Download Audible Ma Rainey's Black Bottom By August Wilson –

The time isThe place is a rundown recording studio in Chicago Ma Rainey, the legendary blues singer, is due to arrive with her entourage to cut new sides of old favorites Waiting for her are her black musician sidemen, the white owner of the record company, and her white manager What goes down in the session to come is than music It is a riveting portrayal of black rageof racism, of the selfhate that racism breeds, and of racial exploitation

10 thoughts on “Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

  1. Brina Brina says:

    Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is part of August Wilson's Century Cycle of plays, each depicting a decade of African American life during the 20th century. In Ma Rainey's, Wilson visits 1920s Chicago, as the Great Migration north has just started, and African Americans have began to assert themselves to gain rights denied to them in the south. It is in these parameters that Ma Rainey and her band have gone to a recording studio to produce songs sure to be hits and gain them financial independence.

    Over the last two months, I have read two of Wilson's other plays, Fences and The Piano Lesson, which both won the Pulitzer for drama. Not quite at the other plays' level, Ma Rainey does note that the north was not all African Americans expected, at least at first. In Chicago, Ma Rainey despite being a famous blues singer, is accused of causing a car accident and needs a caucasian friend in high places to bail her out. Additionally, the band members demand to be paid in cash because even in Chicago it is nearly impossible to find a bank willing to service their needs. During the first decade of the Migration, African Americans saw better conditions in the north, but not as widely different as they initially expected.

    Wilson has the various band members bring different viewpoints to the rap on race. A few were content to sing in Ma Rainey's band because it meant to them a ticket out of poverty. Others, however, believed the south to be better than north because they could act like themselves rather than as whites, even if it meant the constant fear or lynching. Even Rainey herself, who demands to be called Madame, has to distinctly assert herself in order to have her voice heard in a northern white dominant world.

    As in his other plays, Wilson has one character stand out in his World perspective. In this case it is band member Levee who desires to start his own band in order to no longer be dependent on whites to make gains in society. Wilson employs these conflicts to highlight African American society as a whole during the decade he writes about. He attempts to demonstrate how their life has improved in each decade yet also pinpoints how racism is prevalent in the world at large.

    In classic bingo, one of the squares is a classic play. The group considers a classic any material published before 1999, and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom fits into the definition. I had already read Fences and The Piano Lesson, but I wanted to include August Wilson in my challenge as he is a influential 20th century American playwright. A glimpse into African American life during the 1920s, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is a solid 3.75 stars for me. Eventually I hope to read Wilson's entire century cycle.

  2. Bill Kerwin Bill Kerwin says:

    Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom—the only drama in the Pittsburgh Cycle not set in Pittsburgh—is August Wilson’s first great play. Like his masterpiece Fences, it presents us with a compelling central character—the great blues singer Ma Rainey—who organizes the play around herself by virtue of her own personal energy, molding what might otherwise be a mere collection of thought-provoking scenes and atmospheric tableaux into a parable not only of black and white power relations, but of the relationship of the artist to his business, and the relationship of the artist to his art. In exploring these complex issues, however, Wilson never loses track of the songs and wounds that form and transform the human heart.

    The entire play takes place in a recording studio during the production of a single record: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” but Ma—although unforgettable when she appears—is not the whole show. The white men, Irv her manager and Sturdivant the producer, have their place of course, but the characters who really give a dynamic feel and color to the play are the other musicians in Ma’s band, particularly Levee, a brash young trumpeter eager to play his own music, and Cutler the trombonist and Toledo the pianist, two veterans reconciled to their status as side men. The way they explore each others pasts, philosophies and musical approaches adds to the depth and richness of the play.

    The play ends in tragedy, which comes—as it often does in life—suddenly, without apparent warning. Yet when we reflect upon the nature of the world Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has shown us, tragedy, as sudden and arbitrary as it seems, does not come as a surprise.

    I’ll end with a few things Ma has to say about the Blues:

    I never could stand no silence. I always got to have some music going on in my head somewhere. It keeps things balanced. Music will do that. It fills things up. The more music you got in the world, the fuller it is….White folks don’t understand about the blues. They hear it come out, but they don’t know how it got there. They don’t understand that’s life’s way of talking. You don’t sing to feel better. You sing cause that’s a way of understanding life….The blues help you get out of bed in the morning. You get up knowing you ain’t alone. There’s something else in the world. Something's been added by that song. This be an empty world without the blues. I take that emptiness and try to fill it up with something.

