Tuesday, March 1, 2016

106 Women Musicians Honored at Tribute to the Pioneer Women Musicians March 8, 1986

Ada Leonard and Peggy Gilbert interviewed by Ruthie Buell of KPFK

This is the list of women musicians honored that day:
Jeanne E. Aiken, violinist, players’ representative of the Los Angeles Philharmonic 
Luruth Anderson, violin, assistant conductor, Los Angeles Women’s Symphony 
Anita Aros (Tuttle), violin, with The Spade Cooley Show 
Micki “O” Bailey, played with Sweethearts of Rhythm and with Helen Gissin 
Deedie (Glee) Ball, piano, played with Ina Ray Hutton’s band, toured with Hormel Show; also bandleader 
Sally Banning (Porter), bandleader, organ, and saxophone 
Audrey Barnett, guitar, producer, played with Ada Leonard, Peggy Gilbert, and George Liberace 
Dixie Blackstone (Eger), piano, vocalist, and entertainer 
Margaret H. Brady, violin, Long Beach Women’s Symphony, conductor 
Radie Britain, composer of symphonic music
Clora Bryant, jazz trumpet, with Prairie View’s All Girl Band, with the Sweethearts of Rhythm, among other bands 
Evelyn “Evie” Campbell, saxophone, played with Ada Leonard and Ina Ray Hutton 
Stella Castelucci, harp, symphonic and studio musician
Geneva Merle Chappele (Guerrero), drums 
Mildred Portney Chase, pianist and writer, performed on the Evening on the Roof concerts 
Maria Coker (Dickerson), bass, played USO tours 
Lorenza Jordan Cole, pianist and educator 
Joyce Collins, piano, bandleader; one of the first women to serve on the Board of Local 47, AF of M 
Dorothy Compinsky, violin, Los Angeles Women’s Symphony, Brodetsky Ensemble, and The Compinsky Trio 
Zackie Walters Cooper, saxophone 
Katherine (Katy) Cruise, saxophone, clarinet, played with Boots and Her Buddies, Nellie Jay and Her Jay Birds, and Peggy Gilbert 
Mary Demond, trumpet, played with Ada Leonard 
Rose Diamond, piano, President of Women’s Club of Musicians Union 
Karen Donley, bass, played with Peggy Gillbert’s band and the Dixie Belles, also Ina Ray Hutton 
Marion Downs, singer of spirituals and promoter of Black American music 
Eunice Johnson Duroe, trombone, played with Ada Leonard’s band 
Marie Ford (O’Sullivan), violin, appeared in The Great Waltz, with Peggy Gilbert’s band 
Peggy Gilbert, saxophone, bandleader, vocalist, arranger, clarinet, vibes, violin
Kellie Greene, piano, French horn, flute and arranger, and her own band 
Virginia Gregg, bass, with the Singing Strings on radio, actress 
Helen Gissin, drummer, vocalist, bandleader 
Audrey Hall (Petroff), saxophone, clarinet and violin, with Peggy Gilbert’s band
 Estelle Dilthey Hambaugh, drummer with Babe Eagan and Her Hollywood Redheads
 Helen Lorraine Hammond, trumpet, worked with Ada Leonard’s band
 Chris Hollis, pianist and vocalist, played with Louis Jordan and with  Helen Gissin’s band
June Robin Howard, violin
 Luella Howard, flute
 Genevieve B. Howell, piano, played with Peggy Gilbert’s band
 Wen-Ying Hsu, composer of symphonic music
Davida Jackson, organ, studio work
Fern Spaulding Jaros, trombone and French horn, played with Babe Egan and the Hollywood Redheads and in symphonies
Dody Jeshke, drums 
Feather Johnson, bass and reeds, played with Peggy Gilbert, Freddie Schaeffer and Joy Caylor
Alberta Jones, cello, played with Los Angeles Women’s Philharmonic
Francis Kass, trumpet, played with Ada Leonard
Sally Brown (Flint) Kempster, trumpet, played with Peggy Gilbert’s bands and Boots and Her Buddies
Ruth Kirkpatrick, violin, Long Beach’s Women’s Symphony concert master, symphonies
Ann Leaf, theater organist and studio musician
Ada Leonard, bandleader and vocalist
