Ma Rainey's Black Bottom - PLOT

1984 Broadway - 2003 Broadway revival - 2020 Film adaptation
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom - PLOT

Ma Rainey is a highly regarded, strong-willed blues singer who has recently been contracted by white producers. The story takes place on July 2, 1927, when a recording session is scheduled for Ma by her manager Irvin to take place at Paramount Recording Studios in Chicago. Seasoned Georgia Jazz Band members Toledo, Cutler, and Slow Drag arrive on time without Ma which frustrates her producer, Mel Sturdyvant. They are soon joined by Levee Green, the band's overconfident trumpeter, who has shown Sturdyvant his original compositions in the hopes of breaking away from Ma and getting his own record deal. The rest of the band disapproves of this.

Ma arrives an hour late with her lady friend, Dussie Mae, and her nephew, Sylvester. Immediately, she clashes with Sturdyvant and her manager Irvin, making numerous demands. Insulted that the Coca-Cola she requested has not been provided, Ma refuses to begin the recording session; assigning Slow Drag and Sylvester to get her one. Later, she insists to Sturdyvant that the opening words of the album be spoken by Sylvester, who has a pronounced stutter. As a result, the group has to do multiple takes of the song “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom", much to everyone's frustration.

Ma confides to Cutler that her white bosses are only interested in her voice, and would otherwise regard her as "just a dog in the alley" which he understands and sympathizes with. Meanwhile, Levee and Dussie Mae have sex in the practice room before being interrupted by Slow Drag.

The group finally manages to get through the first track after multiple takes, but discovers an equipment failure has caused it not to be recorded. The band blames Levee, who they think tripped over a wire while eyeing Dussie Mae, though it is revealed to have been damaged already. Their argument leads the religious Cutler to tell a story about a preacher he once knew who got stranded in a small town and was humiliated by a group of white men who tore up his Bible and forced him to dance. Levee brushes off the story; saying that if there was a God, he would care for black people, which he never has. Cutler attacks Levee in anger, leading Levee to pull out a knife in retaliation while still mocking Cutler and his beliefs.

The group finally finishes recording, but Ma fires Levee soon afterward; believing his reckless ambition and uncompromising attitude to be detrimental to the band. Levee meets with Sturdyvant about his original songs, but discovers that he will only purchase the songs; insisting that there is no market for them. Levee suffers a mental breakdown and, after Toledo accidentally steps on his new shoes, Levee fatally stabs him in the back with the knife. Cutler and Slow Drag leave in horror as a regretful Levee cradles Toledo's corpse. Later, Sturdyvant records Levee's songs with a band consisting entirely of white musicians

Songs: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Lyrics
Plot Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Deep Moaning Blues
Those Dogs of Mine
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Hear Me Talking to You
Baby, Let Me Have It All