Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984)
Production still from Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, 1984
August Wilson (Playwright)
3 October, 1984 – 9 June, 1985
In a Chicago recording studio, Ma Rainey's band players Cutler, Toledo, Slow Drag, and Levee gather to record a new album of her songs. As they wait for her to arrive they tell stories, joke, philosophize, and argue. Tension is apparent between the young hot-headed trumpeter Levee, who dreams of having his own band, and veterans Cutler and Toledo.
By the time Ma Rainey arrives with entourage in tow, recording has fallen badly behind schedule, enraging white producers Sturdyvant and Irvin. Ma's insistence that her stuttering nephew Sylvester speak the title song's introduction wreaks further havoc. As the band waits for various technical problems to be solved, Levee and Cutler come to blows. Levee is then simultaneously fired by Ma and rejected by producer Sturdyvant and in rage fatally stabs Toledo, destroying any possibility of a future for himself.