Just because it's the blues doesn't mean it can't be funny

Updated: Feb 2

It ain't all moanin' and groanin', and nobody knew that better than the first blues stars -- most of them women -- who brought their music to a broad audience. The very name, "blues," connotes a sad state of mind, and there was plenty for a woman to complain about, but that didn't stop her from punnin' and funnin'. "How Can I Miss You When I've Got Dead Aim?" Ida Cox sang in 1925.

None of these women made their living, particularly early in their careers, solely as blues singers. They learned their craft in vaudeville and minstrel shows. They sang, they danced, they performed in skits where the humor was as broad as Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. They sang of heartbreak, but they could also be funny! Ma brought plenty of vaudeville humor to her recording career, and Paramount Records backed her up with hysterical graphic ads placed in the Chicago Defender.

In her popular 1924 composition "These Dogs of Mine," Ma Rainey opens her tale of woe in the time-honored manner of a wronged woman summoning the world to hear her story. "Look-a here people, listen to me,/Believe me, I'm telling the truth." But it's not a triflin' man causing her sorrows. "If your corns hurt you, just like mine/You'd say these same words too." The Defender ad goes one better with its visual pun.