In the 1950s, musicians were mainly men wearing matching suits with narrow ties and porkpie hats; they dominated the stages of smoke-filled jazz clubs. Women might have been at the microphone for vocals, or sometimes at the piano, but for the most part they were serving drinks for male performers and male patrons.
Times have changed, and although you’ll still find a smoke-filled bar with mostly male performers, and women sometimes scantily clad going from table to table taking drink orders, it’s more common today to see women on stage playing every conceivable instruments. It’s safe to say, however, that in the fifties, there were virtually no women sitting behind drum kits banging out the rhythm and feeding the beat to the performers.
One woman who broke into that world was Dottie Dodgion. Born September 23, 1929, a month before Black Tuesday, she played throughout the U.S. from funky dives on Basin Street to brightly lit casinos in Vegas, providing drums for jazz, soul, Dixie, swing, bop, and mainstream pop. Check out her Facebook page where you’ll find the spitting image of Betty White smiling out at you, and a colorful history of her playing with legends such as Benny Goodman, Charlie Mingus, Herbie Hancock, the Billy Mitchell-Al Grey Quintet, Wild Bill Davison, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Marian McPartland, Tony Bennett and Ruby Braff. You can still see her perform both drums and vocals at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach where she has a regular gig.
By Ann Barnett