802 Bookshelf: Swing Shift – “All Girl” Bands of the 1940s

by Sherrie Tucker, Duke University Press, Durham, N.C., April 2000, 384 pp., hardcover, $29.95

Volume C, No. 11November, 2000

Rosalind Cron

Sherrie Tucker has produced a must read and very relevant book for all musicians. “Swing Shift – ‘All Girl’ Bands of the 1940s” brings to public consciousness the history of women musicians who crisscrossed the country during the decade of the ’40s, playing swing and jazz to sellout crowds in everything from theatres, armories, dance halls to after hours joints. During the ensuing decades, all major swing and jazz histories ignored these women instrumentalists. If, in a rare instance, the name of a particular all-female big band or instrumentalist was mentioned, it was only in passing – merely the tip of a hat.

That’s all changed now. Ms. Tucker has validated the lives of countless women instrumentalists by recounting through interviews their endless struggle for acceptance as serious musicians, their daily tussles against gender and race discrimination, and how they triumphed over these obstacles.

She also zeroes in on six of the many “all girl” big bands touring during the 1940s: The Darlings of Rhythm, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Prairie View Coeds, Ada Leonard and Her All-American Orchestra, Phil Spitalny’s Orchestra and Sharon Rogers’ All-Girl Band – three Black and three white organizations. The differences in venue, transportation, and housing between the two groups tell us a great deal about life in America during that period. Further, Ms. Tucker reminds us that life on the road in those days was not easy for men or women, and this book clearly illustrates the additional layers of indignity encountered by women on the road. Did you ever hear of a male band with a chaperone?

As a member of the Sweethearts during the early 1940s, I know that our story was put down as we lived it and told it to Ms. Tucker, an Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at Hobart & William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., a former disk jockey from KJAZ, San Francisco, and a jazz journalist.

The names, faces, and achievements of fabulous women instrumentalists are finally celebrated in this book, and no jazz or swing musician worth his or her salt will ever against ignore this vital chapter in the history of America’s music. It’s a great read and an eye-opener.