The current film “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is about a period in the life of “Mother of the Blues” Ma Rainey, one of the earliest professional blues singers, and one of the first of her generation to record her songs. Rainey began her career as a teenager performing in minstrel shows, and became known as “Ma” after she was married in 1904. Her first recording was in 1923 and over the next five years she recorded over 100 songs, including “See See Rider Blues (1923) and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (1927). She was known for her energy, powerful vocal ability and phrasing. Rainey also recorded with Louis Armstrong and Thomas Dorsey. She continued to tour until 1935, when she left the road and mostly performed in her hometown of Columbus, Georgia until her death. The film follows the build up to a recording session featuring Ma (Viola Daivs) and her band in 1920’s Chicago. As the music producers and band wait for the appearance of Ma, we meet each of the members of her band, including the hot headed and extremely confident trumpet player Levee (Chadwick Boseman). While the band desires to rehearse before Ma’s appearance, Levee is more interested in his new pair of shoes, his songwriting talent, and how he wants to form his own band. The other band members are so annoyed with their overconfident bandmate, they lose patience with him and nearly come to blows. Finally Ma makes her appearance, after having finally arrived in Chicago with her nephew Sylvester (Dusan Brown) and friend Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige). Once the group in the recording studio, matters don’t get too much better, as Ma has several demands, including needing Coke to drink and having her slightly speech impared nephew deliver an introduction to the song they are about to record. Tensions continue to arise as Ma will not record until Sylvester has recorded his part correctly. After several other conflicts, Ma storms out of the studio but is persuaded to return and finish her project. The film concludes with an extremely shocking occurrence that Ma is not aware of as she leaves immediately after her recording session to head back home after expressing her disdain for Chicago. The film provides a fascinating, if brief, peek into the life of the legendary singer, and may have played better as a limited series in order to follow more of Ma’s life and experiences. The performances are amazing, and the film provides evidence for what a powerhouse actor the late Boseman (“Black Panther”) proved to be. If Boseman’s performance isn’t award winning, I’m not sure what would be. Speaking of award winning performances, Davis shines in her role, and disappears into her role as the “Mother of the Blues.” The scenes between Davis and Boseman are powerful and the two own the movie. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” proves to be a no-holes-barred look into the life of a performer who blazed trails in the world of the Blues. Now playing on Netflix. (Rated R)
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Check back soon for updates.