Inside these walls are the very earliest vibrations of the blues. In 1900, a 14-year-old local girl with a big, hearty voice walked from the choir loft of the First African Baptist Church onto the Springer stage with her band, “A Bunch of Blackberries.” American music was never the same.
A rich gumbo of spirituals, prison work gang songs, field hollers, shouts, country string band ballads and chants was beginning to bubble up to form the American original we call the blues. When minstrel show singer and comedian Will Rainey came through Columbus in 1904, the 18 year-old Gertrude Pridgett left with him and they became known as “Rainey and Rainey — Assassinators of the Blues.”
Gertrude and Will Rainey (“Ma” and “Pa” Rainey, they were later called) toured the country continuously on the “gut-bucket circuit” and eventually made their way into the Chicago clubs of the Roaring Twenties. There, a young Louis Armstrong played trumpet in Ma Rainey’s band along with another Georgian, piano player Thomas A. Dorsey from Villa Rica. The blues that Ma Rainey and Thomas A. Dorsey cooked up eventually took on spiritual themes and Dorsey started a whole new musical movement that quickly caught on: gospel.
Within a few years, Ma Rainey was charting the course for 20th century music. The music she wrote, performed and recorded formed the foundation of virtually every major American music form born in the 20th century, including jazz, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and hip hop.
So it’s only right that the Blues Brothers have made this pilgrimage to the very spot where it all began. They are indeed on a “mission from God” — to remind us all that the blues is the true American original and that it’s alive and well.
Many thanks to Judy Belushi for collaborating with us on this special project and to Dan Aykroyd for producing our tv and radio spots. Once we close here, we will take this show on a 17-week, 60-performance national tour.
Just remember — it all started here with a 14-year-old girl.
Paul R. Pierce