As in many other fields – science, literature, visual arts and more – women in jazz have not always received the recognition they’ve deserved. As vocalists, instrumentalists, instructors, composers, dancers and patrons, women have been vitally important to the development of jazz, yet often historically overshadowed by their male counterparts.
In the New Orleans Jazz Museum‘s newest exhibition, Women of Note, women are at the forefront, from composer, pianist, singer, bandleader and second wife of Louis Armstrong Lil Hardin; Louisa “Blue Lu” Barker, 1930s-40s jazz and blues singer known for belting bawdy tunes like “Don’t You Feel My Leg;” as well as pianist Bille Pierce (b. Wilhelmina Goodson), one of seven piano-playing sisters from the Florida Panhandle who toured the Gulf Coast, starting in the 1920s. Billie worked the vaudeville circuit, accompanying Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, according to Music Rising at Tulane, marrying cornetist Dede Pierce, an Afro-French Creole from New Orleans.
The displays include photographs of the Boswell Sisters, whose three-part harmonies were resurrected and have been kept alive by the Pfister Sisters, and Sweet Emma, a piano player from the 1920s and ‘30s with the Original Tuxedo Orchestra under Papa Celestin who later accompanied the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Contemporary jazz artists, including Stephanie Jordan, Germaine Dazzle, Marla Dixon, Aurora Nealand and Meschiya Lake are also pictured in the show.
Recordings of Barker, jazz vocalist Lillian Boutte, songstress Germaine Bazzle, and Belgian transplant cellist Helen Gillet are featured at the museum’s listening stations. Archived performances of some of the most outstanding female jazz artists are presented in a continuous loop film.
Memorabilia such as Charmaine Neville’s hand-painted tambourine and cowbell, Debbie Davis’ ukele, Gillet’s cello and an original score of “Sanctum” by composer Courtney Bryan, a professor of music at Tulane University, which was performed at the Rose Theater during Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City are also on display.
The New Orleans Jazz Museum is located in the Old U.S. Mint at 400 Esplanade at the River. Admission is free, open Tuesday – Sunday, 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM.