Why is it that all-girl bands have always been such a novelty? Even today, outside of a classical, string quartet, we still tend to be somewhat suspect of a group of "girls" taking to the stage to perform. Why? I wonder. Far be it from me to get into a serious discussion of sexual politics as they relate to the history of music; wacky tacky seldom invites such serious, thought-provoking, and potentially polarizing discourse. However, I have a sister that has more musical talent in her little finger than most people have in their whole body and I know plenty more women who are solid senders. And yet, there is something inherently fascinating and incredibly wacky tacky about a bandstand filled with women. Every time I see old footage of a woman playing a saxophone, I wonder about her history and what inspired her to take up that particular instrument.
The 1920's, 30's, and 40's saw a particular surge in all-female orchestras and while they may have never made a name as famous as their male counterparts, they had the drive and the musicianship to create some crazy rhythms. One thing is for sure, these women took the charge to "Hurry up and send me; let me go to town," very seriously.
Musical medley from "Band Beautiful"
The Ingenues (1928)
"Can't Help Lovin' that Man of Mine"
The Ingenues (1929)
"Feed the Kitty"
Rita Rio & Her Mistresses of Rhythm
Rita Rio (1939)
"I Cried for You"
Ada Leonard (1943)
The biggest take away from these clips for me is not the fact that there have always been talented female musicians, but rather the amazing vitality, pep, and perpetual motion of the band leaders. You couldn't count on Tommy Dorsey to do much more than wave his baton or swing his trombone in a circular motion. For Rita, Thelma, and Ada, the dance was all part of the show.
Truth be told, some of these orchestras were little more than publicity gimmicks. Apparently, Thelma White was an actress who was handed a baton and miles of fringe and told to get groovy for the cameras. Nevertheless, all-female orchestras existed and exhausted themselves in an effort to put out great music and put on a great show!
It is obvious that these bands were the inspiration for "Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopators" from the 1959 film Some Like it Hot, so we just couldn't resist including a little boop-boop-a-doop.
"I Wanna Be Loved by You"
Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopaters
Some Like it Hot (1959)