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(L-R) Keith David, Glynn Turman, Lillias White, Jason Dirden, and Damon Gupton from the cast of August Wilson's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."

Photo by Luke Fontana.

August Wilson's

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

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Sep 1 – Oct 16, 2016

Mark Taper Forum

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Critic's Choice

Powerfully relevant! Ma Rainey challenges and nourishes, shocks and heals. Director Phylicia Rashad shines a light on the complicated humanity of Wilson's characters.

Ambition and art collide with the business of the blues in this red hot play filled with music that made the '20s roar. An American masterpiece, August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is set in 1927 Chicago during a recording session at a white-owned studio with the legendary singer—inspired by real-life Mother of the Blues Gertrude "Ma" Rainey. Tony Award® winner Phylicia Rashad directs this groundbreaking play with a powerhouse cast led by Lillias White (Broadway’s Fela! and Once on This Island), Keith David (OWN’s Greenleaf, Broadway’s Jelly’s Last Jam), and Glynn Turman (HBO’s The Wire, Showtime’s House of Lies) all returning to the Taper from Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.

In Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, August Wilson captures a song that demands to be heard. The Taper resonantly revives it.

'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' Community Conversations

Center Theatre Group invites you to attend 90 minute pre-show panel conversations on selected nights that feature local thought-leaders in dialogue about the context, issues and ideas finding voice on our stages.*

  • The Sound and the Soul: Authenticity and Commerce in African-American Music

    Wednesday, September 21 at 6–7:30pm at The Music Center Annex, Rehearsal Room A

    RSVP Map & Directions


    • Shana L. Redmond, Associate Professor of Musicology and African American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles Herb Alpert School of Music
    • Josh Kun, Director of The Popular Music Project at USC Annenberg's The Norman Lear Center
    • Ronald C. McCurdy, professor of music at the USC Thornton School of Music

    If you're colored and can make them some money, then you alright with them. Otherwise, you just a dog in the alley.

    —Ma Rainey, August Wilson’s Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

    Who creates culture, and who profits? Is music art, or commodity? From Elvis Presley’s hit version of Willie May Thornton’s “Hound Dog” to the rise of Eminem and Iggy Azalea, there is a long history of uncomfortable intersections between the music industry and racial identity. Join us in tracing the evolution of African-American music, from spirituals and the blues to contemporary hip-hop and R&B, while exploring how economics and politics influence the songs that play around the nation.

  • From Bessie to Beyoncé: Black Women, Independence, and Artistic Identity

    Friday, September 30 at 6–7:30pm at The Music Center Annex, Rehearsal Room A

    RSVP Map & Directions


    • Uri McMillan, cultural historian, author (Embodied Avatars: Genealogies of Black Feminist Art and Performance), and Assistant Professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles.
    • Ina Coleman, gender equity consultant and former managing director of the Feminist Majority Foundation
    • Dominique Morisseau, Playwright/Screenwriter. Story Editor on Showtime's Shameless. Winner of the Steinberg Playwright Award, two NAACP Image Awards, and the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama.
    • Ani Zonnefeld, Grammy-award-winning singer/songwriter/producer; founder and President, Muslims for Progressive Values.

    What you all say don’t count with me. You understand? Ma listens to her heart. Ma listens to the voice inside her. That’s what counts with Ma.

    —Ma Rainey, August Wilson’s Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

    From early 20th century entertainers like Bessie Smith and her friend Ma Rainey to contemporary cultural icons like Beyoncé and Rihanna, black women have been an undeniable force in pop culture. However, their path to artistic agency—their control over their work and ability to profit from their success—is made steeper by systemic and institutional bias. Join us in exploring the challenges black women face in the arts and entertainment industry, as well as the strategies they have employed to achieve success.

*An RSVP to the Community Conversation does not include a ticket to the performance at the Mark Taper Forum. Existing ticketholders are welcome to join us, but are encouraged to RSVP.

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By August Wilson
Directed by Phylicia Rashad

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On sale: Aug 9, 2016

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