Thelma L. Lewis, played with Sweethearts of Rhythm
Bernice Lobdell, trumpet, played with Ada Leonard, Ina Ray Hutton’s band, Count Bernivici and Rita Rio
Nellie Lutcher, piano, vocalist, songwriter, and bandleader
Barbara Neece MacNair, piano, with Ada Leonard
Elva Dilthey MacNair, saxophone and violin, played with Babe Eagan and the Hollywood Redheads
Lois Cronen Magee, trombone and vibraharp, played with Ina Ray Hutton and with Ada Leonard
Virginia Majewski, viola, played with the American Quartet
Marilyn Mayland, bass, with Los Angeles Women’s Philharmonic and her own group
Mildred Myers, played with Phil Spitalny’s All-Girls Orchestra
Bridget O’Flynn, drums
Alice Oakason (Dexter) drums, played with Fanchon and Marco and Peggy Gilbert’s band, studio musician
Rose Parenti, piano, played with Fanchon and Marco
June Smith Parra, cello, studio musician and teacher
Harriet Payne, viola, composer, conductor, played with Glendale Symphony, Long Beach Symphony, studio musician
Evelyn Pennak, saxophone, toured Europe with American Legion Band, played with Ada Leonard
Pearl Powers, bass, with Peggy Gilbert and the Dixie Belles, played with The Wild Ones and Four Guys and the Doll
Naomi “Pee Wee” Preble, trombone, with Peggy Gilbert’s band
Doris E. Pressler, trumpet with Bobby Grice and The Bricktops, Peggy Gilbert’s band
Eunice Wennermark Price, violin, studio musician
Bessie Van Wagner Quinzel, clarinet, Long Beach Women’s Symphony and band leader
Dorothy Ray, accordion, saxophone and producer
Charlotte (Robin) Reed, trumpet, with Count Bernivici’s band and Thelma White
Naomi Reynolds, piano, organ and radio broadcaster
Lois Robbins, trombone and bass, with Count Bernivici’s band
Natalie Robin, clarinet, oboe, and saxophone, with Peggy Gilbert and the Dixie Belles, played with Rita Rio and Ina Ray Hutton
Betty “Roz” Rosner, saxophone, clarinet, played with Sweethearts of Rhythm and Ada Leonard
Frances Rossiter, trumpet
Florence Russell, publisher of Pacific Coast Musician
Jane Sager, trumpet, played with Ona Munson, Peggy Gilbert, Ada Leonard, and Ina Ray Hutton
Eudice Shapiro, violin with the American Quartet, USC faculty and performed on the Evening on the Roof concerts
Mary Crawford Shattuck, violin, in Los Angeles Women’s Symphony concertmistress, played with International Strings
Georgia Cotner Shilling, piano, with Peggy Gilbert and the Dixie Belles
E. Ginger Smock Shipp, violin, with Spade Cooley television show and studio musician
Constance Shirley, composer
Ethel (Jenkins) Siegfried, bass, in Los Angeles Women’s Symphony
Lucille B. Silverstone, piano, played at the Brown Derby Restaurant
Barbara Simons, violin and viola, symphony player
Mildred Springer, bass, played with Ada Leonard
Geraldine Stanley
Verna Arvey Still, piano, lyricist and writer
Ann Mason Stockton, harp, studio musician
Florence L. Strnad, bassoon, Los Angeles Women’s Symphony
Pat Stullken, saxophone, played with Sweethearts of Rhythm
Norma Teagarden (Friedlander), piano
Jerrie Thill, drummer, vocalist, with Peggy Gilbert and the Dixie Belles and Ada Leonard.
Bee Turpin (Butler) piano, played with Victory Belles and Peggy Gilbert
Elisabeth Waldo, violin and composer
Elinor Remick Warren, composer
Gayle Warren, piano
Marian “Marnie” Wells, trumpet, bass with Peggy Gilbert and the Dixie Belles, Ina Ray Hutton, Rita Rio and Count Bernivici
Wilma Wescott, tuba and entertainer
June (Derry) Weston, played USO show with Thelma White
Olive Williams, clarinet, with Los Angeles Women’s Symphony
Violet Wilson, bass, with Terry McLaughlin and Sarah Vaughn
Judy Winsor, piano, played at Brown Derby Restaurant

