Grandmothers of Jazz

I’m reading Swing Shift: “All-Girl” Bands of the 1940s, by Sherrie Tucker, and I ran across the following videos. Hundreds of all female bands traveled the country in those days, facing sexism, racism, and homophobia. They were out to prove George T. Simon wrong: “Only God can make a tree…and only men can play jazz.” Show him, ladies!

  • Anna Mae Winburn’s International Sweethearts of Rhythm.

Star soloist Vi Burnside on sax. Ernestine “Tiny” Davis on trumpet. Pauline Braddy on drums.

  • Phil Spitalny’s Hour of Charm

Viola Smith was billed as the “fastest girl drummer in the country” and she certainly was the most famous. Check out how the sax players snatch up clarinets mid-song.

  • Viola Smith playing with the Kit Kat band in 1966.

  • A clip from “Tiny and Ruby: Hell Divin’ Women,” an award winning documentary about trumpeter/vocalist Tiny Davis and her lifelong companion, drummer/pianist Ruby Lucas.

by Rebecca DeRosa

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