Women in jazz 2 theme night

On Oct 26, 2017, we teamed up for the second “Women-in-jazz” theme night. 

This theme night is dedicated to playing music that was influenced by women. Jazzwomen contributed to the emergence, development, and proliferation of jazz as songwriters, arrangers, band leaders, instrumentalists, and vocalists. Their contributions to this music that we all love have been – no pun intended – instrumental and vital. 

Yet, the contributions of jazzwomen or inspiring jazzwomen were stifled by the interpersonal and institutional sexism of the time, and for African American jazzwomen, the racism as well. Female musicians were often considered too sweet and demure to play jazz, especially to play “loud and aggressive” instruments like the trumpet and drums.

There were several avenues with less resistance for women. From the blues queens to big band “canaries” (not a term you should use today), female vocalists have left their imprint on the jazz world. Still, many vocalists (especially of the big band era) were considered “chick singers” whose jobs were as much to beautify the bandstand as contribute to the music. Both more accepted than in other spheres, and still harassed and disregarded, female vocalists normalized the presence of women on stage. The piano was often considered an acceptable instrument for women to play, although playing jazz on that piano was often a controversial subject among the families of female pianists. Unlike most instrumentalists, female vocalists were frequently recorded. We are fortunate to also have recordings of some of the influential female pianists.

The number of women hired to play other instruments was far smaller. However, there were some incredible horn and rhythm players of the time. Many of these women started in family bands or in all-girl bands (a title owned by those musicians, as archaic as it sounds today). Women were not often hired to play in male bands, although a few broke through (especially in the later swing era).

During the thirties and forties, women played in hundreds of all-girl bands. Despite swinging hard, all female groups were often considered a gimmick, and similarly expected to offer a visual as well as a musical show (consider how you’d feel playing lead guitar in a strapless gown). The career musicians in these all female groups were often expected to return to the sphere of domesticity upon the return of male players from overseas. On the other hand, African American all-female bands presented a public representation of the beauty and skill of African American women that contrasted with the racist portrayals of African American women in minstrelsy and vaudeville. The history of these groups is fascinating and important. See the resources below. Unfortunately, because all-girl bands were often seen as secondary to the male groups of the time, they were infrequently recorded. However, many of the featured soloists in all-girl swing bands went on to have successful musical careers and some recorded their own albums.  

Many jazzwomen were active composers, lyricists, and arrangers. Some of the most popular songs for dancers were written by women (consider the trad classic Struttin’ With Some Barbecue written by Lil’ Hardin (Armstrong) and Walkin’ and Swingin’ by Mary Lou Williams).

Finally, women led bands. Some led otherwise all-male bands (e.g. Blanche Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald) and some led all-female bands (e.g. Lil’ Hardin Armstrong, Anna Mae Winburn, Ina Ray Hutton; Mary Lou Williams).     

There are two challenges to playing music for a night like this. Despite their major contributions and unquestionable ability to play jazz, there were fewer women playing jazz than there were men. Those that did, were not as often recorded (vocalists remain the exception). To paint a picture of the trailblazing women in jazz, we dug in. We present recordings we find inspirational and emblematic that we wanted to share with everyone. We hope they paint a picture of the variety of contributions that jazzwomen have made. We emphasize all-women bands, songwriters, bandleaders, and instrumentalists to highlight folks you might not have heard at a dance yet (or not realized you’ve heard). For each song we’ve provided the usual details: song name, artist, album. We also briefly offer why we featured that song and sometimes some extra anecdotal notes. 

We traded a few songs at a time – that made it a lot more fun and we were able to play off each other’s energy and ideas. In the playlist below the ‘red’ songs are what Dhruv played while the ‘green’ ones are the ones that Shannon played.

Here is the google document link – for some folks that will be a more convenient way to see the playlist!

Please write in. We would love to hear your questions, your anecdotes and wisdoms, and suggestions of your favorites as well!