These women were in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s when they were honored in 1986. How precious to have them together at the Ambassador Hotel that International Women's Day!


30 Years Since Tribute to the Pioneer Women Musicians of Los Angeles


 Annie Patterson's Maiden Voyage
 at the Ambassador Hotel, March 8, 1986

Left to right: Ada Leonard, Marilyn Mayland, and Clora Bryant
On March 8, 2016 we will celebrate 30 years since the monumental event called the Tribute to the Pioneer Women Musicians of Los Angeles. Sometimes in our lives we know just what is the right thing to do!  This event was one of those things! 

I produced this luncheon and concert at the old Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. It was a project of the International Institute for the Study of Women in Music at California State University, Northridge, co-directed with Beverly Grigsby.  The idea of the luncheon developed out of a research project funded by the California Council for the Humanities entitled, "The Story of the All-Women Orchestras of California," which documented the history of all-female ensembles in the state. In conversations with Peggy Gilbert, it became clear that there should be a reunion of women musicians. Peggy provided names of many of the jazz musicians to be honored at the event.  The program honored 106 women musicians active in Los Angeles in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.  It featured performances of Peggy Gilbert and The Dixie Belles, as well as Ann Patterson's Maiden Voyage, a seventeen-piece big jazz band.  The event was the subject of an eleven-minute feature on the McNeil-Lehrer NewsHour, heard coast-to-coast on PBS, and in Los Angeles on KCET. The event was also covered on Cable News Network (CNN). In addition, there was coverage by veteran TV journalist Ruth Ashton Taylor at KCBS.  The event was broadcast live on KPFK Radio in Los Angeles, hosted by broadcasters Fred Hyatt and Ruthie Buell. Music broadcaster and guitarist John Schneider was the event's emcee.

In the next blog, I will post the list of all the women who were honored that day.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

January 17, 1905, Peggy Gilbert's Birthday

Peggy Gilbert
January 17, 1905- February 12, 2007

Performing on saxophones, clarinet, violin, vibes, plus singing, arranging, and contracting for women musicians, Peggy Gilbert (1905-2007) has been a one-woman support network and staunch advocate for women since the 1920s. She performed publicly on the tenor saxophone for more than 80 years and has inspired and mentored several generations of musicians.  She worked full time, part time and as a volunteer at Local 47, beginning in the early 1940, when she helped place men musicians into military bands at the beginning of World War II by working the phones at Local 47, then located on Detroit Street.  She was on the committee that helped build the building that currently houses the Local and her all-girl band performed at and she acted as a Mistress of Ceremonies for the gala opening that included many celebrity performances and appearances, broadcast nationally on radio. In the 1950s she was Secretary to the Secretary of the Board and eventually became Secretary to President John Tanchitella. She often did the New Members Orientation sessions. She retired from her position in 1970 at the age of 65, but continued to serve as a Trustee, on the Trial Board, on the Musicians Relief Committee and in 1989 was named Life Member of the Year.  For her 100th birthday, celebrated at Local 47, the Board gave her a Local 47 jacket that proudly boasted, “Member Since 1929.”  She sang “It Had To Be You,” accompanied by Jack Hyatt on piano.  Peggy personified the best of what the AFM was and is. Some have said that she sometimes had trouble getting work because she was known as “Miss Joe Union” and had a reputation of fighting for what is properly due musicians for their work.

In 1974, at the age of 69, she started a new all-girl band, The Dixie Belles, to play a benefit concert for a well-known Dixieland player who was ill. The band clicked at the first rehearsal and they continued to play until the mid 1990s. The group, including Marnie Wells (1915-2005, trumpet and string bass); Natalie Robin (1919-1998, saxophones, clarinets, and oboe); Georgia Shilling (piano); Jerrie Thill (drums and vocals); Pearl Powers (1917-2005, bass). The band's original trombone player was Naomi Preble (1904-1995); the original bass player was Karen Donley, and were all Life Members of Local 47.

The Dixie Belles performed on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson September 19, 1981, and were also featured in episodes of “L.A.'s PM Magazine,” “The Ellen Show,” “Madame's Place,” “Father Murphy,” “Darhma and Greg”, “Married With Children,” “Home Improvement,” and “The Golden Girls.” They appeared at big jazz festivals in San Francisco, Sacramento, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and also performed in concert, in parks, theaters, auditoriums, schools and senior citizen centers throughout Southern California. The Dixie Belles were featured in a video program for senior citizens called Staying Active: Wellness After Sixty, produced by Spectrum Films, Inc. when Peggy was in her 80s. The Dixie Belles can be heard on a Cambria Master Recordings compact disc.

In her eighties and nineties, Peggy appeared in commercials for Coca-Cola, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Toyota, Honey Baked Hams, among others. Often she would show up for a casting call to be told they wanted an old woman and she appeared to be too young. 

My biography  of Peggy, Peggy Gilbert and Her All-Girl Band is available from Scarecrow Press and through Amazon among other booksellers.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Peggy Gilbert & Her All-Girl Band DVD Now Available

I'm pleased to announced that the Peggy Gilbert & Her All-Girl Band DVD (Jaygayle Music Productions) is now available on Ebay. I wrote, directed, and scored this documentary and it is 75 minutes in length. It was narrated by Lily Tomlin. It has been shown at film festivals, colleges and universities, but has not been available for purchase.

