74 pages 2 hours read

August Wilson

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 1984

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Act II

Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Act II Summary

At the beginning of Act II, the musicians are setting up in the recording studio while Ma “walks about shoeless, singing softly to herself” (57). Cutler tells Irvin about Sylvester’s stutter, expressing doubts that he can do the voiceover. As Levee flirts with Dussie Mae, Ma Rainey warns Cutler to make him leave her alone. Cutler calls Levee over, and the band prepares to start playing. Irvin announces that they will start with the song “Moonshine Blues,” but Ma insists that they will begin with “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” demanding a microphone for Sylvester. Reluctantly, Irvin informs Ma that the band has reservations about Sylvester’s ability, but Ma asserts, “The band work for me! I say what goes!” (58). Sturdyvant chimes in, allowing the boy one chance to record the voiceover, citing the cost. But Ma balks, “Damn the cost. You always talking about the cost. I make more money for this outfit than anybody else you got put together. If he messes up, he’ll just do it till he gets it right” (58). 

Sylvester stutters through his first attempt, and Ma reassures him that he’ll get it right eventually.