Sunday, November 21, 2010

32. "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" by August Wilson

Wilson, August. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. New York: Penguin Group, 1985. Print.
111 pages
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a play written about Ma Rainey and her blues band. The first thing I questioned as I was reading it was is it really a play? Does this not cross into the genre of musical as well? The cover of the text is labeled “play” but music plays such an important role through the entire story that I think it could also be considered a musical. I love it when texts move across multiple genres!

Ma is in Chicago with her band recording an album. In the process of recording audience members are exposed to tension between various styles of Black identity. The dramatic ending leaves audience members with a vivid image of the turmoil and pain certain characters’ face in trying to “make something of themselves” in an unjust society that does not always function in their favor.

Ma Rainey is a powerful lead vocalist. The majority of her band members respect her authority. Slow Drag, the bass player, especially shows her respect: “Don’t nobody say when it come to Ma. She’s gonna do what she wants to do. Ma says what happens with her” (Wilson 1.1).

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom explores many topics one of them being the topic of art. What is art and art’s role in society? Ma Rainey states, “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” (Wilson 2.1).

The text also explores the blurry line between truth and fiction. In several instances, characters’ would tell the same story but in slightly different ways. This worked to illustrate the ways in which “truth” can be quite subjective.

3.5 darts out of 5

Bookshelf Project Status: DONATE (donated to a library)

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