Midwest. She was accompanied by the Wildcats Jazz Band, which had been compiled by Thomas Dorsey. (Ma would continue touring in an on again off again fashion until 1928).
Unfortunately, at the turn of the decade, live vaudeville was replaced by the radio and music recordings. This was the beginning of the end of Ma’s career, although she was still able to earn a decent living. It would take some time for Paramount to cancel her contract (1928), and she was even able to buy a bus with her name on it. But all good things come to an end, and her particular style of music went out of fashion.
Following this, Ma returned to her hometown— Columbus, Georgia. There, she operated three theatres until her death. They were the Lyric, the Airdrome, and the Liberty Theatre. In 1939, the legendary blues singer passed away due to a heart attack in Rome, Georgia. Posthumously, she was given many accolades.
Ma Rainey Net Worth
It is estimated that Ma Rainey’s net worth at the time of her death was close to $5 million. Some reports suggest that it could be as high as $13 million, but it seems like the first assessment is more accurate from what we can gather.
Read More: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Ending, Explained