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.
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.
These folks aren't exactly staying at the Ritz when they roll into town. The audience members in "Ma Rainey" hail from farms, lumber camps, and river settlements—not swanky high rises or suburban mansions. Which is kind of the point, actually. Their poverty is one of the many things that makes them connect to Ma's music on such a deep level; she sings about he economic struggles they experience every day.
The fans love Ma because she comes from the same poor background that they do, and that's what she chooses to sing about.
The fact that these fans come from far and wide, even though they probably don't have a ton of dough, is a testament to how much they love Ma Rainey.
"Ma Rainey" gives us a good cross-section of the South and the Mississippi river valley. What vision do we get in the poem? One of swampy river towns, where poverty is rampant and folks everywhere sing the blues. As a professor and a poet, Sterling Brown was captivated by the southern black community, and this poem is just one of his many attempts to give it a literary spin.
This poem could only take place in the south. Ma Rainey has a uniquely southern appeal.
The mention of specific southern towns only takes away from the poem's universal themes.