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Five Women in Jazz collections - now available at IJS

April 24, 2014
Abbey Lincoln

Photo of Abbey Lincoln, taken by Tad Hershorn in November 1994 at the Naval Observatory in Washington, DC.

In honor of Jazz Appreciation Month (April 1-30), the Institute of Jazz Studies (IJS) welcomes jazz researchers and enthusiasts to view the collections of five prominent women in jazz that have been processed and are now open to the public.  Work on the collections of singers Ella Fitzgerald, Abbey Lincoln, Annie Ross and Victoria Spivey, and the journalist/promoter Wilma Dobie was underwritten by a two-year grant by the Council of Library and Information Resources, The collections were processed by archivist Anders Griffen, who is also a busy working drummer in the New York City area.

Abbey Lincoln (1930-2010) was best known as one of jazz's leading song stylists and was also a composer, actress, writer, and civil rights activist. She received a Golden Globe nomination for her 1968 appearance in For Love of Ivy with Sidney Poitier. When she married drummer Max Roach, with whom she had collaborated on the landmark 1960 recording We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, Lincoln became a committed civil rights and women's rights activist while continuing to evolve as an artist. In the 1990s, Lincoln made a series of recordings for Verve, which brought the singer even wider critical and popular acclaim and two Grammy award nominations. In 2003, she was named an NEA Jazz Master, the nation's highest jazz honor.

Annie Ross has appeared in stage productions, in movies, and on television, but most of all she is recognized as one of the great jazz singers of all time. She became famous for her contribution to the vocalese style of singing with her great range, dexterity, and personality, central to some of her most famous work, like the song "Twisted," and for her part in the popular jazz vocal group, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross in the 1950s.  In the 80s and 90s Ross appeared in several films, including Robert Altman’s Short Cuts.  Nowadays she appears every Tuesday night at the Metropolitan Room in Manhattan.

Ella Jane Fitzgerald (1917-1996) started her career at age 17 when she won the Apollo Theater's Amateur Night contest in 1934, after which she joined the Chick Webb Band and recording under the Decca label. Her 1938 song “A-tisket, A-tasket reached number one on the Billboard charts.  Fitzgerald’s next major association came in 1947 when she toured with the big band of trumpeter and bebop pioneer Dizzy Gillespie, when she significantly retooled her style, forged in the Swing Era, to grasp and incorporate modern jazz. In early 1956 she recorded the Cole Porter songbook, the first of several such ventures honoring the cream of American composers and lyricists of popular music that took her from being the most famous jazz singer on to her crown as the international “First Lady of Song” for the remainder of her singular 56-year career at the top. 

Blues singer Victoria Spivey (1906–1976), was an instant hit with her very first recording, Black Snake Blues, made in St. Louis in 1926 and released by Okeh Records. Her accompanists included the likes of Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, and Red Allen. In 1928 she appeared in Hallelujah, one of the first all-African American films by a major studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. While pursuing her career as a performer and bandleader, Ms. Spivey also managed, booked, and scouted other talent throughout the 30s.  Throughout the 40s she performed nationwide with dancer Billy Adams before going into semi-retirement in the 50s. In the 60s she returned to performing the blues and started her own record label, Spivey Records, with Len Kunstadt, whose collection also resides at IJS. 

Wilma Dobie was a journalist and lifelong jazz enthusiast, advocate and promoter.  Coinciding with her journalism career she organized groups to make jazz flourish as a producer, director, chairman or board member of organizations such as the American Federation of Jazz Societies, the Overseas Press Club, and the House That Jazz Built. She managed public relations for the Statesmen of Jazz and was a correspondent and contributing writer for several jazz publications as well as The New York Times.

The Dobie Collection documents her involvement with jazz music and musicians, The Statesmen of Jazz, The American Federation of Jazz Societies, The Overseas Press Club, as well as various correspondence, photographs, and other personal files. There are collected writings by Ms. Dobie and others covering a range of artists and concerts.

For more information on these collections or others at IJS, please visit the Institute online at: http://newarkwww.rutgers.edu/IJS/