Jazz News

THOSE WE’VE LOST (from the New York Times)

Helen Jones Woods, Member of an All-Female Jazz Group, Dies at 96

She played trombone in the multiracial International Sweethearts of Rhythm, but later put down her horn forever. She died of the coronavirus.

Helen Jones Woods was an African-American jazz musician who toured the country, including the Jim Crow South, in the 1930s and ’40s. This could be the start of a familiar story of racism on the road. But Ms. Woods’s journey has some distinctive wrinkles.

Ms. Woods played trombone in the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, an all-female, multiracial ensemble so anomalous that the white members had to wear blackface in the South to avoid trouble.

When the group split up in 1949 — bruised by the road and feeling exploited financially — Ms. Woods found the classical world no less racist. After her first performance with the Omaha Symphony, her father, who did not share her light complexion, picked her up, tipping off the orchestra that she was not white.

“They fired her,” said Ms. Woods’s daughter Cathy Hughes, a founder and chairperson of Urban One, a media company that focuses on Black culture. “She never touched her horn again.”

Ms. Woods died on July 25 of the coronavirus in a hospital in Sarasota, Fla., her daughter said. She was 96.


NEA Jazz Masters Article

Annie Ross 1930–2020
Annie Ross, a British-American vocalist who was among the most celebrated jazz singers of the 1950s and a noted character actress and cabaret singer in her later years, died July 21 at her home in New York City. She was four days shy of her 90th birthday.
Annie Ross, Birdland, NYC, September 2015 (photo: Jeff Tamarkin)