As a performer on saxophone, clarinet, violin, and vibes, as well as a singer, arranger and contractor for women musicians, Peggy Gilbert (1905-2007) was a one-woman support network and staunch advocate for women since the 1920s. A professional tenor saxophonist for more than 80 years, she inspired generations of musicians and displayed a vivacity that belied her age, right up to her death at the age of 102. Perhaps she lived so long in order to tell the stories of the remarkable women musicians of her generation who broke down the barriers before them as female instrumentalists. This documentary tells Peggy Gilbert's story with more than 800 rare photographs of women musicians and all-girl bands (from The Peggy Gilbert Archive). Her last band, Peggy Gilbert and The Dixie Belles, played hot Dixieland jazz on national television, at jazz festivals, and in concerts from 1974 until 1994. Appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Golden Girls, Ellen, Simon & Simon, and other sitcoms, made them famous coast-to-coast, even ass octogenarians. This band is featured on the film's soundtrack, along with my original score.

"A joyful celebration of one woman's extraordinary life,"--Leonard Maltin. 

 "If male jazz musicians could achieve royal rank, providing us with a Duke and a Count, Peggy Gilbert's career was clearly a testament to her progression from Princess to Queen Mother."--Larry Gelbart.

If you love this DVD, don't miss: Peggy Gilbert & The Dixie Belles Jazz (Cambria Master Recordings compact disc), and my biography of Peggy, Peggy Gilbert & Her All-Girl Band (Scarecrow Press, 2008).

Visit for more information about this DVD and the production.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Trumpeter Jane Sager dies at 97

The current issue of The Overture (Local 47, AF of M, May 2012) announced that trumpeter Jane Sager has died.  The article was written by her long-time friend, Norma Petersen. Jane Sager was born in Milwaukee June 4, 1914, and played violin and piano as a child. she supported herself while attending Stephens College by playing trumpet.  After college, she moved to Chicago to study with Edward Lewellyn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; with the Platinum Blondes of America, touring Cuba; with Rita Rio’s all-girl band; and with Ada Leonard on USO tours. She also played with Peggy Gilbert, and with Ina Ray Hutton on TV in the 1950s. In addition, she played in Johnny Richards’ (1911–1968), a.k.a. Johnny Cascales, orchestra during World War II, as well as a CBS Studio band in Hollywood; with the house band for the Casino Gardens; and with Charlie Barnet and His Orchestra. Jane started her own all-girl band and comedy show called “The Frivolous Five,” with other veteran women musicians. She played several times on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and with Jack Benny’s Las Vegas and Tahoe comedy shows. Jane Sager describes her role in the creation of Ada Leonard’s All American Girls Band and her USO tours in chapter 8 of Sherri Tucker, Swing Shift: All-Girl” Bands in the 1940s (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000).

In her August 1979 women-in-music column in The Overture, Peggy Gilbert wrote about Jane: “…There were many top musicians in her [Ina Ray Hutton’s] orchestras, including trumpeter Jane Sager, who has not only played with the best of the men’s bands around the country but has taught them how to play their instrument and is now considered one of the finest trumpet teachers and coaches in the country.”

Jane Sager had a music studio at Highland and Selma near Hollywood Boulevard for many years and taught some of today’s best trumpeters. According to Ann Patterson, “Jane was a good lead trumpet player, a good jazz player, worked with well-known male bands as well as top female bands, and has had little recognition considering her talents. She was also an amazing teacher. The best in Hollywood were trained by her when they were young and ‘repaired’ by her when they were seasoned pros with problem chops.” On January 11, 2002 Jane Sager and Peggy Gilbert were honored with Lil Hardin Armstrong Jazz Heritage Awards by the International Association for Jazz Education at their 29th annual convention in Long Beach. [The Overture, February 2002, p. 24]. I took this picture of Jane and Peggy that day, receiving the award from Ann Patterson, shown here with other attendees.  For the last seven years Jane lived in Morro Bay, California.

Rest in peace, dear Jane. You were brave; you were bold. You won’t be forgotten!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

