Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is a 1982 play written by August Wilson. The play presents the African American experience throughout the 20th century. Set in Chicago in the 1920s, the play examines the themes of exploitation, art, race, and religion. The most comprehensive examination deals with the historic exploitation of black musical artists by white music producers.
Many of the characters in the band have unusual names and nicknames, which reinforces the key themes the play explores.
First, these names help promote the idea of colloquial informality. The black band speaks in a colloquial language which dramatizes the differences between the band players and the white music producers who have more traditional Anglo-Saxon names like Irvin. In essence, these names help show the differences in identity and culture between African Americans and white Americans. This also makes the audience feel that the white music producers are interchangeable while the black bandmates are uniquely important to composing and recording music.
The informal nicknames also show the relationship between the bandmates. Their relationship is based on friendship, which allows them the ability to be honest and open which each other and that’s where the best art is created. This relationship is juxtaposed with the white producers, who do not care about friendship or art; they simply care about their ability to make money off of the music.