Shannon and Dhruv

PS – Here are some references to get you started!

  1. Women of jazz web audio series.
  2. NPR’s Jazz Profiles: Women in Jazz

  3. The Girls in the Band (2011) documentary.

For a deeper dive:

  • Tucker, S. (2001). Swing shift:“All-girl” bands of the 1940s. Duke University Press.
  • Dahl, L. (1984). Stormy weather: The music and lives of a century of jazzwomen. Hal Leonard Corporation.

Plus, we recommend finding the biography of a female musician you love as a good place to start.

Here’s the full list right here as well.

Title Artist Album Highlighting Extra notes
Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive Aretha Franklin The Electrifying Aretha Franklin (With Bonus Tracks) The very inspirational and influential Aretha Franklin
Satchel Mouth Baby Broadcast Version Nat King Cole On the Air Songwriter Mary Lou Williams Mary Lou Williams wrote for more artists and bands than you can count !
Papa’s In Bed With His Britches On (Stone) Una Mae Carlisle Una Mae Carlisle: 1938-1941 Bandleader, pianist and singer Una Mae Carlisle
Gimme a Pigfoot LaVern Baker Sings Bessie Smith Song lyrics by Bessie Smith; perfomed by LaVern Baker and her band Check out Bessie Smith’s only film appearance here
Diggin’ Dykes The International Sweethearts of Rhythm Hot Licks All-girl band; Featuring Ana Mae Winburn (bandleader); Vi Burnside (tenor sax) The International Sweethearts of Rhythm were formed at the Piney Woods Day School. The band eventually left the school, and went on to be likely the most well-known African American all-girl swing band. When formed, some of the bands’ members were of other (non-white) racial and ethnic backgrounds. Later in the band’s career the lineup included several white women. My impression is that this band is by far the best documented of the hundreds of all-girl bands in the swing era.
I’m Gettin’ Myself Ready for You Blanche Calloway And Her Joy Boys The Best of the All-Girl Bands 1928-1947 All-girl band (?); Blanche Calloway (band leader, vocals) This track is from an album of all-girl bands, but is listed as “and Her Joy Boys” which was an all-male band. Blanche Calloway was the first woman to lead an all-male orchestra. She was the older sister of Cab Calloway and was an established star for 10 years before her brother became known. She was a strong influence on him.
Oops! My Lady The Beryl Booker Trio A Woman’s Place Is in the Groove All-female ensemble; Beryl Booker (piano); Mary Osborne (guitar); June Rotenburg (bass)
Bye Bye Blackbird Carmen McRae I’ll Be Seeing You: A Tribute to Carmen McRae The one and only Carmen McRae
(Tranky Doo)The Dipsy Doodle Ella Fitzgerald With Chick Webb & His Orchestra Stomping At The Savoy Ella Fitzgerald as singer
St. Louis Blues Ella Fitzgerald & Her Famous Orchestra Ella Fitzgerald In The Groove Ella Fitzgerald as bandleader; took on Chick Webb’s band after his death
You Gave Me The Gate – And I’m Swingin’ Ivie Anderson (With Duke Ellington) All God’s Chillun . . . – Ivie & Duke (Vol. 2) Ivie Anderson as singer for Duke Ellington’s band Such an amazing singer despite chronic asthma
Some Of These Days Valaida Snow 1937-1940 Valaida Snow (trumpet, vocals) Louis Armstrong referred to Valaida Snow as the second best trumpet player. Second of course to himself.
Swingin’ the Boogie Hadda Brooks Timeless Boogie, Vol. 3 Hadda Brooks (piano)
Struttin’ With Some Barbecue Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five The Best of The Hot 5 & Hot 7 Recordings Lil’ Hardin Armstrong (composer, piano) Lil’ Hardin (Armstrong) was playing piano with Kid Ory in Chicago when Louis Armstrong came from New Orleans to join the band. They married, and it was Lil’ who encouraged Louis to leave the band and for the Hot Five and Hot Seven.
