Now in its 10th year, the Smithsonian-sponsored Jazz Appreciation Month is spotlighting female artists, starting with a special salute to the International Sweethearts of Rhythm.
The Sweethearts are a legendary band, founded in 1937 at the Piney Woods School, a black boarding school in Mississippi. Its members traveled the world, appeared at the Apollo and Howard Theaters and bested the greats like Fletcher Henderson and Earl Fatha Hines in the popular Battle of the Band competitions. The Sweethearts were an integrated group and wildly popular, drawing 35,000 people in a week in 1941 to the Howard. The originals played together until 1949.
On March 29 a few of the surviving Sweethearts will donate some memorabilia to the National Museum of American History and a special display about the female big band will be featured at the museum until May 31. On March 30 the members will discuss their careers and their struggles with David Baker, musical director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and Frank Alkyer, publisher of Down Beat and Music Inc. Also on March 30 the women will join a swing dance and talk at the Artisphere.
The month of programs was started by the American History museum, which has thousands of artifacts related to all genres of musicians, from Duke Ellington’s unpublished manuscripts to Benny Goodman’s clarinet. To advertise this year’s celebration, the museum selected pianist Mary Lou Williams to be the subject of its poster, created by Keith Henry Brown.
Perhaps, Ella Fitzgerald’s classic, “April in Paris, ” will be a part of the April 16 program, “Take 5! Ella in the Springtime,” featuring the Brad Linde Ensemble at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, or the April 23 appearance of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks at Blues Alley.
Other programs include:
A screening on March 31 of “American Masters, Lena Horne: In Her Own Voice,” at the National Portrait Gallery with a panel that includes Gail Lumet Buckley, Horne’s daughter, and museum curator Dwight Blocker Bowers.
An April 3 concert by Nnenna Freelon at the Rankin Memorial Chapel at Howard University.
An April 29 presentation of Mary Lou Williams’ compositions and influence, led by Rev. Peter O’Brien, her manager and executive director of her foundation.