Netflix debuted the first look at the forthcoming, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, on Wednesday (Sept. 30). The film stars Viola Davis as the jazz legend, and Chadwick Boseman as her trumpeter, Levee.
Shot in Pittsburg last year, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom marks Boseman’s final film role. Boseman, 43, succumbed to colon cancer last month. “He did a brilliant job, and he’s gone,” said Denzel Washington, who is a producer on the film, told the New York Times. “I still can’t believe it.”
Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman star in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, a new film based on August Wilson’s award-winning play from director George C. Wolfe and producer Denzel Washington. @MaRaineyFilm premieres December 18. pic.twitter.com/ErhrQAW4nU
— Netflix (@netflix) September 30, 2020
Adapted from August Wilson’s play of the same name, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is helmed by director George C. Wolfe, and centers around the 1920s Chicago recording session of “Mother of the Blues.” The plot addresses topics of race, music, relationships, Rainey’s battle for control over her music, and exploitation of Black artists.
The “Godmother of blues,” whose birth name was Gertrude Pridgett, was born in Columbus, Ga, in 1886. Rainey started out performing in talent shows in her hometown, when she was around 12 years old. She went on to launch the Alabama Fun Makers Company with her husband prior to joining the Rabbit’s Foot Company where they performed in minstrel shows during the early 1900s. Husband and wife were known as “Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues,” before Rainey’s career took her to New Orleans. In the Big Easy, Rainey met jazz greats Louis Armstrong, Joe “King” Oliver, Pop Foster, and Sidney Bechet. She was introduced to the blues in the early 1920s, signed a record deal with Paramount and became friends with singer Bessie Smith.
Rainey recorded over 100 songs in a span of just five years. She would later collaborate with Armstrong on multiple songs, and toured the South and Midwest with pianist Thomas Dorsey and the Wildcats Jazz Band. The groundbreaking powerhouse was also known for boldly singing about her bisexuality, most notably in “Prove It on Me,” released in 1928. Rainey’s career went into the decline during the latter portion of the ’20s and she was eventually let go from Paramount. In the last five years of her life, Rainey had returned to her hometown where she ran three theaters. She died from a heart attack in 1939 at age 53.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom premieres on Netflix on Dec. 18.