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Night Lights Classic Jazz

Jazz Women Of The 1940s

Women instrumentalists thrived in the upside-down jazz world of wartime America.

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Women trumpeters

Photo: greatentertainersarchive

Trumpeter Billie Rogers played with Woody Herman's mid-1940s big band before leaving to lead her own orchestra in 1944.

(Please also see my recent post for NPR’s A Blog Supreme, which covers some of the same ground: The Women In Charge Of The Band)

The history of women in jazz is an uneasy narrative. Here’s a music that acted as such a powerful force for racial integration in American society, and yet when it comes to gender, there was a barrier for many decades in the jazz world. Women singers were tolerated and even spotlighted, especially with the advent of the big band era, but instrumentalists had a much tougher time of it. Many male jazz musicians, writers, and fans believed that women could not play jazz, or at least play it as well as men. When women instrumentalists did get to perform and record, the response was often, “You play pretty good…for a woman.”

In this Night Lights show we’ll look at some jazz women of the 1940s, a decade when the cultural upheaval of World War II created more opportunities for female jazz artists, as the ranks of male musicians were depleted by the draft, and band leaders and nightclub owners were forced to expand their employment horizons. Featured artists include pianist and composer-arranger Mary Lou Williams, trumpeter Billie Rogers, vibraphonist Marjorie Hyams, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm big band, and pianists Hazel Scott and Beryl Booker.

More Jazz Women Of The 1940s And Beyond

Music Heard On This Episode

Blue Moon
Billie Rogers — Women's Lib In 1944 (Joyce, 1944)
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Blue Moon
Billie Rogers — Women's Lib In 1944 (Joyce, 1944)
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A Woman's Place Is In The Groove
Vivian Garry Quintet — The Women: Classic Female Jazz Artists 1939-1952 (Bluebird, 1990)
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Boogie Misterioso
Mary Lou Williams — 1945-1947 (Classics, 1999)
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Just An Idea
Mary Lou Williams — 1945-1947 (Classics, 1999)
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Northwest Passage
Woody Herman/Marjorie Hyams — Blowin' Up A Storm (Sony, 2001)
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Conception
George Shearing/Marjorie Hyams — The Definitive George Shearing (Verve, 2002)
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Three Ways To Smoke A Pipe
Woody Herman/Billie Rogers — Jazz Women: A Feminist Retrospective (LP) (Stash)
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Pelham Panic
Billie Rogers — Women's Lib In 1944 (Joyce, 1944)
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Boogie Woogie (midpoint music bed)
Dorothy Donnegan — Jazz Women: A Feminist Retrospective (LP) (Stash)
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Vi Vigor
International Sweethearts Of Rhythm — Hot Licks 1944-1946 (Sounds of Yesteryear, 2006)
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Don't Get It Twisted
International Sweethearts Of Rhythm — Hot Licks 1944-1946 (Sounds of Yesteryear, 2006)
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Prelude in C Sharp Minor
Hazel Scott — 1939-1945 (Classics, 2003)
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C Jam Blues
Hazel Scott — 1939-1945 (Classics, 2003)
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Low Ceiling
Beryl Booker — The Women: Classic Female Jazz Artists 1939-1952 (Bluebird, 1990)
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After You Get It
Dardanelle Breckenridge — Jazz Women: A Feminist Retrospective (LP) (Stash)
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Conversation
Mary Lou Williams Girl Stars — 1945-1947 (Classics, 1999)
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Sweet Georgia Brown
International Sweethearts Of Rhythm — Hot Licks 1944-1946 (Sounds of Yesteryear, 2006)
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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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