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Helen Jones Woods, Member of Barrier-Breaking All-Female Jazz Band, dies at 96 of Coronavirus by Matt Schudel

RARE OLDIES SOUNDIES WITH THE INTERNATIONAL SWEETHEARTS OF RHYTHM ! The International Sweethearts of Rhythm was the first integrated all women’s band in the United States. During the 1940s the band featured some of the best female musicians of the day. They played swing and jazz on a national circuit that included the Apollo Theater in New York City, the Regal Theater in Chicago, and the Howard Theater in Washington, DC . After a performance in Chicago in 1943, the Chicago Defender announced the band was, “One of the hottest stage shows that ever raised the roof of the theater! More recently, they have been labeled “the most prominent and probably best female aggregation of the Big Band era. Helen Jones Woods played in the band.

Helen Jones Woods grew up in rural Mississippi during some of the worst days of segregation. She spent her childhood on the campus of the Piney Woods School, which was founded in 1909 by her adoptive father, Laurence Clifton Jones, to provide a home and an education for orphans and other underprivileged children, most of whom were African American.

The school, which remains in its original location about 20 miles from the state capital, Jackson, became known for its musical groups, including the Cotton Blossom Singers and later the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. After hearing an all-female swing band on the radio in the 1930s, Jones was inspired to launch a group at Piney Woods.

“My father heard the band over the radio one time,” Ms. Woods told NPR in 2011, “and said, ‘I’ve got a lot of girls here. Maybe I could start myself an all-girl band.’ ”

The group was formed in 1937, with the 13-year-old Ms. Woods, then known as Helen Jones, in the trombone section. At first, the teenage jazz musicians performed in Mississippi and neighboring states to raise money for the school. By 1939, they were appearing all over the country, including at the New York World’s Fair.

Within a few years, the band outgrew Piney Woods. In an act of rebellion, the musicians signed with a new manager, moved their base of operations to Washington and became known as the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. (For years, a building on U Street NW had a painted sign in the window: “Home of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm.”) The band members shared a house in Arlington, Va.

Helen Jones Woods, right, in 2011 with other members of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. From left: Johnnie Mae Graham, Lillie Keeler Sims, Sadye Pankey Moore and Roz Cron. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

“My father was very much upset, but he didn’t say anything about me coming back,” Ms. Woods told the writer Leo Adam Biga for a blog post in 2010. “He sent his sister Nellie to bring us to Piney Woods, and she just said, ‘It would be wise if you came home, Helen.’ And I said, ‘No, I want to stay with the band.’ ” To read more go to the link below:

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