74 pages 2 hours read

August Wilson

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 1984

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Symbols & Motifs

The Blues

Ma Rainey tells Cutler and Toledo, “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” (66). She describes the blues as something that she didn’t create but extracted from the world. As an art form that originated on the Southern plantation, created by slaves and their descendants, the blues represents the commodification and appropriation of black culture. The blues exploded as a popular mainstream art form in the 1920s, and white producers and musicians seized it, reforming and profiting from it. Ma Rainey describes it as an art form that is essentially black, originating from a collective black soul. In the mouths and hands of white people, the blues are disconnected from the cultural pain at its roots. They become revised and sanitized.

When Sturdyvant discusses the changing trends in what audiences want out of the blues, he is talking about increasingly white audiences. They want more spectacle and rhythm. By altering the

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