GREAT Free Jazz & Women’s History Month event as part of Smithsonian’s JAM on Weds, March 30 at Artisphere.
A pioneering all-female, interracial big band enjoyed world-acclaim in the 1940s, and had significant local ties to Arlington and DC. “A Women in Jazz Tribute to the International Sweethearts of Rhythm” features several surviving original band members in a panel discussion at Artisphere on Wednesday, March 30, followed by a swing dance featuring the all-female Leigh Pilzer/Jen Krupa Quintet. This event is FREE and open to the public. A detailed press release is attached.
Broadcasting entrepreneur Cathy Hughes (Radio One), a descendant of one of the Sweethearts members, will lead a panel discussion called “Jazz and Civil Rights,” focusing on the Sweethearts importance as a multi-cultural, all-female aggregation that toured not only the Jim Crow South, but also a six-month European tour which included the first African-American women to tour with the USO during WWII. Excerpts will be screened from Judy Chaikin’s upcoming documentary, Girls in the Band (see clip). This event is offered as part of the 10th annual Smithsonian Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) program, which is focused on the legacies of jazz women, and their advocates, who helped transform race, gender and social relations in the U.S. in the quest to build a more just and equitable nation.
The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, founded in 1937 at the Piney Woods Country Life School in Piney Woods, Mississippi, will be the focus of the JAM Launch, a museum display and special online and public programming offered by the National Museum of American History to highlight the unique legacy of the school that music built and their dynamic, women's jazz band.
Laurence C. Jones founded the Piney Woods Country Life School for poor and African American children in 1910. In the early 1920s, he supported the school by sending an all-girl vocal group on the road. Following that success, in 1937 he formed the Swinging Rays of Rhythm, an all-girl band led by Consuela Carter. Around 1941, the band settled in Arlington, Virginia, where there was a wealthy Virginian who provided support for them. Members from different races, including Latina, Asian, Caucasian, Black, Indian and Puerto Rican, lent the band an "international" flavor, and the name International Sweethearts of Rhythm was given to the group. At one Howard Theater show, the band set a new box office record of 35,000 patrons in one week of 1941. In 1944 the band was named "America's #1 All-Girl Orchestra" by Downbeat magazine. They enjoyed an enormous following among the African-American audiences playing "battle-of-the-bands" concerts against bands led by Fletcher Henderson and Earl Hines. During World War II, letter-writing campaigns from overseas African American soldiers demanded them, and in 1945 the band embarked on a six-month European tour, which made the band’s African-American members the first black women to travel with the USO.
The International Sweethearts of Rhythm made two coast-to-coast tours in their bus. As a racially mixed band, they defied the Jim Crow laws of the South. The white women in the band wore dark makeup on stage to avoid arrest. Despite being stars around the country, when the band traveled in the South all of the members ate and slept in the bus because of the segregation laws that prevented them from using restaurants and hotels. The first white musicians joined in 1943. There were also several lesbians in the band, including Tiny Davis, whose sexuality was later the subject of Schiller and Weiss' documentary, Tiny and Ruby: Hell Divin' Women. Ms. Davis had to turn down the opportunity to tour again with the band in 1946. This, along with other lineup changes, led to the band folding in 1949.
Despite the impact of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm being repeatedly ignored in popular histories of jazz, the band enjoyed a resurgence in popularity among feminists in the 1960s and 70s. The band was among the first marketed as women's music. In 2004 the Kit McClure Band released The Sweethearts Project on Redhot Records. It is a tribute album recorded entirely with an all-female band using only songs the Sweethearts recorded.
Offering small-group jazz with big-band spirit, the Leigh Pilzer/Jen Krupa Quintet is inspired by duo collaborations such as those of Gerry Mulligan and Bob Brookmeyer, J. J. Johnson and Kai Winding, and Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. With Jen on trombone and Leigh on baritone and soprano saxophones and roster of world-class rhythm section members their repertoire ranges from standards to originals. Jen, Leigh, and the rest of the group have played with big bands including the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, Sherrie Maricle & The DIVA Jazz Orchestra, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and DC-area military jazz ensembles.
Artisphere is a new breed of urban arts center that features four distinct performance venues, three visual art galleries, a 4,000 square foot ballroom, a free Wi-Fi Town Hall and HERE, a restaurant and bar. Artisphere’s wide array of programming is as diverse as its audience, ranging from contemporary visual art, Shakespeare, late-night DJs, and multi-cultural film fests to spoken word, chamber music, family programs and swing and salsa dancing. Artisphere is located at 1101 Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, Virginia, two blocks from the Rosslyn Metro (blue/orange) and within walking distance of Georgetown. Artisphere is open Monday through Friday from 11am to 11pm; Saturday from 11am to 2am and Sunday from 11am to 6pm. Admission to Artisphere and all its visual art galleries is free; there is a cost for ticketed events. Artisphere is pleased to offer its patrons free parking evenings after 5pm and on weekends. Artisphere is wheelchair accessible. Sign-language interpreters available on request for events; two weeks advance notice requested; TTY: 703-228-1855.For more information about Artisphere and its wide array of programming, visit www.artisphere.com.
Artisphere has six arts organizations in residence— Aurora Opera Theatre, Artisans Center of Virginia, Fashion Fights Poverty, National Chamber Ensemble, UrbanArias and the Washington Shakespeare Company. Artisphere’s retail gallery is curated by the Artisans Center of Virginia.
For more information about this FREE event, THE PUBLIC may call 703-875-1100, or visit www.artisphere.com . For more detailed information, images or interview requests, THE MEDIA is asked to contact me, Jim Byers, Marketing Director, Arlington Cultural Affairs at 703-228-1847, or email firstname.lastname@example.org , or Artisphere’s Director of Communications and Marketing, Annalisa Meyer, at 703-875-1124, or at AMeyer@arlingtonva.us