Ma Rainey's Sissy Blues

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The genre of blues exploded into the blues craze during the 1920’s. During this time, white record producers saw the untapped goldmine that was blues music performed by people of color. Ma Rainey was one of them, and to some, one of the first, giving her the title, ‘The Mother of Blues’. The 1920’s was not only an era of continuing homophobia from the past (although that would change, briefly, into a mild form of acceptance until the more conservative 1930’s), but also of harsh racism. And yet, one singer, Ma Rainey’s, broke these restrictions. Her audience and shows flourished with both whites and blacks, peacefully mingling together to behold Ma’s performances. In this era taut with fear over race, both whites and black adored her.
Ma Rainey showcases queerness through
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In one of her songs, “Sissy Blues”, she uses a slightly insinuating tone to describe a love triangle between herself, a man, and a man who dresses like a woman called ‘Miss Kate’, described as ‘a sissy’. The music is almost frantic and sharp, following the insinuating tone of Ma’s voice. The tale she spins is of her losing her man to someone she did not expect: a man dressed in drag, ‘Miss Kate’, with a ‘jelly roll’ (euphemism for male genitals) who flaunts himself. According to Sandra Lieb, “…”freak shows” and drag shows-evenings set aside for homosexuals, lesbians, and transvestites-were common in many Harlem and Chicago night clubs” (Lieb 123), which testifies for the reasoning and inclusion of this character in “Sissy Blues”. It is a song about sexual jealousy, a common theme in many songs, but Ma Rainey places a twist on it when her man is in love with a ‘sissy’. The idea of traditional heterosexual relations and gender roles are contorted in this song to subvert the listener’s expectations of a typical song, especially when considering this type of behavior and performance was looked down upon at the

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