May is #PreservationMonth. Let’s celebrate this week with a tribute to The Ma Rainey House! Historic Columbus has advocated for the preservation of the Ma Rainey House for many decades. Ma and her house are an important piece of our history as a community. Historic Columbus continues to support the house through insuring its collections each year and financially assisting with major maintenance needs for its preservation. This is another great example of partnerships and preservation.
Gertrude Pridgett “Ma” Rainey House
805 5th Avenue
Peebles Grant Recipient
The Mother of the Blues was born Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett in Columbus in 1886. Gertrude was one of three children of Thomas and Ella Allen Pridgett, who had themselves been performers in the minstrel musicals popular in their day. Gertrude made her debut in a talent show, “A Bunch of Blackberries,” at the Springer Opera House in 1900 when she was fourteen.
Two years later she would meet and marry Will Rainey, a traveling entertainer. They travelled and performed together on the black vaudeville and minstrel circuit as “Pa” and “Ma” Rainey. In 1902 in Missouri, Ma heard a young girl singing blues music and she discovered her destiny. Her first chance to record came in 1923. Many of the songs she recorded were her own compositions. Her vocal dynamics, which ranged from low moans to rusty high notes, coupled with a dominating stage presence, made her a hit with audiences everywhere she went. Her lyrics were sometimes poetic in the best blues tradition and sometimes raunchy. Between 1923 and 1928, Ma recorded almost one hundred songs for Paramount. Among her accompanists were Louis Armstrong, Fletcher Henderson, Blind Blake, Tom Dorsey, Coleman Hawkins, and Tamp Red. When the boom in blues recordings died off during the Great Depression, Ma retired to Columbus where she joined the choir of Friendship Baptist Church and built a large two-story house on Fifth Avenue. A friend remembered that at this point in her life when fans came by her house and asked her to sing, she would sing only gospel numbers and hymns. Ma died of a heart attack in 1939 and is buried in Porterdale Cemetery. Ma Rainey has been honored on a US Postage Stamp, in the GA Music Hall of Fame and noted in “American Women of Achievement” and “Georgia Women of Achievement.”
This National Register house restoration and Blues Museum was completed in 2007. An American Treasures Grant, secured by Congressman Sanford Bishop, was matched by funding from the Columbus Consolidated Government through a Special Option Sales Tax for the Liberty Heritage District. These two sources plus private investment enabled this project to be completed. Historic Columbus played a significant role on the restoration committee, provided period artifacts for the house, and granted the home additional funds for maintenance.
Liberty Heritage Historic District
The area between Third and Sixth Avenues south of Eighth Street and that between Fifth and Sixth Avenues south of Eleventh Street was settled in the 1830s and 1840s by the laboring people of Columbus, many of whom were free black people or the slaves of local residents.
The district is significant for the indigenous architectural styles that have survived. Here it is possible to document the architectural contributions of local African American builders and craftsmen. Their impacts were tremendous in spite of the obstacles imposed by the difficult economic conditions and the strictures of legal segregation.
Religion is also present in the neighborhood by the many impressive church buildings constructed. It is obvious from them that these churches served an important function in the lives of the people. The arts were also well represented in the area from the existence of the Liberty Theatre, the Porter Building, The Pierce Building auditorium, The Sconiers Building auditorium, and the home of Gertrude Pridgett "Ma" Rainey.