April 4, 2013
Women in Jazz
When we think about the pioneers of Jazz, names like Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Count Basie tend to come to mind. The Jazz profession was typically dominated by male musicians. In fact, mix gender bands suffered prejudice just as the mix race bands. Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday were two female vocalists that were considered to be pioneers. Vocalist received the most notoriety, while the accomplishments of many of the other female musicians went completely unnoticed. Who were these women of jazz and what were they able to contribute to the music?
A singer that was able to make a name for herself was Ma Rainey known as the “Mother of Jazz” She was the first stage performer to incorporate Blues into her repertoire. In 1923, she recorded for the first time with Paramount Label. The same year she and Louis Armstrong recorded Yonder Comes the Blues. Rainey also recorded See See Rider a piece that Black Popular Music in America said “one of the most famous and most recorded blues songs of all times. Rainey made the first recording of that song and one of the best of more than one hundred versions”. (“Ma Rainey” 306-308) In Looking Up at Down, William Barlow stated:
Her songs were diverse, yet deeply rooted in day-to-day experiences of black
people from the South. Ma Rainey’s blues were simple, straightforward stories about heart break, promiscuity, drinking binges, the odyssey of travel, the workplace, and the prison road gang, magic and superstition-in short, the southern landscape of African Americans in the Post-Reconstruction era.
(qtd. in “Ma Rainey” 306-308)
Ethel Waters influenced a generation of vocalists, both black and white; with her vocal style and amazing career. She was a key figure is the development of African-American culture. Her career began in 1917, when she entered a singing contest at a Philadelphia bar. After that she started touring in...