Women’s History Month: Una Mae Carlisle

One of my absolute favourite singers, Carlisle has brilliant timing, really adding a good, solid swing to the small groups she worked with. Apparently Fats Waller ‘discovered’ her (well, I imagine Carlisle was a bit like America – there long before some man realised she existed), but the two share a nuanced musical sensitivity.

You can see her singing and playing the piano in this clip (sorry, I don’t know any more about this little film than this):


(I’m A Good Good Woman – Una Mae Carlisle)

This 1938 song Don’t Try Your Jive On Me is bit more fun.

Women’s History Month: Bessie Smith!

Composer, musician, singer, EXTREME BADARSE PERFORMER. There are dramatic stories about Smith seeing off violent white men in her tent shows, about her numerous lovers of both sexes, and about her violent death. My favourite is the one about working with a young Louis Armstrong, where she demanded that he play a little less enthusiastically as he was cramping her style. I have no idea whether it’s true or not. But the influence of Smith’s performing style on instrumentalists like Armstrong should not be underestimated.

Bessie Smith performing ‘You gotta give me some’, accompanied by Clarence Williams and Eddie Lang in 1929

Women’s History Month: Clora Bryant!

Another suggestion from a friend. Again, I’d never heard of Clora Bryant before she was recommended by the Buggzor (herself a brass instrumentalist of Repute). But now I have.

Clora Bryant was born in 1927 and is a trumpeter. She played with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm and you can listen to her play a bunch of nice songs in this video Clora Bryant /Gal With A Horn 1957:

(Photo at the top of this post taken by Loomis Dean in 1954, and lifted from the Life Magazine collection on google)

Women’s History Month on Riverwalk Jazz

How perfect! The Riverwalk Jazz radio show has a Women’s History Month special on women in jazz this month: Blues Queens, Cakewalkin’ Babies & Songbirds: A Riverwalk Jazz Salute to Women’s History Month.

The radio show blurb reads:

To honor National Women’s History Month, vocalist and actor Carol Woods joins The Jim Cullum Jazz Band to salute leading women in early jazz. …This week on Riverwalk Jazz, Carol Woods portrays women who were seminal figures in jazz with dialogue based on their first-person accounts, and presents important songs from their careers.

Women’s History Month: Billy Tipton!


(image lifted from wikipedia)

I’d never heard of pianist, composer, bandleader Billy Tipton before I was sent an email recommending him for this series of posts (I’ll leave that kind correspondent to out themselves in the comments if they like.) Everything I know, I’ve scrounged online.

Basically, Billy Tipton was born Dorothy Lucille Tipton in 1911, and was a keen pianist interested in a life in jazz. By 1940 he was living as a man, binding his breasts and otherwise dressing and identifying as male. It wasn’t until he died in 1989 that Tipton’s family discovered he was assigned female at birth.

I don’t know the exact reasons for Tipton’s living as a man, but I want to include him in these Women’s History Month posts because he draws attention to the limits of single definitions of masculine and feminine. And one of the clearest points to be made about Tipton’s story is that living as a woman musician limited (and limits today) your profesional opportunities.

Sweet Georgia Brown by Billy Tipton

Women’s History Month: some thoughts at day 6

It’s women’s history month again, and I’m listing a different woman musician from the first half of the century every day (as I explain here). Last year I did a different woman dancer every day, and that was super great fun. I’m enjoying the women musicians, but I haven’t really had a chance to research or push myself, as I’ve been away at a dance event for most of this month. And today, I’m still feeling a little tired and rough, so I’m not really ready to push myself. Tomorrow. Tomorrow.

I did decide in that first post of the month that I’d only dance as a lead this month, as a way of exploring International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month and what it means to be a woman dancing. Well, actually, I just decided that on a whim, without much thinking at all. I don’t follow much these days as I’m really trying to get my leading up to snuff, and the best way to get better at dancing is to dance. And as every lead knows, the real challenge comes on the social dance floor, when you need to come up with a series of moves, connect with your partner and attempt some sort of creativity all at the same time.
We won’t even mention the battle to maintain the fitness and aerobic capacity lindy hop demands.

I have to say, it hasn’t been hard, because I get to dance with amazing dancers, most of whom are my friends. And I’ve learnt so much in the past month or two it’s kind of scary – I suddenly find myself stretching and expanding my skills, pushing myself to try things that I’d never have tried before. But it’s certainly meant a bit of rethinking the way I operate socially at exchanges and dance weekends. My weekend pretty much felt like this:

I mean, the biggest change for me this past weekend in Melbourne was simply spending very little time with men. I have lots of lovely male friends, but I only danced with two of them this weekends, and I discovered that I just didn’t end up spending as much time catching up with blokes as I usually do. :( I think that’s mostly because I’d be chatting to some chicks, and then a song would start and one of them, or I would say “let’s dance!” and then we would, and then afterwards I’d end up mixing with chicks and chatting. Rinse repeat. This of course means that the men in the dancing scene need to man up and start with the following, because I refuse to miss out on their dancing wonderfulness! Good thing Keith and I got to DJ together, or I’d hardly have spent any quality time with a bloke at all this weekend. And that is UNACCEPTABLE.