115th Anniversary of the Birth of Florence “Babe” Mary Egan, May 1, 1897

             Mary Florence Cecilia Egan, known as “Babe,” was born May 1, 1897 in Seattle, Washington, and died February, 1966, in San Gabriel, California. Her parents were John G. Egan (1857-1913), a newspaper reporter and editor, and his wife, Alice Cecelia Doran Egan (1857-1928).  Babe's family and professional connections, encouragement and support were crucial to her  success. Descendants of Irish-American pioneers and adventurers who settled the far western United States in the second half of the nineteenth century, Babe was infused with the “can do” American spirit. She moved to Hollywood in 1919 and worked on silent film sets, playing her violin to inspire the actors' performances.
            In 1924 she formed a band, Babe Egan and the Hollywood Redheads, which became one of the first all-female bands to hit the big time in the United States.  She was a charismatic, dynamic, determined, and talented musician and band leader, and had she been a man, she would be included in all history books about popular American music of the 1920s. But because of the discrimination faced by women  instrumentalists of her generation, Babe and her band are barely mentioned, even as a footnote in jazz history.  However, when one goes back to the periodicals of the 1920s and 30s, one discovers not only were they successful as a band on the vaudeville circuit, but they were among the most successful and financially rewarded musicians of their generation. Babe earned more than $50,000 a year in the late 1920s and was considered to be one of the highest paid women in vaudeville and her band inspired a generation of all-girl bands that followed, not to mention countless individual women to become instrumentalists. She earned and spent a fortune.

            These engaging "Queens of Syncopation" were adorned with rave reviews for their act, from the first engagement until the last: "This act has delightful smartness and dash;"  "A positive syncopated sensation!" "Nine sparkling live wires in a whirlwind of syncopated melody," "A whirlwind of rollicking mirth and rhythm," An Octette of Sunkist California beauties," "Red Hot Mama Stuff," "The Gaity Girls from the Golden West," "A riot of syncopation," "Not only red-headed, but red hot!" "A jazzy, snappy orchestra."

            Babe Egan and Her Hollywood Redheads was a novelty act that set off a craze for such all-girl groups. But it was more than a novelty act because of its high level of musicality and show business savvy. Their kind of performance was known as a "flash act" in vaudeville, because it included a couple of hot jazz numbers with women in glamorous clothes "to close the bill."  Babe's act featured music, with the 9 to 12 members of the band playing as many as 30 different instruments during a single show. The high-energy presentation included vocal numbers, solos, specialty dances, skits, all with a collegiate twist, sexy, yet proper enough for European royalty and for family entertainment in the heartland of America.

            I have written about Babe Egan and her Hollywood Redheads in my book, Peggy Gilbert and Her All-Girl Band (Scarecrow Press, 2008) and mention them in my documentary film (same title as the book) which will soon be released on DVD. Currently, I am writing Babe Egan’s biography, an amazing American story about a brilliant woman musician. Hard to believe that she was born 115 years ago—I live with her each and every day as I research and write her life story.  I’d appreciate hearing from anyone who has information on Babe and the band. I’m looking desperately for their Vitaphone discs and any other recordings.  [Photo caption: Babe Egan on the Million Dollar Pier, Atlantic City, New Jersey, June 1927.]


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Babe Egan and the Hollywood Redheads at Berlin Wintergarten Theatre, 1929

 Babe Egan and the Hollywood Redheads did a year-long European tour in 1929, and performed at the Wintergarten in Berlin from August 1 through October 1, 1929. The day before the Redheads opened, they were required to appear at the theater to have their pictures taken and for a rehearsal. The theater manager and the house orchestra leader wanted to change the Redhead's act but couldn’t speak English well enough to explain to Babe what they wanted.  Babe was adamant that they leave her act alone and a loud argument ensued. Just in a nick of time, the girls’ dogs came into the theater and charmed the manager into submission. After opening night, their billing was changed from 3rd to 10th because they were such a hit.  While performing at the Wintergarten, the Redheads stayed at the Central Hotel, near the Zentralbahnhoff.

One of trombonist Fern Spaulding Jaros’s solos with Babe Egan and the Hollywood Redheads was “When Day is Done” and while in Berlin she had the thrill of performing it at the Wintergarten with the composer in the audience. The song, originally called “Madonna, Du Bist Sch├Âner als der Sonnenschein” (in English, “Madonna, you are more beautiful than the sunshine”) was written by the German composer Dr. Robert Katscher (also a dentist).  Dr. Katscher told Fern, “You play my song better than even Paul Whiteman’s soloist.”  Paul Whiteman’s orchestra made this tune famous in the United States with their recording on Victor (#35828) featuring cornet soloist Henry Busse.  B. G. De Sylva wrote an English lyric in 1916.  Katscher (1894-1942) was a Viennese Jewish composer and arranger, who eventually died in exile in Hollywood.  He also composed “The Wonder Bar” and co-composed with Cole Porter, the musical “You Never Know” (1938) (generally agreed to be a failure).

Here is the band's Berlin Wintergarten poster and a 1929 postcard showing the spacious stage of the where they performed. The Wintergarten Theatre opened in 1887 and was destroyed by Allied bombs in June 1944.—Jeannie Pool is writing a book on Babe Egan and the Hollywood Redheads and welcomes any information readers may have about the Berlin Wintergarten Theatre.