When Sherrie Tucker set out to write her book, "Swift Shift: 'All-Girl' Bands of the 1940s," it took some herculean digging to unearth the stories of [insert band name] and others who played during the World War II era and thus rectify the revisionist history that formerly assumed that the talent women were somehow subpar substitute for their male musical counterparts who were off fighting.
"When all-girl bands appear, they are frequently buried under unspoken definitions that take all-man bands to be normal and all-woman bands to be novelties," Tucker writes.
Over at Amoeba Music's blog, Eric Brightwell explains how until the 20th century, professional female musicians were a rarity. Until then, women's musical roles were largely limited to vocals, piano and harp. But starting as early as the 1910s, some female musicians began striking out on their own, forming and joining up with early all-women groups like these in the decades leading up to the reign of rock 'n' roll.
It's too bad Kenny G wasn't alive during the 1910s saxophone craze. Eric Brightwell over at Amoeba Music's blog writes that the decade saw a peculiar popularity for all-sax groups, including some all-female, all-sax ensembles, including The Schuster Sisters Saxophone Quartette.
These jazzy ladies first began playing together in Ohio in 1925 and featured a number of talented musicians, including Paula Jones who was triple-talented on the trombone, accordion and banjo. A highly successful group that lasted until 1935, the Ingenues headlined the Ziegfeld Follies and even starred in their own film, "The Ingenues: The Band Beautiful."
With the era of the New Woman in full swing, the 1920s were a prime time for the musical arrival of Helen Lewis and Her All-Girl Jazz Syncopaters. The group was the first all-female jazz group to achieve mainstream popularity.
This early girl group certainly had a flair for PR. Hailing from Paris, Indiana, they billed themselves as "The World's Greatest Girl Band." Not surprisingly, their longer-running ginger-headed contemporaries Babe Egan and Her Hollywood Redheads didn't take too kindly to the brassy newcomers.
Founded by pianist, composer, singer -- and Louis Armstrong's ex-wife who divorced and sued him after learning of an extramarital affair -- Lil Hardin founded this Harlem-born group, which was "one of the first female hot-jazz ensembles," Jazz Times reports.
Describing bandleader Ina Ray Hutton for The Guardian, Bob Stanley offers this admiration: "She danced like Mata Hari, she sang like Betty Boop's big sister, she shook it like a bowl of soup." Nicknamed the Blond Bombshell of Rhythm, Hutton led her all-female Melodears during the jazzy 1930s and stared in a number of short films for Paramount Pictures including "Feminine Rhythm" in 1935 and "Accent on Girls" the following year. But by 1939, Hutton had grown tired of her Melodears being perceived as a glam novelty act and traded out her all-female troupe for an all-male ensemble and dyed her hair brown.
Though technically not an all-female outfit as it was assembled and led by its eponymous bandleader, Phil Spitalny and His Musical Queens are notable for their notoriety in the late 1930s and 1940s. Americans could hear them play every night on the radio program, "Hour of Charm," - although one Chicago Tribune critic described them as an "all-ghoul orchestra." The Musical Queens also embarked on successful tours and attracted sponsorships, but the players weren't exactly treated like royalty, as they were contractually required to weigh less than 120 pounds and weren't allowed to marry.
Eunice Westmoreland had an impatience with names it seems. In the mid-1930s, she played up a Latin persona and took on the moniker Rita Rio as the leader of the all-girl band, The Girl Friends, which would later become the all-female group Rio Rita and Her Orchestra, also known as Rita Rio and Her Mistresses. In 1939, she and her bandmates started in the film aptly titled "Rita Rio and Her Orchestra," and as her career transitioned from the musical stage to the silver screen in the 1940s, she adopted a new Hollywood name, Dona Drake.
Formed in 1937 originally to fundraise for Mississippi's Piney Woods Country Life School, The International Sweethearts of Rhythm was the first all-female racially integrated band. Historically groundbreaking in hindsight, the women also risked and endured harassment while traveling around the United States, particularly in the highly segregated South, during the 1940s. Nonetheless, the 17-piece band toured internationally and were later called "the first freedom riders" by bandleader Earl Hines.
In 1956 in Minnesota, Ardis Wells started up The Rhythm Ranch Girls and billed herself as "the Yodeling Sweetheart." Clearly born to perform , Wells had already tried her hand at being a professional wrestler, dancer, swimmer and trapeze artist. The cowboy hat- and boot-wearing ensemble was one of the first all-women country/western bands in the United States.
The three daughters of a popular Korean singer, The Kim Sisters began singing together in late adolescence as a way to earn money after their father died. Eventually, the act ended up stateside and became one of the hottest tickets in Rat Pack-era Las Vegas. In fact, the group became a household name across the United States, appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show 25 times - more than any other musical group in the show's history.