National Black Women in Jazz and the Arts Day, celebrated annually on March 1, is a holiday that is dedicated to jazz, fine, visual, performing, and auditory arts in all its glory. The day is specifically held on the first day of National Women’s History Month because it honors all existing and previous African-American female artists only. This day was established by the Georgia organization, Black Women In Jazz.
History of National Black Women in Jazz and the Arts Day
When we think jazz, we think American musical innovation. We think of the dance-oriented music of the 1920s to the modern avant-garde jazz music. From the inception of jazz music in the early 20th century, black women have played important roles in this genre.
The earliest female figures were often pianists because playing the piano was deemed ‘appropriate’ for women. Plus, many of these women performed in churches. In fact, in the South, jazz music first appeared in gospel-influenced African-Americans, and this probably led to many black women taking on roles as pianists.
Sexism in the U.S. music industry took many female performers to Europe and Asia, making jazz a global phenomenon. By the 1920s, women had been experimenting with a range of activities. Now, they became vocalists and instrumentalists. Not famous, not yet, but experimentation was beginning to take hold.
As World War II came around, so too did opportunities for all-female jazz bands to thrive. The men were fighting in the military, and women now took their place. While such bands were not uncommon, their popularity hit a major stride in this era. The most popular band of that time was the International Sweethearts of Rhythm.
They were initially marshaled to play in local dances and parties to secure funds for a school. They took off, and soon, other all-women black jazz bands followed in their footsteps. It was not all hunky-dory. The media, press, and society still saw jazz as a male-dominated sector, and women were encouraged to drop this lifestyle.
Women’s suffrage and the emergence of multiple famous black jazz musicians slowly turned the tide. The genre itself underwent many transformations, transitioning into today’s styles.
National Black Women in Jazz and the Arts Day timeline
Jazz music and dance is born in the U.S. post World War I and the genre gains popularity rapidly, thus, it is named the ‘Golden Age.’
Billie Holiday, also known as ‘Lady Day,’ is named the first internationally recognized jazz vocalist.
Ella Fitzgerald is discovered while singing at the Apollo Theater and becomes the first African-American woman to win a Grammy Award.
Hattie McDaniel is the first African-American Academy Award nominee and winner for her portrayal of Mammy in “Gone With The Wind.”
The Black Arts Movement propels several black female writers into fame — Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Ntozake Shange, Audre Lorde, and June Jordan, among others.
National Black Women in Jazz and the Arts Day FAQs
What role did women play in the early decades of jazz?
The earliest women jazz players were mostly pianists, as playing this instrument was seen as an ‘acceptable’ hobby for women.
How did female jazz artists pave the way for future female singers?
Female jazz artists added their musical concepts, new vocal styles and challenged stereotypes across the board. They became inspirations for future generations of women striving to succeed in a gender disparate world.
How did jazz break down racial barriers?
Many young white fans and musicians discovered the richness and beauty of jazz and black culture through jazz music, especially during the first half of the 20th century.
National Black Women in Jazz and the Arts Day Activities
Take part in an event
Check if organizations in your area are hosting special events for this day (and even this month). Make plans to attend at least one such celebration.
Enjoy their creations
Can't take part in an event directly? Instantly celebrate African-American women through their creations. Listen to their music, read their literature, quote their poems, and watch their performances.
Get in a jazz-based crash course
Revise your knowledge of jazz with documentaries and books on the genre. Check out the history of America's music through jazz's lens.
5 Fun Facts About Black Women Artists
Maya Angelou's prolific career
She was an author, poet, singer, songwriter, dancer, actress, composer, historian, civil rights activist, and Hollywood's first female black director.
Mary Lou Williams' performance
She could play the piano while singing, earning her the title of 'mother of jazz'; she wrote hundreds of songs for prominent performers like Duke Ellington and trained others like Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie.
Alberta Hunter's musical education
This famous singer-songwriter learned to read music by hitting the piano keys, finding a rhythm, and turning it into a song.
Debbie Allen's dancing
Allen’s application to the Houston Ballet School was initially rejected because of her skin color an instructor secretly enrolled her into the school, where she was soon asked to stay because of her talent.
Lorraine Hansberry's writing
The first black playwright, Lorraine Hansberry, was also the youngest American to win a New York Critics' Circle award.
Why We Love National Black Women in Jazz and the Arts Day
This day allows black women artists to gain the respect, attention, and fame they deserve and might not have had in the past.
It's a platform to showcase more artists
Events celebrating this day also provide the current generation of black female artists with a platform to showcase their talents.
Black female artists become mainstream
They become a vital part of the past, present, and future of jazz and other arts internationally.
National Black Women in Jazz and the Arts Day dates