I had the privilege of attending CineMoi Networks’ screening of “The Girls in the Band,” a soulful documentary about the struggles and triumphs of female jazz musicians. “The Girls in the Band,” directed by Judy Chaikin, follows several of the artists and their battle to not only get work as musicians, but to receive recognition and respect for their extraordinary music. The heroines of this film all started at a young age loving the power of music and wanted to play an instrument other than piano or harp, despite being told that girls are “too delicate” to play other kinds of instruments and that women are “inferior musicians.” These powerful women played trumpet, trombone, bass, saxophone, jazz piano, and drums and commanded attention performing, even writing some of the most iconic music of the 30’s and 40’s. They faced racial stigma and sexism as they tried to climb the ladder from playing in school bands to jamming with their idols like Dizzy Gillespie and Woody Herman.
“The International Sweethearts of Rhythm” was unique because they were an all-female band, primarily made up of Black musicians, with one Caucasian and one Chinese member. They were constantly in danger when they traveled in the Jim Crow South. Segregated, not only for being women, but because mixed race groups were illegal. It was a terrifying and frustrating time.
World War II brought changes in the jazz world. The men that had dominated the jazz scene were fighting in Europe and the women were left to keep jazz alive. They had their music playing on international radio and became so popular and loved by the soldiers, they traveled to Europe to play for the troops. In Europe their gender and the color of their skin wasn’t an issue. Their music commanded respect due to their incredible performances and their palpable love for the music they performed. When World War II ended, the troops and the bands came home. As the women got back to the clubs and were scheduled to play, they were fired without notice because the men were back. The glory days were over.
I highly recommend this film to anyone who loves music, cinema or history. This is the story of their rise to success, their incredible talent and their sudden descent into obscurity when the men came home from war and the women were expected to just be housewives and go back to the kitchen.
The film is not only a great work of cinema, but a beautiful portrait and tribute to those who made some of the greatest art in musical history.
You can see this amazing film tonight, November 30th at 9pm ET/PT on CineMoi Network, Channel 236 on Verizon/FiOs and Frontier.
Please join me in saluting the Girls in the Band.
Jr. Editor We Blab Entertainment Magazine