Institute Of Jazz Studies

Women In Jazz Project

The Institute of Jazz Studies, the world's largest jazz archive, is a special collection of the John Cotton Dana Library on the Rutgers University campus in Newark, NJ. To extend this archive the Institute was awarded a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) to arrange and describe the collections of five women in jazz: Wilma Dobie, Ella Fitzgerald, Abbey Lincoln, Annie Ross and Victoria Spivey.

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Wilma Dobie

Wilma Dobie was a journalist and lifelong jazz enthusiast, advocate and promoter. At 12 years old she heard Fate Marable perform on the Riverboat St. Paul and she "knew instantly this was the most exhilarating music [she'd] ever hear in [her] life." Coinciding with her journalism career she organized groups of people to work collectively to make jazz flourish either as a producer, director, chairman or board member of organizations such as the American Federation of Jazz Societies, the Overseas Press Club, and the House That Jazz Built. She managed public relations for the Statesmen of Jazz and was a correspondent and contributing writer for The Universal Jazz Coalition and various publications, among them Jazz Forum, Off-Beat Jazz, Jersey Jazz, The American Rag, The Mississippi Rag, Jazz Ambassador Magazine, Planet Jazz, Jazz Notes, and The New York Times.

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Wilma Dobie


 

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Jane Fitzgerald (1917-1996) was born on April 25, 1917, in Newport News, Virginia. Her career started at age 17 when she won the Apollo Theater's Amateur Night contest on November 21, 1934, after which she began performing with the Chick Webb Band and recording under the Decca label. It was with Decca that Fitzgerald's 1938 song “A-tisket, A-tasket reached number one on the Billboard charts. With Webb's passing in 1939, Fitzgerald began recording under the name Ella Fitzgerald and Her Famous Orchestra. She went on to become the “First Lady of Song,” one of the most famous jazz musicians of all time.

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Ella Fitzgerald

 


 

Abbey Lincoln

Abbey Lincoln (1930-2010), best known as one of jazz's leading song stylists, was also a composer, actress, writer, and civil rights activist. She was born Anna Marie Wooldridge in Chicago in 1930 but grew up on a farm in Michigan with her eleven siblings. Already working professionally by her late teens, she moved to California after high school, where she toured and sang in local clubs. Changing her name to Abbey Lincoln, she recorded her debut album for Liberty Records in 1956, and in 1957 appeared in the film, The Girl Can't Help It, donning a gown previously worn by Marilyn Monroe. Lincoln received a Golden Globe nomination for her 1968 appearance in For Love of Ivy with Sidney Poitier. When she married drummer Max Roach, with whom she had collaborated on the landmark 1960 recording We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, Lincoln became a committed civil rights and women's rights activist while continuing to evolve as an artist. She began to compose, delivering her own powerful and poetic lyrics in a very personal and evocative style that was entirely her own. In the 1990s, Lincoln made a series of recordings for Verve, which brought the singer even wider critical and popular acclaim and two Grammy award nominations. In 2003, she was named an NEA Jazz Master, the nation's highest jazz honor.
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Abbey Lincoln

 


 

Annie Ross

Over the course of her almost 80-year performing career, Annie Ross has appeared in stage productions, in movies, and on television, but most of all she is recognized as one of the great jazz singers of all time. Born Annabella Short, into a vaudevillian family in 1930, she has been singing since the age of 3. She became famous for her contribution to the vocalese style of singing with her great range, dexterity, and personality, central to some of her most famous work, like the song "Twisted," and for her part in the popular jazz vocal group, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. In the 80s and 90s Ross appeared in several films including Superman III, Throw Momma from the Train, Pump Up the Volume, and Short Cuts. For decades she was in constant motion between New York, Los Angeles, London, Glasgow, Paris, and touring around the world, never staying in one place for very long. Nowadays she spends most of her time at home in New York and appears every Tuesday night at the Metropolitan Room in Manhattan.

 

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Annie Ross

 

 


 

Victoria Spivey

Blues singer Victoria Spivey (1906–1976), was an instant hit with her very first recording, Black Snake Blues, made in St. Louis in 1926 and released by Okeh Records. Born in Houston, Texas, Ms. Spivey grew up in a musical family and was performing publicly as a young girl. She moved from St. Louis to New York where she continued to perform and record. Her accompanists included the likes of Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, and Red Allen. In 1928 she appeared in Hallelujah, one of the first all African American films by a major studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. While pursuing her career as a performer and bandleader, Ms. Spivey also managed, booked, and scouted other talent throughout the 30s. Throughout the 40s she performed nationwide with dancer Billy Adams under the management of Joe Glaser before going into semi-retirement in the 50s. In the 60s she returned to performing the blues and started her own record label, Spivey Records, with Len Kunstadt. Bob Dylan accompanied Ms. Spivey and Big Joe Williams on harmonica and backup vocals on a 1962 recording for the label, which also released recordings by Buddy Tate, Big Joe Turner, Otis Rush, Otis Spann, Roosevelt Sykes, Sippie Wallace, and Willie Dixon, among others.

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Victoria Spivey

 

 



by Anders Griffen, Institute of Jazz Studies

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This collection is one of two sponsored by CLIR that address different realms of women's artistic expression, which taken together tell a broad story of the experience of female artists working in a variety of media and from a diverse range of backgrounds in 20th century America. This collection includes women jazz artists, while the second focuses on the archives of women visual artists. The two collections together are titled: Women in Music and Art in the Twentieth Century.


Institute of Jazz Studies
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