Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Karamu House produces August Wilson's riveting portrayal of rage, racism, self-hatred and exploitation

"As [audiences] return to live theatre, during extraordinary times, in the midst of enormous challenges, the cast and crew are thankful for the opportunity to be together under one roof to bring to life this classic play. August Wilson is one of the most impactful playwrights in American History. His work invited a new generation of actors, directors, and designers into American Theatre, allowing audiences to celebrate African Americans that had long been excluded and/or dehumanized both on stage and off."

-From the Director's Notes

Christina Johnson as Ma Rainey (2021-07-31) by Will LindseyKaramu Performing Arts Theatre

The Mother of the Blues

Christina Johnson takes center stage as Ma Rainey. The production is set in 1927, and Ma Rainey is recording new sides of old favorites in a rundown studio in Chicago.

Director, Actors and a Legend: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2021-07-31) by Will LindseyKaramu Performing Arts Theatre

Justin Emeka returns to Karamu to direct and makes his Karamu acting debut as Toledo. Emeka pictured along side fellow actor Cornell Hubert Calhoun III as Cutler.  Calhoun an accomplished actor, producer, director, award winning playwright, filmmaker and Karamu alumnus.

Ma Rainey's Band (2021-07-31) by Will LindseyKaramu Performing Arts Theatre

Jaris Owens makes his Karamu debut as Levee, Ma's cocky trumpet player who dreams of making his own name in the music business.

Pictured are Ma's fictitious band members, Slow Drag (Tatum), Levee (Owens), Toledo (Emeka) and Cutler (Calhoun) rehearsing in the basement of the studio while awaiting Ma's arrival.

Ma Rainey's Dussie Mae (2021-07-31) by Will LindseyKaramu Performing Arts Theatre

De'Aja Mon'e, a Baldwin Wallace University senior, returns to Karamu as Dussie Mae, Ma's lover and travel companion.

Ma Rainey: Dussie Mae (2021-07-31) by Will LindseyKaramu Performing Arts Theatre

Dussie Mae (Mon'e) and Levee (Owens) share a brief romatic relationship.

Ma Rainey: Slow Dog (2021-07-31) by Will LindseyKaramu Performing Arts Theatre

Darryl Tatum returns to Karamu as Slow Drag, Ma's bass player, a light hearted funny musician. Slow Drag (Tatum) operates at a slow pace but is quick to follow Ma's direction.

Ma Rainey: Sylvester (2021-07-31) by Will LindseyKaramu Performing Arts Theatre

Cyril Amanfo makes his debut performance at Karamu as Sylvester, Ma's stuttering nephew. Throughout the play, Ma (Johnson) supports Sylvester (Amanfo) with tough love. Ma even encourages him to take the mic and sing his heart out.

Actor Mark Moritz Returns (2021-07-31) by Will LindseyKaramu Performing Arts Theatre

Pictured in the studio's control booth are Mark Moritz as Sturdyvant, Ma's producer and Ro Miller as Irvin, Ma's agent. Moritz returns back to Karamu's stage after 45 years. Miller an Oberlin College senior makes their professional debut. 

Ma Rainey: Rehearsal (2021-10-01) by Will LindseyKaramu Performing Arts Theatre

In 1923, Ma Rainey became one of the first Black artists to sign a contract with Paramount. Ma went on to record over one hundred blues records.

Ma Rainey: Exploitation (2021-07-31) by Will LindseyKaramu Performing Arts Theatre

Throughout her career, Ma Rainey, the "Mother of the Blues" fought against racism and exploitation to retain control over her music.

Ma Rainey: Brotherhood (2021-07-31) by Will LindseyKaramu Performing Arts Theatre

Band members rehearse and spend time storytelling, laughing,  philosophizing, and arguing with each other, all in the spirit of brotherhood. 

Ma Rainey: Levee's Way (2021-07-31) by Will LindseyKaramu Performing Arts Theatre

Levee (Owens) insists on rehearsing a different version of one of Ma's songs, a version he wrote.

Ma Rainey: Tension (2021-07-31) by Will LindseyKaramu Performing Arts Theatre

Tension rises among the band members after Levee (Owens) humiliates Cutler (Calhoun).

Ma Rainey: Toledo (2021-07-31) by Will LindseyKaramu Performing Arts Theatre

Levee (Owens) lashes out in a rage of displaced anger, feeling exploited by social injustices and abandonment, stabbing and killing Toledo (Emeka). August Wilson reminds us to "confront the dark parts of yourself and work to banish them with illumination and foregiveness."

Ma Rainey History (2021-07-31) by Will LindseyKaramu Performing Arts Theatre

"Ma Rainey's blues were simple, straightforward stories about heartbreak, promiscuity, drinking binges, the odyssey of travel, the workplace and the prison road gang, magic and superstition..." William Barlow wrote in Looking Up at Down: The Emergence of Blues Culture.

Credits: Story

Directed by Justin Emeka (SDC)*
Assistant Director, Ananias J. Dixon
Resident Music Director, Dr. David M. Thomas
Playwright, 
Presented October 7-31, 2021
Karamu House - Cleveland Foundation Jelliffe Theatre 


Additional Cast
Jesse Difranco, Policeman

Additional Credits
Executive Producer, Tony F. Sias
Tyree Franklin, Production Stage Manager
Miyah Byers, Production/Video Assistant
Brielle McGrew, Waredrobe Coordinator/Wig Master
Dred Geib, Props Master
Phrophet Seay, Technical Director
Inda Blatch-Geib, Costume Designer
Richard H. Morris Jr., Scenic Designer
Colleen Albrecht, Lighting Designer
T. Paul Lowry, Multi Media Designer

Photo Credits - Will Lindsey
Presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of Samuel French, Inc.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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