Arago: Exhibits

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A Case of the Blues

The musical traditions of southern African Americans have tremendously effected the development of music in America. The African American genre of the blues influenced both the creation of jazz and popular music. Gertrude Rainey and Bessie Smith are two blues singers that greatly contributed to the genre.

“Ma” Gertrude Rainey (1886-1939) started her career in vaudeville, but became an influential blues singer during the 1920’s. Rainey performed with her husband, William “Pa” Rainey, and the couple worked under Paramount Records. “Ma” Gertrude Rainey’s contribution to blues music has been acknowledged by the music community through her inductions into the Blue Foundation Blues Hall of Fame (1983), Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame (1990), and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame (1992).

Bessie Smith (1892-1937) is another prominent blues singer of the 1920’s. Smith started as a street musician and then went to vaudeville, but she achieved real success after she worked with “Ma” Gertrude Rainey. Once she formed a friendship with Rainey, Smith was signed by Columbia Records in 1923, and it was during her contract with them that she produced her most influential album, Down Hearted Blues. In 1937 Bessie Smith tragically died in an auto accident.

The Gertrude Rainey and Bessie Smith stamps were issued by the Postal Service to honor their contributions to music. The stamps were issued in Greenville, Mississippi, during the Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival. The Gertrude Rainey stamp was designed by Julian Allen and the Bessie Smith stamp was designed by Howard Koslow. Both stamps are part of the American Music Series: Jazz Singers Issue.

29c 'Ma' Rainey single

The Gertrude Rainey stamp was issued September 17, 1994.

29c Bessie Smith single

The Bessie Smith stamp was issued September 17, 1994.