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Do you want to know who Dizzy Gillespie  idolized? Did you ever wonder who inspired Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey? Who was the pianist that mentored Monk, Bud Powell, Tad Dameron, Elmo Hope, Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme? Who was Art Tatum’s idol and Nat Cole’s mentor? What musical quartet pioneered the concept adopted later by the Modern Jazz Quartet? Were you ever curious to know who taught saxophone to Stanley Turrentine or who taught piano to Ahmad Jamal? What community music school trained Robert McFerrin, Sr. for his history-making debut with the Metropolitan Opera? What virtually unknown pianist was a significant influence on young John Coltrane, Shirley Scott, McCoy Tyner, Bobby Timmons and Ray Bryant when he moved to Philadelphia from Pittsburgh in the 1940s?  Would you be surprised to know that Erroll Garner attended classes at the Julliard School of Music in New York and was at the top of his class in writing and arranging proficiency?

 

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Duke Ellington is first African-American and the first musician to solo on U.S. circulating coin

    MARY LOU WILLIAMS     

            INTERVIEW

       In Her Own Words

Helen Jones Woods, Groundbreaking Female Trombonist, Has Died From COVID-19

Helen Jones Woods, Groundbreaking Female Trombonist, Has Died From COVID-19

  6 HOURS AGO
Originally published on August 5, 2020 5:03 pm

Helen Jones Woods, who played trombone with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, a history-making all-female big band that toured widely during World War II, died of COVID-19 on July 25 in Sarasota, Fla. She was 96.

Her daughter Cathy Hughes, founder and chairperson of the broadcast media company Urban One, confirmed the details of her death to NPR

In addition to their pioneering role as women on the jazz circuit, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm were an interracial band in the era of Jim Crow. Their extensive itinerary through the South, where they traveled by sleeper bus, reportedly inspired jazz piano giant Earl Hines to call them "the first Freedom Riders." They also toured Europe, playing in occupied Germany for American soldiers — both white and Black, though not at the same time.

As a Black musician, Woods endured mistreatment and indignity on the road. "Music broke her heart," says Hughes. "In the '30s and '40s, and even the '50s, which was the last time she played, they wouldn't get paid regularly. They couldn't find housing accommodations."

After the Sweethearts disbanded in 1949, Woods joined the Omaha Symphony, only to be fired after her first performance. Her father, who had a darker complexion, came to pick her up, which prompted symphony management to realize she was Black. This was the last straw for Woods, who chose to end her musical career. She became a registered nurse, spending the next 30 years devoted to nursing and social work.

Helen Elizabeth Jones was born in the fall of 1923 — on Oct. 9 or Nov. 14, according to conflicting documents — in Meridian, Miss. She was adopted by Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones, founder of the Piney Woods Country Life School, an African American boarding school. Dr. Jones and his wife, Grace, encouraged her interest in music from an early age. But despite their preference for the violin, she gravitated to the trombone, drawn to its slide.

To raise money for their school, Dr. and Mrs. Jones formed touring musical groups made of students; one of these was The Cotton Blossom Singers, an all-girl choir. Then, after hearing a CBS radio broadcast of Phil Spitalny's All-Girl Orchestra, Dr. Jones had the idea to start an instrumental group. He called it The Swinging Rays of Rhythm, composed of Piney Woods schoolgirls ranging in age from 13 to 19. Woods was among its youngest members.

The Swinging Rays of Rhythm proved a popular act, with its proceeds supporting the school until splintering off to become the Sweethearts. Woods would later recall this split ruefully: In a 1995 interview with Sherri Tucker, author of Swing Shift: "All-Girl" Bands of the 1940s, she recalls that a pair of bookers from Washington, D.C., persuaded the band's manager "that we should leave the school and let them manage us and then we would get a good income and things like that. Which they cheated us out of, you know."

Woods made a life in Omaha, where she worked at the Douglas County Hospital for over three decades. With her husband, William Alfred Woods, she raised four children, who survive her: in addition to Cathy, they are Jacquelyn Marie Woods, William Alfred Woods and Dr. Robert Anthony Woods.

Though she never forgot the bitter taste of her experience as a touring musician, Woods acknowledged her place in history — notably in a 2011 panel discussion at the Smithsonian, co-moderated by her daughter.

"She was proud of her time in the band," Hughes says. "She was proud of the music that they made. She was proud of the sisterhood that was formed with these women; they stayed friends until they all died. It was a bond that couldn't be broken. Music was their common bond."

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Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on August 8, 2020 at 11:30pm

Helen Jones Woods, founding member of first integrated, all-women jazz orchestra, dies of COVID-19


Special to TSDMemphis.com

Helen Jones Woods, a founding member of the first integrated, all-women swing orchestra, The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, died of COVID-19 at the age of 96 on July 25.

Woods was the daughter of Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones, founder of the historic Piney Woods boarding school in Mississippi and the mother of media mogul, Cathy Hughes, who founded Urban One, the largest African-American-owned and operated broadcast company in the nation.

