In Case You Didn’t Know: Black Pioneer Women In Music

Loading the player…

This week, Beyoncé dropped the dates for her upcoming Renaissance World Tour. This would be the singer’s sixth world tour and ninth total tour in her solo career. We know Beyoncé is an icon but let’s not forget about the women who walked so the Cuff It singer could run. We’ve got you with Black women who were considered a pioneer in the this week’s In Case You Didn’t Know.

Pioneer Ma Rainey

ma rainey
CHICAGO – CIRCA 1924: “Mother of the Blues” Ma Rainey and her band the Rabbit Foot Minstrels with Ed Pollock, Albert Wynn, Thomas A. Dorsey (on piano at right) Ma (Gertrude) Rainey, Dave Nelson and Gabriel Washington pose for a portrait circa 1924 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Some may know Ma Rainey from the Netflix adaptation of August Wilson’sMa Rainey’s Black Bottom starring Viola Davis. However, she is much more than a stage play character. Rainey has been noted as the mother of blues. She started out performing in minstrel shows as a teenager and later signed a contract with Paramount Records. Rainey recorded over 100 songs in a five-year time span. She toured across the country and performed with notable names in the music industry until she retired in 1935.

Pioneer Bessie Smith

bessie smith
Blues singer Bessie Smith (1898 – 1937). (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

Bessie Smith was the highest-paid singer of her day and was considered the  “Empress of the Blues.” She signed with Columbia Phonograph Company in 1923 and released 160 recordings under the label. Smith sold millions of records, performed on Broadway, and even starred in the 1929 film, St. Louis Blues. She sang about social issues like poverty, female sexuality, and bisexuality.

Pioneer Billie Holiday

billie holiday
Jazz singer Billie Holiday poses for a portrait backstage at a concert circa 1945. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)

Billie Holiday recorded her first song at 18 years old and signed with Brunswick Records in 1935. In 1938, The Philadelphia native became one of the first Black singers to lead an all-white orchestra. As her career progressed she recorded songs like Strange Fruit, God Bless the Child and Trav’lin Light. She toured Europe and recorded more music for the last decade of her life.

Pioneer Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald
UNITED STATES – CIRCA 1950: Early 1950s, New York, New York City, Ella Fitzgerald. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Ella Fitzgerald gained fame around the same time as Billie Holiday. Society tried to pit the two against each other, but they actually became friends. Considered “The First Lady of Song,” Fitzgerald made a stamp in the music industry. She made her debut at the Apollo Theater in 1934 and won the top prize. The songstress was invited to join Chick Webb’s orchestra in 1935 at 16 years old and recorded the hit, A-Tisket, A-Tasket. Throughout her career, she also collaborated with jazz greats. She became the first black female singer to win a Grammy in 1958. Winning a total of 13 Grammys throughout her career, she subsequently earned the Grammys Lifetime Achievement Award in 1967.

Pioneer Mamie Smith

mamie smith
Jazz and blues singer Mamie Smith poses for a portrait circa 1930 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Mamie Smith was the first Black artist to make a vocal blues recording. She earned her biggest hit with It’s Right Here for You (If You Don’t Get It, ‘Tain’t No Fault of Mine). The song went on to sell over a million copies in under a year’s time. Although she retired in 1931, her successes opened the doors for other Black female blues singers to be signed to labels.