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International Sweethearts of Rhythm


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The International Sweethearts of Rhythm was the first integrated all women’s band in the United States. During the 1940s the band featured some of the best female musicians of the day. They played swing and jazz on a national circuit that included the Apollo Theater in New York City, the Regal Theater in Chicago, and the Howard Theater in Washington, DC After a performance in Chicago in 1943, the Chicago Defender announced the band was, “One of the hottest stage shows that ever raised the roof of the theater!” More recently, they have been labeled “the most prominent and probably best female aggregation of the Big Band era. ” During feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s in America, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm regained a significant amount of popularity, particularly with feminist writers and musicologists who have made it their goal to change the discourse on the history of jazz to equally include both men and women musicians.

The original members of the band had met at Piney Woods Country Life School, a school for poor and African American children, in Mississippi in 1938. The majority who attended Piney Woods were orphaned children, including band member Helen Jones, who had been adopted by the school’s principal and founder (also the Sweethearts’ original bandleader), Dr. Laurence C. Jones. During a 1980 Kansas City Women’s Jazz Festival interview, band member Helen Jones explains that the very existence of International Sweethearts of Rhythm was the direct result of Dr.

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