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Friday, December 5, 2008

Women and Jazz

I have long wondered why women in jazz are frequently limited to (or perhaps choose to) sing or play piano. Frequently, there is no female on the bandstand. This seems to be true in all ethnic and cultural contexts, from Japan to Europe to the USA .

Would anyone care to speculate on why this occurs?

Drummer Leonard King drew my attention to the book Stormy Weather: The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazzwomen by Linda Dahl. It is an essential resource for anyone exploring this subject. (Dahl is also the author of a book on the great Mary Lou Williams, who at the age of 17 was writing most of the arrangements for the Andy Kirk orchestra during the 1930's.)

I would also like to begin a list of women jazz figures who neither sing nor play piano. All-female groups are mentioned, and the individuals are mentioned separately. Dahl's book was a major resource for this list. And please write in and add to it.

Alive! - all female group
Liz Allbee - trumpet
Dorothy Ashby - harp
Vera Auer - vibes
Willene Barton - tenor sax
Lollie Bienenfeld - trombone
Jane Ira Bloom - Soprano
Karen Borca - bassoon
Barbara Borden - drums
Pauline Braddy-drums
Clora Bryant - trumpet
Jane Bunnett - Soprano Sax
Viola Burnside - tenor sax
Deidre Cartwright - guitarist
Terri Lynne Carrington - drums
Norma Carson - trumpet
Regina Carter - violin
Rachel Cocks (she is mentioned in article on Simon H. Fell) - clarinet
Anat Cohen - clarinet
Alice Coltrane - harp
Elizabeth 'Libba' Cotton - blues guitar and vocals
Claire Daly - baritone sax
Fostina Dixon - bass, clarinet, reeds
Dottie Dodgion - drums
Barbara Donald - trumpet
Susan Evans - percussion
Jane Fair - saxophone
Kali Z. Fasteau - sax, traditional flutes, piano, cello, viola, drum set, etc
Stephanie Fauber - french horn
Jean Fineberg - saxophone, flute, clarinet
Laurie Frink - trumpet
Mimi Fox - Guitar
Marian Gange - guitar
Adele Girard - harp
Rose Gottesman - drums
Corey Hale - harp
Jennell Hawkins - organ
Leora Meoux Henderson - trumpet
Jessie Mae Hemphill - blues guitarist and singer
Heroines - Only album I know of is Cadence Jazz Records 1040 (and it is great)
The Hip Chicks
Robbi Humphrey - flute
Margie Hyams - drums, vibe
Susie Ibarra - Drums
Bonnie Jefferson - blues guitar and vocals
Dodie Jeshke - drums
Dolly Jones - trumpet
Carol Kaye - electric bass
Carla Kihlstedt - violin (in tin hat trio)
Elaine Leighton - drums
Melba Liston- trombone
Ellen McIwaine - blues guitar and vocals
Sarah McLawler - organ
Lynn Milano -bass
Lizzie Miles -
Memphis Minnie - blues guitarist and singer
Kathryn Moses - flute
Amina Claudine Myers - organ
Bridget O'Flynn - vibes, drum
Mary Oliver - violin
Mary Osborne - guitar
Mary Fettig Park - alto saxophone
Ann Patterson - alto saxophone
Terry Pollard - vibes
Carline Ray - electric bass, guitar
Vi Reed - alto saxophone
Emily Remler (deceased) - Guitar
Ruth Ritchie - percussion
Pola Roberts - drums
Janice Robinson - trombone
Billie Rogers - trumpet
June Rottenberg - bass
Ali Ryerson - flute
Jenny Scheinman - violinist Sax
Jenny Scheinman - violinist
Elsie Smith - tenor sax, clarinet
Ginger Smock - violinist
Valaida Snow - trumpet
Phil Spitalny and his All-Girl Orchestra
Jean Starr - trumpet
Kathleen Stobart - tenor saxophone
Monette Sudler - guitar
B. Taylor - bass
Sue Terry - alto sax
Barbara Thompson - reeds
Tindanga Mama - Organized by Nicole Mitchell (see above)
Faye Washington - Flute and reeds
L'Ana Webster - reeds
Bonnie Wetzel - bass
Edna Williams - trumpet

And please help me out with this. I would like this list to get very long; while I don't claim to speak for these women, perhaps some could use more recognition in what could be a lonely artistic context.

Click below for some interesting comments:


  1. Zeena Parkins - harp
    Marika Hughes - cello

  2. Thanks for bringing attention to these women on your blog, Jeff, and here are a few more, all mavericks, and all composers as well:

    LaDonna Smith - viola, violin, voice
    Irène Schweizer - piano
    Maggie Nicols - voice, dance
    Monique Buzzarté
    - trombone
    Shelley Hirsch - voice
    Pauline Oliveros
    - accordion

  3. concentrating on jazz guitarists:
    Sheryl Bailey
    Joyce Cooling
    Kathy Dyson
    Barbara Jungfer
    Janet Marlow
    Jane Miller
    Amanda Monaco
    Kim Reith
    Margaret Stowe
    Dawn Thomson
    Madeline "Maddy" Young (deceased)
    of note both Marian Gange and Mary Osborne are both deceased. Nice list, would be helpful if you broke it up into categories by instrument. Keep up the good work of passing on the names and websites of all these incredibly talented ladies of jazz.

  4. Billie Rogers is my aunt, and she not only played trumpet, but sang, and led her own band for a short time ;) niece, Leslie.

    1. I am Billie Rogers' daughter. She is alive and well and is featured in the new award winning documentary film "The Girls in the Band". You can write to her by emailing me at Also, you may enjoy the film web site:

    2. Leslie - are you the daughter of my first cousin Leslie and granddaughter of Alyce? I am your 2nd cousin Dee Archer if so. I knew your mother well when we were children. Please email me at

    3. Leslie - I'm your second cousin Dee "Dennie" Archer, Billie's daughter. Please email me at!

  5. Leslie,
    in response to your comment. Billie Rogers is a particular artist that I have a great interest in but find it hard to find much information. I would like to be able to discuss with you what you could tell be about Billie. Please contact me on MySpace under Rob Witte (Australia). Regards.

  6. Here's something to add;
    Tia Fuller alto sax
    Lakeisha Benjamin alto sax
    Melainia Gillard tenor sax
    Lauren Sevian baritone sax
    Sharell Cassity alto sax

  7. Camille Thurman -Tenor Saxophone, Flute, Clarinet
    Tia Fuller- Alto Saxophone
    Mimi Jones -Bass/ Voice

  8. Did you get Marge Hyams, vibes

    or Lorraine Winston (Geller), piano

  9. how's about Gloria Coleman, Trudy Pitts, Rhoda Scott (all organists) Barbara Donald, tpt, Melba Liston, tbn