Women's History Month: Celebrating Black Women in Jazz at the Schomburg
The Women’s Jazz Festival at the Schomburg Center, our annual Women’s History Month celebration, allows the opportunity for black women jazz artists—past and present—to be acknowledged, recognized, and celebrated. For more than two decades, this month-long series has provided dynamic jazz performers such as Terri Lynne Carrington and Nona Hendryx with a platform to showcase their work for both the Harlem community and our international digital audience.
Of course, many artists paved the way for these incredibly talented women to grace our stage. Mary Lou Williams, who we’re honoring at our Before 5 program next month, was one of the greatest pianists, composers, and jazz singers ever—yet is still largely unknown. Her creativity, talent and ambition to break through a male-dominated industry was unprecedented. Patti Bown, another jazz pianist, singer and composer, had her music recorded by jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, Benny Golson, and Sarah Vaughn. She was invited by Quincy Jones in 1959 to join a big band ensemble for a European tour of the musical, Free and Easy. Between 1962 and 1964, she served as Dinah Washington’s musical director. “Down Hearted Blues,” the famous blues song by Bessie Smith, which has sold over 2 million records to date, was written by composer and singer Alberta Hunter. She learned to read music by simply hitting keys on a piano, finding a rhythm and turning it into a song. This tenacity, which led her from her hometown of Memphis to Chicago as a runaway, would launch her career.
These are just a few of the women who have made a significant impact in jazz, whose achievements are often overshadowed by their male counterparts. This is why we our Women’s Jazz Festival is so important. The series is curated by singer and songwriter Toshi Reagon. Reagon’s dedication to highlighting talented women jazz singers, composers, and instrumentalists has been reflected in the success and response from our patrons.
This year, our series features performances from great artists such as Shelley Nicole, Mal Devisa, Alicia Hall Moran, Camille A. Brown, Bernice Reagon Johnson, and many others. With your support, we hope to continue to introduce you to women who are not just singers, but exceptional songwriters, composers, instrumentalists for years to come.