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.

No comments:

Post a Comment