Shout, Sister, Shout! (Jam song) Sister Rosetta Tharpe Essential Early Recordings Sister Rosetta Tharpe (guitar, vocals) Sister Rosetta Tharpe has been called the Godmother of Rock and Roll.
Tain’T What You Do (Post jam Shim Sham) Mildred Bailey Mildred Bailey: 1939 Mildred Bailey vocalist (And bandleader?)
Sugar Katharine Whalen Katharine Whalen’s Jazz Squad Katharine Whalen as Bandleader, singer, banjo Katharine Whalen was part of the Squirrel Nut Zippers – anyone remember them?
Gut bucket Gunhild Carling Carling family 20th jubilee Gunhild Carling on trombone (And trumpet?) She’s pretty kickass – plays trombone, bagpipes, trumpet, recorder and harp, and will often showcase all of her skills in one song, sometimes casually breaking into a tap dance or singing lyrics. Not to say a mainstay of the Herrang swing dance camp.
Let’s Get Happy Together Lil Hardin Armstrong 1936-1940 Anthology Lil Hardin Armstrong on piano, vocals and bandleader She was a jazz pianist, composer, arranger, singer, and bandleader. She was the second wife of Louis Armstrong, with whom she collaborated on many recordings in the 1920s.
Can’t We Be Friends Ella Fitzgerald And Her Famous Orchestra Live At The Savoy – 1939-40 Ella Fitzgerald (bandleader); Kay Swift (composer) After Chick Webb passed away (1939), Ella, who had been the band’s vocalist, took over as bandleader. Kay Swift was the first woman to score a hit musical completely (called “Fine and Dandy”). (She also happens to be my cousin).
S`posin` Clora Bryant Gal With a Horn: Clora Bryant / 4 Clora Bryant (trumpet, vocals, band leader) At the beginning of a very successful and decorated career, Clora Bryant played with the Prairie View Co-eds, an all-girl band formed at Prairie View A&M when many male musicians were drafted for WWII. The PV Coeds toured with the USO and played the Appolo Theater, among other accomplishments.
Jump Children International Sweethearts Of Rhythm Hot Licks All-girl band Look for a youtube clip by this name
I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter Boswell Sisters The Boswell Sisters Swing! Boswell Sisters singing Ella Fitzgerald was greatly influenced by Connee Boswell; who herself was influenced by Mamie Smith.
Keep It in the Groove Andy Kirk & His Twelve Clouds Of Joy The Mary Lou Williams Collection 1927-59 Song co-written by Mary Lou Williams; pianist
Lindy Hop Lil Armstrong Perfect Swing Lil Hardin Armstrong on piano, vocals and bandleader
Love Me Or Leave Me Nina Simone Nina: The Essential Nina Simon Nina Simone (piano, vocals) Nina Simone was trained in classical piano, and her recorded music is incredibly diverse. During the civil rights era, she became increasingly focused on using her music to promote racial justice in the United States. Check out one of the several autobiographies about her, or watch the Netflix documentary. She was an incredible person and her story is important.
I Let a Song Go out of My Heart Mary Osborne A Girl & Her Guitar Mary Osborne (guitar, bandleader) Mary Osborne grew up in North Dakota. She trained on many instruments, but landed on guitar as soon as she held one. She bacame a student of Charlie Christian’s and was an important influence on the art.
One Two Button Your Shoe Billie Holiday Billies Blues Billie Holiday (vocals) Somewhere along the way I picked up that Billie modeled this tune after Ella Fitzgerald’s breakout success of “A Tisket A Tasket.”
