Old-school blues was a staple in the southern black community, and Ma Rainey was one of the greats. Though her music eventually had widespread appeal, it was the way in which she spoke to and sang about the black community that made her music such a hit. And that's just what Sterling Brown taps into in his poem, "Ma Rainey." Here we get a glimpse of how her blues informed and was shaped by African-American identity.
Questions About Race
- What's the connection between Ma Rainey's blues and the audience members' black identity? Would the audience feel such a strong connection to her if she were white? Or if they were white? Why or why not?
- How does the dialect change the way you read the poem?
- Does Ma Rainey sing about black issues, or does she have a more universal appeal?
Chew on This
The black audience members connect with Ma Rainey because she has a similar racial background, which means she understands their hardships and experiences.
Brown wrote this poem in dialect to show that Ma Rainey's music had a uniquely African-American appeal.