Sherrie Tucker has done something male jazz historians should have done years ago - give credit to "all-girl" bands and female jazz musicians. The only women who are generally written about are the singers.
Tucker has done some excellent research in digging up essential biographical and musical information on the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Phil Spitalnys "Hour of Charm" Orchestra the Prairie View Co-Eds Sharon Rogers All-Girl Band and others. Unfortunately most of the women from these bands are dead requiring Tucker to use secondary sources.
What we discover is that these all-girl bands and the musicians were considered a novelty. They suffered - and that is not too strong a term- at the hands of sexist managers rude and hostile audiences harassing police and reviewers who either ignored their talents or stereotyped them. Many people thought it undignified for women to be in jazz bands.
While Swing Shift concentrates on all-girl bands in the 1940s Tucker reaches back to earlier examples such as The Bricktops. What we find out is that many of these women had classical music educations and were expected only to use their talents on a minimal basis -- playing for church choirs or "polite" society. For many of those who went over to jazz they incurred their families' criticism.
But this did not stop Roz Cron Willie May Wong Margaret Grigsby Tiny Davis and Clora Bryant a few of the individuals Tucker includes in her very readable book. Valaida Snow billed as "Queen of the Trumpet" and "Little Louis" was highly respected in Europe. Best known of the girls bands in the U.S. was Ina Ray Hutton and her Melodears. It was their success that spawned the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. The other important female to gain fame in this era was Mary Lou Williams whose piano playing and compositions would be picked up by some of the best swing bands in the business.
There are other studies of women in jazz such as Linda Dahl's Stormy Weather and Leslie Gourse's Madame Jazz: Contemporary Women Instrumentalists. Tucker not only places the women in her book in the world of jazz but in the larger context of women in U.S. history and society. She writes "The continued erasure of women from dominant jazz discourse despite a dignified body of published knowledge on women in jazz points to an ideological morass impervious to please for the dignity and heroism of the women who played jazz and swing in the 1940s.
Even in the up-coming Ken Burns documentary and the accompanying book Jazz: A History of America's Music women are given little attention other than as vocalists.
At first it seems impossible that an entire book would be dedicated to only a decade of jazz history and all-girl bands. However when one is finished with it it becomes apparent that Tucker has swung her research and pen across a wider range. No jazz historian in the future should delete or ignore the contributions of the women discussed in this book.
'Sherrie Tucker has done something male jazz historians should have done years ago - give credit to "all-girl" bands and female jazz musicians. The only women who are generally written about are the singers.