  3. Courtney H. Courtney H. says:

    On its face, Ma Rainey is about jazz and its players during the 1920s. At its heart, Ma Rainey is about power. The whole play bleeds over with hierarchies, personal power politics, and larger systems of race-based power. It is filled with pitched battles for control, to combat powerlessness, and to dress powerlessness as power. Those without power pushed against those with even less; and those with none seethed beneath their constraints. And so developed the storm that brewed from the first scene.

    Ma Rainey follows a day's recording session at a Chicago studio (this is the only play in Wilson's Century Cycle to be set outside of Pittsburgh, I believe) by Ma Rainey, a successful jazz singer who may be on her way out, but who has no intention of giving up the position of power she has carved for herself. Most of the play focuses on her band, whose members have varying levels of loyalty to Ma and each other. The newest member, the least loyal, the one most fixated on his own dreams of music stardom, and the one least willing to recognize Ma Rainey's authority/power, is Levee, who is certain the white executive will give him an opportunity to headline his own band. Watching over the recording session are two white executives, who handle but do not respect the musicians. Their presumptive, dismissive approach to the power they thoughtlessly hold plays in stark contrast to Levee, whose mirage of power crumbles beneath him by play's end, and who is by necessity fixated on the power he yearned to obtain. Toledo, a member of the band, is our Greek Chorus. He connects the characters' individual struggles for power in a larger conversation about power(lessness) in America.

    It is a darkly funny play at times, and as usual Wilson excels in the details: a seemingly throwaway line, a character quirk, a part of the scenery turn out to be saturated with import and meaning. Two examples spring immediately to mind: Ma Rainey's demand for coca-cola, and Levee's shoes. It all matters, the shoes and coke as much as the scene with the police officer. And as usual, Wilson's character development is impressive. He gives depth and shade in only a few lines, creating multidimensional characters in 92 pages. All his characters come to life. While Levee's arc ends up moving toward the forefront, it gains its meaning from the way in which all the other characters, most notably Ma Rainey, themselves struggle to assert power.

    Wilson pulls no punches with this play. Personal disillusionment is not the only thing that wore the sparkle off the jazz age. The age was also tainted (defined by) by our country's violent bigotries and widescale oppression. In Wilson's hands, the feeling of powerlessness became visceral and overwhelming. The physical staging of the play started to feel claustrophobic and mirrored--indeed, heightened--the metaphoric walls that pressed in on Levee. And in his hands, the play's climax was shocking but, upon reflection, inevitable. It was the necessary end to a brilliant, hurricane-force play.

  4. Rick Rick says:

    A double entendre so blatant you can disregard the pretense of the tame half of the entendre. The black bottom was a dance and, on the surface, the title refers to Ma Rainey’s take on that dance. More to the point, if you don’t like Ma Rainey you can just kiss her… Set in the late 1920s in a Chicago recording studio and its downstairs rehearsal space, August Wilson’s brilliant play captures events related to one recording session involving Ma Rainey, her band (more so than her even), and two white men, her manager and the record label owner.

    In this small tale, Wilson packs a lot about race in America, and about power, business, and violence too. The relationships among band members shift, collegial to contentious, friend to enemy, as circumstances and participants change. When it’s just the band members Levee is a disruptive voice, challenging Cutler’s leadership and the musicianship of his mates. Toledo represents a political voice that is another kind of challenge and he and Levee find themselves in opposition. Levee’s ambitions have him bold and aggressive with his peers and humble and solicitous to the two white men who might give him his break. His success with them leads to resentment with the band and angers Rainey, who puts him in his place as a sidebar to her battles with her manager and the label owner, recognizing her limited power in unjust society but not hesitating to use all her power with brash aggression and no fear because she owns the playing field that is her talent. It is a tragedy with crackling dialogue and salted with bitterly funny moments.

    Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the third play chronologically in Wilson ten play sequence (all but this one set in Pittsburgh, I believe) so now I have to go read the first two and follow the sequence through, each play set in a decade of the 20th Century. If the others are as sharp and insightful as this, it’s going to be a literary treat.

