Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

by August Wilson

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Topics for Further Study

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  • Characterize the communication among the band members, Ma Rainey and her entourage, and Irvin and Sturdyvant. If you were a counselor for this group, charged with helping its members gain insight into the ways in which they communicate, what issues would you explore and what changes in behavior would you suggest?
  • Compare Ma Rainey as a feminist figure to a feminist figure of today. Before starting, be sure to research the role of women, particularly black women in America in the 1920s.
  • Each of Ma Rainey’s band members has a story to tell that embodies something representative of the black experience. Write a story that you believe is representative of the experience(s) of your gender, race, or ethnicity.
  • Research the recording industry of the 1920s in the United States, paying particular attention to how working conditions for blacks and whites differed. Present your findings to your class.
  • Compare white acceptance of hip-hop or rap music today with white acceptance of the blues in the 1920s. Note differences and similarities.
  • Write lyrics for a blues song using any of the following subjects: lost love, infidelity, parent-child conflict, work, or disappointment. If you are musically inclined, put your lyrics to a song and perform it for your class.
  • With at least three other classmates, listen to Ma Rainey’s album, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Then write an essay detailing the emotional effect the music had on you. How do your responses compare with the responses of other members in your group?
  • Research the kinds of music popular in the United States during the 1920s. Report to your class any connections you see between the music and the region of popularity of various kinds of music.
  • Argue for or against the play being read as a tragedy.
  • With at least five other classmates, write a third act for the play and perform it for your class. Assign one member of your group to explain the choices you made.

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