Blues Women: First Civil Rights Workers


The African voice inspired instrumentalists.  Vocalese was a dialogue between vocalists and instruments.  Each person had an individual sound and instrumentalists imitated the voice’s cries, growls, moans, slurs, whispers, shouts and wails.  Blues was the element of American subculture created by enslaved Africans, singing European music.  Considered crude by classical listeners, Blues liberated singers from precise pitch and calculated rhythms of European music.  Black singers emerged from Spirituals and Blues to develop Jazz.  Their free-spirited songs delivered messages of liberation, signaling to Africans in America that they could be free.  Blues women were the first civil rights workers because their songs symbolized liberty in its rawest form by tapping into the human spirit.  Angela Davis recounted Marx and Engles’ observation that art as “a form of social consciousness [awakens] . . . those affected by it to . . . transform their oppressive environments” (Davis, 1999).  Blues were popularized by Gertrude “Ma” Rainey (Columbus, GA, September, 1882 – December 22, 1939), The Mother of the Blues (Cartwright, 2008, p. 9).  A spokesperson for black people, she was a hero to them.  She recorded hundreds of songs on Paramount, putting that recording company on the map.  The most popular Blues singers established a rapport and rhetoric with the crowd.  Ma Rainey took Bessie Smith under her wing and Blues tradition developed as one followed another.

This book Amazing Musicwomen has lots of information about Billie HolidayElla FitzgeraldDinah WashingtonMarian McPartland, Peggy Lee, Toshiko AkiyoshiAlberta Hunter, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, and other Musicwomen. Musicwoman Radio and Musicwoman Magazine tell the stories of Amazing Musicwomenwho paved the way for vocalists, song stylists, singers, composers, and instrumentalists. Their songs are from The American Song Book that includes original songs like Alberta Hunter’s “Downhearted Blues”, “Handy Man”, and “Rough & Ready Man” plus songs of Broadway composers of the early 1900s, Duke Ellington, Billie Strayhorn, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Fats Waller, and Broadway composers Michel LeGrande, Stevie Wonder, Burt Bacharach and Isaac Hayes. [NOTE, after Alberta Hunter, the absence of women composers. Who were they? Does anybody know?] OK, Barbra Streisand, Carol King, Carly Simon, Roberta Flack, and who else?

Buy the book

Buy the download


Cartwright, J. (2008).  Amazing Musicwomen.  FYI Communications, Inc.

Davis, A.Y. (1999).  Blues legacies and black feminism. New York: Random House.

©2014 Joan Cartwright, M.A.

Equal Public Funding of Women’s Music

art davisThere is an elephant in the room where decisions are made to fund music ensembles composed of all men, who receive salaries of $100,000, annually, to tour the world and perform Jazz music, in particular.  In this video, Ellen Seeling mentioned that advocacy for the end of racism in the music industry, especially in orchestras, was initiated by bassist Art Davis. Though he lost the 10-year suit against the NY Philharmonic, his advocacy set a precedent for selection panels to use blind auditions, which led to the increase in the number of women and people of color in orchestras.

The issue of gender discrimination is a beast and women should have SOUR GRAPES about being marginalized in the ARTS.  It’s not just a PERSONAL BEEF. It’s not just HER cause, it’s OUR cause. All the women musicians and composers on EARTH who have been omitted from the annuls of musicians, music, and earning a living the way 95% of the people – men – in the MUSIC INDUSTRY do from OUR TAX DOLLARS. Mike Rubenstein This should be a CLASS ACTION SUIT against NEA and every federally-funded ARTS program that does not benefit women who pay taxes.  Women are barred from earning the income that men earn in publicly-funded orchestras and bands.  THAT is the problem and women should make a LOUD noise, since it is their tax dollars that fund all-male ensembles.


The solution is to grant the Montclair Women’s Big Band public funding in the amount of $2,500,000 to enable band members to earn $100,000, annually, to tour the world. [Solution #1 suggested by Joan Cartwright, Founder of]

Women in Jazz South Florida, Inc. is 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that promotes women musicians, globally. WIJSF is a membership organization with dues-paying members that support women’s music in Florida and around the nation and the world.
Grant WIJSF $75,000,000 to build an Archive of Women’s Music with a theater and staff that will be responsible to identify and contract professional women musicians, composers, and ensembles to perform, facilitate workshops, and write music for events, film, television, radio, advertisement, and other musical endeavors. [Solution #2 suggested by Joan Cartwright, Founder of]