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Wild women do get the blues

By D.K. Ross

International Women’s Day is celebrated worldwide on March 8 to foster political and social awareness of the struggles of women everywhere. This celebration was first observed in 1903 in Chicago, which paralleled the emergence of women blues artists.

Wild Women Do Get the Blues:
A musical history of women and the blues to celebrate International Women’s Day
Acoustic blues concert
Sat, Mar 8, 8pm
El Sindicato
Recreo 4
150 pesos
Tickets available in advance at El Sindicato and Biblioteca Tienda

It’s no secret that the blues were founded in the music of African Americans in the United States in the early 20th century. However, that contribution was downplayed and even denied for some time. For women musicians, race and gender combined to marginalize their contributions which were not only significant but foundational to the blues.

The “Blues Era” in the early 1920s was dominated by women who started recording the blues which was the first commercially viable music ever recorded. Smith’s hit “Down-Hearted Blues” (written by Alberta Hunter) sold an unprecedented 750,000 copies.

They brought the 12-bar blues into the mainstream and gave a voice to an under-class. Songs of hardship, heartbreak and poverty provided the only recorded history of black working-class women.

Performers like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters became household names. Under Rainey’s tutelage, Smith went on to become the highest-paid black performer of her time.

Others who followed, like Sippie Wallace and Ida Cox, have been all but forgotten although their songs live on. “Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues,” written and recorded by Cox in 1924, has been covered by many artists including Lyle Lovett and Cyndi Lauper.

Memphis Minnie who played folk blues— sometimes known as Delta blues—was an accomplished guitar player, widely acknowledged to be better than her male counterparts, winning many competitions and the hearts of the public. She is one of the few women recorded during the ‘30s.

Victoria Spivey’s career spanned four decades. In 1962, she started her own label, recording musicians like Willie Dixon and Big Joe Turner. Spivey was good friends with Sippie Wallace who had left entertaining to sing in her church choir. Encouraged by Spivey, Wallace started touring again in the ‘60s and was a major influence on Bonnie Raitt.

Like quilting and recipes, the vision and talents of these women were passed down generation to generation to influence better known names like Etta James, Big Mama Thornton and Janis Joplin.

To celebrate their accomplishments, an acoustic blues concert will present a musical history of women in blues from classic blues to folk and delta style to the blues of our time. It will include music from Bessie Smith to Memphis Minnie, Ida Cox to Big Mama Thornton, Etta James, Lil Green, Koko Taylor and more.

The concert will be presented by Kate Fowler and Rolando Gotés with Richard Webb on harmonica.

Fowler’s voice has been called sultry and when she sings the blues her voice is powerful and earthy. Gotés is an accomplished guitar player who moved to San Miguel from Torréon, in the northern part of Mexico. Webb is a bluesman from North Carolina who specializes in Piedmont style guitar and harmonica.

This concert sold out last year. For 2014, the Fowler and Gotés’ show will include both favorites from last year and new offerings.

If you love the blues, don’t miss this very special concert in celebration of International Women’s Day. These women were the real deal. They played music, told stories, entertained and they lived life on their own terms

But make no mistake … the blues is not sad music. It is, on the contrary, a celebration of life. An in-your-face, just-try-to-let-life-kick-you-down battle cry and sometimes humorous look at the hardships of life and the ways that people, in this case women, have overcome them.


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