After You’ve Gone Katharine Whalen Katharine Whalen’s Jazz Squad Katharine Whalen as Bandleader, singer, banjo
Twenty-Four Hours in Georgia Ina Ray Hutton and Her Orchestra The Very Best Of Featuring Ina Ray Hutton’s orchestra She led one of the most popular all women bands, The Melodears
Gypsy In My Soul Clora Bryant …Gal With a Horn Trumpet, vocals and bandleader She was in the first all-female group to appear on TV, the Queens of Swing (renamed to the Hollywood Sepia Tones during the gig)
47th Street Jive Andy Kirk & His Twelve Clouds Of Joy The Mary Lou Williams Collection 1927-59 Mary Lou Williams (piano, arranger); June Richmond (vocals) Mary Lou Williams was a prolific song writer, arranger, and piano player. They say (she says) she played every style of jazz through the ages.
Frankie & Johnny Benny Goodman The Roots Of Swing N’ Jive Volume Three Mama Lou (composer?) The melody for this tune was probably from Mama Lou (St. Louis), one of the first improvisational singers. (See Dahl (1984) Stormy Weather)
It’s Only a Paper Moon Marian McPartland Paper Moon Marian McPartland (piano) McPartland (from England) was a champion of female jazz musicians, and among other activities, was involved in the first women’s jazz festival (Kansas City).
Summertime (1939) Jerry Kruger & Her Orchestra CLASSICS 24 Complementary Tracks (1) 30’s Bandleader and singer
Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None Of My Jellyroll Tuba Skinny Tuba Skinny Featuring Erika Lewis (vocals, drums) & Shaye Cohn (many instruments!)
Truckin Aurora Nealand & The Royal Roses The B-Sides – New Orleans Compilation Aurora Nealand on clarinet, vocals and band leader
The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else Nellie Lutcher The Best Of Nellie Lutcher Nellie Lutcher (piano, vocals) Nellie Lutcher wrote most of her own songs, although not this one!
Don’t Take Everybody To Be Your Friend Sister Rosetta Tharpe Essential Early Recordings Sister Rosetta Tharpe (guitar, vocals)
I Wonder Who Makes Rhythm Valaida Snow 1937-1940 Valaida Snow (trumpet, vocals)
Bearcat Shuffle Andy Kirk & His Twelve Clouds Of Joy The Mary Lou Williams Collection 1927-59 Songwriter and pianist Mary Lou Williams
Hound Dog Big Mama Thornton Ball N’ Chain Vocals by Big Mama Thornton When she recorded Hound Dog in ’52 – Johnny Otis played the drums. Both her most popular songs were much more popular when sung by other folks (Hound Dog by Elvis Presley and Ball’n’chain by Janis Joplin)
This Can’t Be Love Clora Bryant …Gal With A Horn Trumpet, vocals and bandleader
A Woman’s Place Is in the Groove Vivien Garry Quintet A Woman’s Place Is in the Groove All-female ensemble; Vivien Garry (string bass); Ginger Smock (violin); Edna Williams (trumpet); Wini Beatty (Piano); Dody Jeshke (Drums)
I’m Beginning to See the Light Mary Osborne A Girl & Her Guitar Mary Osborne (guitar, bandleader)
Five O’Clock Whistle Ina Ray Hutton And Her Melodears The Best of the All-Girl Bands 1928-1947 All-girl band; Ina Ray Hutton (bandleader, vocals)
Muddy Water Aretha Franklin Jazz to Soul The very inspirational and influential Aretha Franklin
I’m Confessin’ Victrola Victrola Alice Spencer band leader
Keepin´out a mischief Gunhild Carling Carling family 20th jubilee Gunhild Carling on vocals, trumpet and trombone
What’s My Line Theme Melba Liston, Jimmy Cleveland, Frank Rehak, Slide Hampton, Ray Bryant, George Tucker, Frank Dunlop Melba Liston and Her ‘Bones Melba Liston (trombone)
Oh, I’m Evil Una Mae Carlisle 1938-1941 Una Mae Carlisle (piano, vocals)
Shine On, Harvest Moon Ethel Waters COLUMBIA-2511 D Ethel Waters (vocals)

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