Workshops on Sunday were fun. I learnt a LOT. And I did a private class with Ramona on Friday, which kind of broke my dancing for a bit, and then suddenly it all came back together and I was a dancing machine on Saturday night. Blues dancing: still a bit too dull for me atm. But then, only boring people are bored, and that’s doubly true of dancers – only a boring lead is bored. I need to woman up.

The DJ Dual with Keith went really well. In fact, I had the most fun DJing I’ve had in ages and ages. We ended up trading three songs until the last moment when we played alternative songs. I think we would have liked to continue for another hour or so, trading single songs, as we got more confident and figured out the skills and tactics we needed. But we’d been DJing for an hour and a half by then, so we might’ve gotten a bit tired. And I had to go in the jack and jill, and I’m not sure it would have been ok for me to DJ the competition I was in. Overall, it was nice to have a bit of a challenge, and it was nice to work with a friend I like and have lots in common with musically. But he is a bit of a sly dog, and wouldn’t tell me what he was playing next, most of the time, so I had to keep on my toes. But that was actually even more fun. DJ Dual: LIKE.

NB There were THREE women leads in the jack and jill competition, and one got through to the finals (in a group of six leads)!!11!1 That photo above is one I lifted from Faceplant – sorry I can’t remember whose it was. It’s of the J&J, I’m in there, and so is at least one of the other female leads.

Now: NEED MORE MALE FOLLOWS!!!

I ended up catching up with lots of internet friends over the weekend as well. Which is always a bit of a push, but well worth it. The best part was walking into a cafe, saying “Hello, I’m Sam, nice to meet you!” and then barrelling into an hour of solid, hardcore talking as though we’d known each other for years. Which we have, really. Just not in person. This trip I went for smaller catch ups, rather than bigger groups, because I wanted to get a chance to actually connect with everyone and I often don’t get that at bigger meet ups. But that also meant I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to. Oh well, good thing I go to Melbourne regularly! I’m planning another trip in May for the Frankie Manning birthday celebrations, so I’ll see if I can fit in the people I missed this time. But that sucks, because you’re still missing people! And then there are all the dance people I want to see off the dance floor! This is, of course, why exchanges are so much fun and so challenging – so many friends descend on one city for just one weekend you really need an enormous dance floor to connect with them all!

Righto, I’d better write up today’s jazz woman!

Women’s History Month: Victoria Spivey!

Another musician/composer powerhouse, Spivey sang, composed, played the piano and ukulele and was a key player in the 1960s blues revival as well as during the blues craze of the 1920s. She managed her own record label (Spivey Records) AND performed in the ‘Hellzapoppin’ Revue’ stage show.

Here she is singing my favourite of her compositions, ‘Moanin’ Blues’ in 1929 with a pretty seriously hardcore band: Henry ‘Red’ Allen, JC Higginbotham, Teddy Hill, Luis Russell:

Victoria Spivey – Moaning the Blues

Even more excitingly, here she is in the 60s with Lonnie Johnson at the American Folk Blues Festival singing The Original Black Snake Blues:

Victoria Spivey – Black Snake Blues Volume Two

Women’s History Month: Blanche Calloway!


I’m a bit pushed for time today, as I’m in the middle of a dance weekend, but, well, I’m also hardcore. I’ll look up some less well known women later in the month when I have more time. :D

Blanche Calloway was Cab Calloway’s older sister, and was a musician, bandleader and composer in her own right.

This is a song she composed and recorded in 1934 with her male band the Joy Boys:

(Blanche Calloway – Catch On)

Women’s History Month 2012: Lil Hardin Armstrong!

Sure, she was married to one of the most famous men in jazz, but Lil Hardin was – much more importantly – an accomplished singer, pianist, composer, arranger, band leader and business woman.
Hardin was a part of King Oliver’s Creole band, Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five, lots of other smaller projects, and of course led her own band. She’s popularly credited with pushing Louis Armstrong into a career of his own, outside the Oliver band.

Hardin recorded with Armstrong’s Hot Five in 1927, playing the song ‘Struttin with some Barbeque’ which she composed.

Louis Armstrong – Struttin’ With Some Barbecue

NB: I’m trying to list a different woman jazz musician every day for Women’s History Month. You can read this post for more info.