  5. Bobby Bobby says:

    Taking place in the 1920s, this is the the third play in August Wilson's Pittsburgh Cycle, a ten-play cycle documenting the African-American experience during the 20th century. However, I find it more useful to read Wilson's plays in the order in which he wrote them, not their chronological order. This is his very first play, and also the only one of his to not take place in Pittsburgh (it's set in Chicago). Definitely groundbreaking for its time, Ma Rainey's contains many of Wilson's trademarks that he would continue to use and develop throughout his career. The dialogue between characters is truly poetic, at times. However, being his very first play, it can be a little rough around the edges. I found the tragedy of Levee's past and the play's ultimate conflict to really come out of left field. Wilson would go on to write much better—his next play, Fences, would win a Pulitzer—but Ma Rainey's is a classic for breaking new ground in African American theater and launching the career of one of the most important voices in modern drama.

  6. Adira Adira says:

    Full review to come.

    Mr. Wilson sure does know how to write an ending. This one wasn't as good as Joe Turner's Come &Gone, but it was still a good play. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants a quick and easy read or who loves African-American Literature or Blues' novels.

  7. The Literary Chick The Literary Chick says:

    A blow to the solar plexus would leave you able to breath easier than does the climax of this play. Cutting insight into the characters plunges deep within their bare surface words. Devastating.

  8. Raymond Raymond says:

    Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is the third play in August Wilson's Century Cycle. I have already read the first two and this play is the best (so far). This play is set sometime in the 1920s. It takes place one afternoon in a recording studio where Ma Rainey the legendary Blues singer and her band record some of her hits with her manager and record company owner overseeing the session. Tension erupts among all that are involved. This was a very good play. Three plays down, seven more to go. Up next: The Piano Lesson.

  9. Sam Sam says:

    This was my second play in Wilson's century cycle and though I have not seen it performed, it reads like a dream with significant conflict between races and between members of the same race with the more general themes of power,control, and respect addressed. I most liked Wilson's choice of a real life blues singer, depicting certain characteristics of her life, as a vehicle to address themes of the play. It is too early to pick my favorite plays in the cycle, but this gets high marks.

  10. Jessica López-Barkl Jessica López-Barkl says:

    I saw this play in 2003 with my Dramaturgy II class at Sarah Lawrence College. It was at the Classical Theatre of Harlem, where we saw another great play: THE BLACKS by Jean Genet. I remember really liking the production and we had read the play before we saw I just re-read the play today in preparation for my U.S. History class' August Wilson Century Cycle project.

    Summary: From Huntington Theatre Company's 2012 production: Legendary 1920s blues singer Ma Rainey and her musicians gather in a run-down Chicago studio to record new sides of old favorites when generational and racial tensions suddenly explode. The Huntington completes Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner August Wilson's Century Cycle with this searing drama, Wilson's first Broadway hit.

    My favorite quote: Now, I'm gonna show you how this goes...where you just a leftover from history. Everybody come from different places in Africa right? Come from different tribes and things. Soonawhile they began to make one big stew. You had the carrots, the peas, and potatoes and whatnot over here. And over there you had the meat, the nuts, the okra, corn...and then you mix it up and let it cook right through to get the flavors flowing together...then you got one thing.
    You got a stew.
    Now you take and eat the stew. You take and make your history with that stew. All right. Now it's over. Your history's over and you done at the stew. But you look around and you see some carrots over here, some potatoes over there. That stew's still there. You done made your history and it's still there. You can't eat it all. So what you got? You got some leftovers. That's what it is. You got leftovers and you can't do nothing with it. You already making you another you another meal, and you don't need them leftovers no more. What to do?
    See, we's the leftovers. The colored man is the leftovers. Now, what the colored man gonna do with himself? That's what we waiting to find out. But first we gotta know we the leftovers. Now, who knows that? You find me a nigger that knows that and I'll turn any whichaway you want me to. I'll bend over for you. You ain't gonna find that. And that's what the problem ain't with the white man. The white man knows you just a leftover. 'Cause he the one who done the eating and he know what he done ate. But we don't know that we been took and made history out of. Done went and filled the white man's belly and now he's full and tired and wants you to get out the way and let him be by himself. Now, I know what I'm talking about. And if you wanna find out, you just ask Mr. Irvin what he had for supper yesterday. And if he's an honest white man...which is asking for a whole heap of a lot...he'll tell you he done ate your black ass and if you please I'm full up with go on and get off the plate and let me eat something else.