W is for singer/songwriter Sippie Wallace. In 1923 Sippie followed her brothers to Chicago from her native Texas and immediately landed a recording contract with Okeh Records. Between 1923 and 1927, she wrote and recorded more than 40 songs for the label. Her hits included songs like “Shorty George” (which she wrote with her brother George) and her signature song “Woman Be Wise.” She retired from show business after she married in 1929 and spent the next 40 years as a church organist and vocalist. In 1966 she launched a comeback. She toured the world and recorded with greats like Louis Armstrong and her 1983 album “Sippie” earned her a Grammy nomination. Sippie died in 1986 on her 88th birthday after a massive stroke. Here’s a video of her performing “Woman Be Wise.”
The name Sippie makes me think of the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes” and the character Sipsy who was played by Cicely Tyson (love her). To me “Fried Green Tomatoes” is one of the finest chick flicks ever made. It has all the right elements. There’s love, loss and life lessons plus they managed to keep the cannibalism to a bare minimum which to me is the mark of quality film making.
U is for spoken word artist Ursula Rucker. Ursula majored in journalism in college but she’d been writing poetry since adolescence. She began performing her work in 1994. Usula is often a featured artist at popular music festivals and she’s made several critically aclaimed recordings. Here she is working with 4Hero at the Montreal Jazz Festival performing “Loveless.”
I had never heard of Ursula Rucker before I made this list. I have never heard of anyone she’s worked with either. That’s not unusual for me as I am hopelessly and unremorsfully out of step with modern music. I do quite like her style and her message though. Perhaps this is an important step on the road to cool for me but to tell you the truth I sincerely hope not.
T is for jazz drummer Terri Lyne Carrington. Terri got her first drum set at age 7. The set had belonged to her grandfather Matt Carrington who played with Fats Waller and Chuck Berry. She played her first major performance at age 11 at the Wichita Jazz Festival. By 12 she’d earned a full scholarship to the Berklee College of Music. In the late 80’s, Terri gained recognition as the house drummer on “The Arsenio Hall Show.” Terri also toured extensively with Herbie Hancock. In 2011, she recorded an album with “The Mosaic Project,” an all-star, all female jazz ensemble. This is Terri playing “Virtual Hornets” from Herbie Hancock’s “Future to Future.”
My daughter and I monkeyed around with music lessons last summer but next month she will be starting proper piano lessons. She is 7 just like Terri Lyne was when she started. I think she’ll be pretty good at it but even if she’s not, my Facebook audience can expect videos of my budding young Beethoven. Be kind with your comments folks, nowadays she reads all her press!
S is for the Sweethearts Of Rhythm (aka The International Sweethearts Of Rhythm). The Sweethearts were the first integrated, all women’s band in the United States. They started out as an all female, all African American band at Piney Woods Country Life School in the 1920s. They were called The Swinging Rays Of Rhythm and they toured to raise money to support the school. In 1941 several of the band’s members fled from the tour bus when they learned that they would not graduate because their busy touring schedule had not allowed enough time for them to complete their academic studies. They formed an independent band, added musicians from other ethnic groups and changed their name to The International Sweethearts of Rhythm. The band folded in 1949 when its most popular member Eleanor “Tiny” Davis became unable to tour with the group. Here they are in a soundie performing the song “Jump Children”
It’s a shame that there no information about most of these women on the web. Most of them don’t have even basic Wikipedia stub articles. I’m to trying save a few trees by borrowing and not buying books, so I plan to go to my teeny tiny local library (which, by the way, does have it’s own Wikipedia page) and have them find me a book about the Sweethearts. I like to think that I’ll sign in to Wikipedia and at least start a page for the 15 unrepresented members, but I’ve met me so I know what I’m like. Still, I do hope someone out there will help these women earn their richly deserved place in free online encyclopedia history!
R is for jazz violinist Regina Carter. Regina started taking piano lessons at age 2 but she switched to violin at 4. As a teenager she played with the Youth Division of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. She began studying jazz in college and, upon graduation, she began working with some of the top names in pop and jazz music. She released her first solo album in 1995. In 2006 she was awarded the MacArthur Fellows Program grant for her outstanding work. Here’s a video of Regina performing “Lady Be Good” (Gershwin, Gershwin 1924).
Back when I wrote a post about Victor Borge, who also claims to have started taking lessons at 2, I called “no way.” But since two musicians now claim toddler tutelage, I decided to check into it. Sure enough, You Tube has at least one video of a two year old playing at a piano recital. I guess I just have to eat my words (which is okay because my words are quite chocolatey and delicious.)
O is for guitarist Mary Osborne. Mary’s started learning to play piano and violin at age 5 but she was given her first guitar at age 9 and immediately knew that was the instrument she wanted to play. She got her first professional gig when she was still a child, performing on a local radio show. She was paid in Hershey bars. By her teens she was playing with a jazz trio and by her 20s she moved to New York City. Mary worked with several jazz and R&B artists through the 40s, 50s, and 60s. In the 70s, she and her husband started a company that sold guitars and amplifiers and she also taught at Cal State and the local school for the blind. She also managed to record a few more albums in the 70s and she continued to perform live periodically through the 1990s. Here is Mary in 1958 with Coleman Hawkins performing on “Art Ford’s Jazz Party.”
A friend of mine posted an article about another O related topic on Facebook the other day. It seems University of Oregon football fans are making an ‘O’ shaped hand gesture to show their team spirit. It looks like this.
Some Helpful Hannah in the blogosphere pointed out that this hand gesture is also American Sign Language for that most intimate part of the female anatomy. I’d like to add that the tongue out facial expression that this young lady is displaying and that I saw on other photos of fans adds a new dimension of meaning to the sign as I’m sure you can imagine.
The funny thing is that, because this is such an easy sign to make, it’s apparently used quite often with young children. The first time I saw it was my daughter’s “Books and Babies” class where the teacher had the toddlers sign it as they sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Then it turned up again when I watched 30 kindergartners use it while singing the praises of Christmas trees. I, of course, did what any concerned and conscientious parent who is fluent in American Sign Language would do. I sat there and quietly giggled into my fist like a 12-year old until it was over.
PS- I did actually have a quiet word with both teachers after the performances were over. But honestly, as long as no one in the audience knows sign, then no harm done as far as I’m concerned.
N is for pianist/singer Nellie Lutcher. Nellie was the eldest of 15 children. Her father was a bassist and her mother was an organist. When Nellie was young her father formed a family band and when Nellie was 12 she got her first break when Ma Rainey’s pianist fell ill and she got to play the gig. In 1947 she signed with Capitol Records where she had a string of US and UK hits. By the late 50’s Nellie had taken an administrative role with the Los Angeles Musician’s Union but she continued to perform into the 1990s. Here’s “Fine Brown Frame.” You Tube says it was recorded in 1947.
Speaking of fine brown frames, I just discovered Blair Underwood is on Twitter. I plan to start following him just as soon as I finish this post because if I’m not stalking him, how will he know he loves me?
PS- In the unbelievably unlikely event that Blair’s people are watching this blog, these are the jokes. I am not actually a stalker. Well, unless you’re the last Milano cookie in the bag which I know I couldn’t possibly have finished that quickly without noticing. In which case I WILL find you!