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1940s Freedom Riders: The International Sweethearts of Rhythm

The first racially-integrated, all-female jazz band to tour nationally, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm defied Jim Crow between 1937 and 1949. The word ‘International’ denoted the diverse ethnic makeup of the sixteen-piece jazz orchestra: mostly African American, it also included Latina, Asian, Jewish, Hawaiian, White and Native American women. It was a formidable competitor to the all-male bands and the most skilled of about 100 all-women orchestras of the WW II era. 


The International Sweethearts of Rhythm (1937-1949) - An extensive history and profile of the group, which forced skeptics to admit that women could play hard-swinging Jazz and hot music, just like the guys. In battles-of-the-bands they performed opposite Jimmy Dorsey and once bested the popular Erskine Hawkins Orchestra.  On tour they shattered box office records in Detroit, Chicago, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Atlantic City, Miami and Kansas City. There is also a good Wikipedia entry about the band available here and a National Public Radio profile of the group here.
Spotlight Profile in Smithsonian American Women's History Museum - Explore historic photographs of the orchestra's members and tours, as well as newspaper articles and programs from their performances. There are several pages of items to explore. Click on the title of an item and a new page will open. Then, if the selected item has not opened, click 'Selected Images' icon and the item should open. You may also enjoy this 2011 Smithsonian video recording of a conversation with several of the surviving band members about the history of the group and its legacy in jazz.
Smithsonian's Museum of American History Archive - Members of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm dontacted materials to the Smithsonian. The photo above shows the band soon after it became officially known at the International Sweethearts of Rhythm.
International Sweethearts Of Rhythm Live Performance of "Jump Children" - This video shows the group in action! After such a performance in Chicago in 1943, the Chicago Defender newspaper announced the band was, "One of the hottest stage shows that ever raised the roof of the theater!"
More Live Performance Music - Here's a few more brief clips of the group's live performances.
Living on the Bus - According to pianist Johnnie Mae Rice, because of the Jim Crow laws in the southern states, the band "practically lived on the bus, using it for music rehearsals and regular school classes, arithmetic and everything."

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