When Ma Rainey

Comes to town,

Folks from anyplace

Miles aroun’,

From Cape Girardeau,

Poplar Bluff,

Flocks in to hear

Ma do her stuff;


Comes flivverin’ in,

Or ridin’ mules,

Or packed in trains,

Picknickin’ fools…

That’s what it’s like,

Fo’ miles on down,

To the New Orleans delta

An’ mobile town,

When Ma hits

Anywheres aroun’.



Dey comes to hear Ma Rainey from de little river settlements

From blackbottom cornrows and from lumber camps;

Dey stumble in de hall, jes’ a-laughin’ an’ a-cacklin’,

Cheerin’ lak roarin’ water, lak wind in river swamps.


An’ some jokers keeps dey laughs a-goin’ in de crowded aisles,

An’ some folks sits dere waitin’ wid dey aches an’ miseries,

Till Ma comes out before dem, a-smilin’ gold-toofed smiles,

An’ Long Boy ripples minors on de black an’ yellow keys.



O Ma Rainey,

Sing yo’ song;

Now you’s back

Whah you belong,

Git way inside us,

Keep us strong…

O Ma Rainey,

Li’l an low;

Sing us ’bout de hard luck

Roun’ our do’;

Sing us ’bout de lonesome road

We mus’ go…



I talked to a fellow, an’ the fellow say,

“She jes’ catch hold of us, somekindaway.

She sang Backwater Blues one day:

‘It rained fo’ days an’ de skies was dark as night, 

Trouble taken place in de lowlands at night.

Thundered an’ lightened an’ the storm begin to roll

Thousan’s of people ain’t got no place to go.

Den I went an’ stood upon some high ol’ lonesome hill,

An’ looked down on the place where I used to live.’

An’ den de folks, dey natchally bowed dey heads an’ cried

Bowed dey heavy heads, shet dey moufs up tight an’ cried

An’ Ma lef’ de stage, an’ followed some de folks outside.”

Dere wasn’t much more de fellow say:

She jes’ gits hold of us dataway.


By Sterling Brown (1932)


(Blues Legacies and Black Feminism by Angela Y. Davis. p139-140)