Cathy Liggins Hughes (daughter), Helen Jones Woods and Alfred Liggins (grandson). (Courtesy photo)

Woods was the daughter of Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones, founder of the historic Piney Woods boarding school in Mississippi and the mother of media mogul, Cathy Hughes, who founded Urban One, the largest African-American-owned and operated broadcast company in the nation.

Ms. Woods was born in the fall of 1923 in Meridian, Misssissippi. Her adopted father, Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones, was the founder of the Piney Woods Country Life School, a historic Mississippi-based African- American boarding school, which is still in existence.

She grew up on the school campus and began playing music at the age of 6. Dr. Jones wanted her to learn to play the violin, but, instead, she opted for the trombone because she liked the way the struts slid up and down.

Dr. Jones raised funds for the school by touring student groups such as The Cotton Blossom Singers. One evening when he heard Phil Spitalny’s All-Girl Orchestra play on the 1930s CBS radio broadcast “Hour of Charm,” he had a new fundraising idea.

“He said, `I’ve got a bunch of women here [at the school], why don’t I start a girl band?’” Woods remembered during a forum discussion at Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian Institution in 2011.

In 1937, Dr. Jones formed the Swinging Rays of Rhythm with a pre-teen Woods and other Piney Woods students ranging in age from 13-19.

The all-girl band toured extensively to raise revenue for the school. Eventually, the band relocated to Arlington, Virginia, where its manager Daniel Gary, changed its name to the International Sweethearts of Rhythm to reflect the ethnic composition of the group, which featured not only African Americans but also Asian, Mexican, Native American and European American women.

The ensemble became huge during World War II. For a time, Jesse Stone, who would eventually write the Rock N Roll classic, “Shake, Rattle & Roll,” was their arranger and brought polish to their sound.

They had their own tour bus and set a Howard Theater box office record when they attracted more than 35,000 patrons for a week of shows there in 1941.

They did a USO tour for the troops and performed at prestigious venues ranging from the Apollo Theater in Harlem to Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. They shared stages with or backed acts such as Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Louis Armstrong and Count Basie were fans.

In 1944, they were cited as America’s Top All-Female Orchestra by DownBeat Magazine. Although, they mostly performed hit songs of the day, they also recorded their own songs such as the popular “Jump Children” in 1945.


(Courtesy photo/NMAH Archives Center International Sweethearts of Rhythm Collection)
By 1949, the group had folded and Woods moved on with her life.

“When I found out other women could play trombone better than me, I retired myself,” she cracked at the Smithsonian forum.

She married William Alfred Woods and raised a family in Omaha, where she earned a nursing degree and a master’s in social work. She worked at the Douglas County Hospital there for more than 30 years.

Because of her history with The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Woods was inducted into the Omaha Black Music Hall of Fame in 2007.

For the last few years, Woods has lived in Sarasota, Florida.

She is survived by her four children, Catherine Liggins Hughes, Jacquelyn Marie Woods, William Alfred Woods and Dr. Robert Anthony Woods.

One of Woods’ favorite sayings was, “Never give a person credit for what they have done when cash would be more appropriate.”

In keeping with her wishes, the family requests that the public make financial donations to The Helen Jones Woods Fund at The Piney Woods School to help insure and guarantee a solid education for the next generation.

(For more information, visit https://bit.ly/2DzOSHB.)

Reprinted from the Tri-State Defender

Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on August 8, 2020 at 6:37pm

Helen Jones Woods, founding member of first integrated, all-women jazz orchestra, dies of COVID-19


Special to TSDMemphis.com

Helen Jones Woods, a founding member of the first integrated, all-women swing orchestra, The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, died of COVID-19 at the age of 96 on July 25.

Woods was the daughter of Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones, founder of the historic Piney Woods boarding school in Mississippi and the mother of media mogul, Cathy Hughes, who founded Urban One, the largest African-American-owned and operated broadcast company in the nation.

Cathy Liggins Hughes (daughter), Helen Jones Woods and Alfred Liggins (grandson). (Courtesy photo)

Woods was the daughter of Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones, founder of the historic Piney Woods boarding school in Mississippi and the mother of media mogul, Cathy Hughes, who founded Urban One, the largest African-American-owned and operated broadcast company in the nation.

Ms. Woods was born in the fall of 1923 in Meridian, Misssissippi. Her adopted father, Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones, was the founder of the Piney Woods Country Life School, a historic Mississippi-based African- American boarding school, which is still in existence.

She grew up on the school campus and began playing music at the age of 6. Dr. Jones wanted her to learn to play the violin, but, instead, she opted for the trombone because she liked the way the struts slid up and down.

Dr. Jones raised funds for the school by touring student groups such as The Cotton Blossom Singers. One evening when he heard Phil Spitalny’s All-Girl Orchestra play on the 1930s CBS radio broadcast “Hour of Charm,” he had a new fundraising idea.

“He said, `I’ve got a bunch of women here [at the school], why don’t I start a girl band?’” Woods remembered during a forum discussion at Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian Institution in 2011.

In 1937, Dr. Jones formed the Swinging Rays of Rhythm with a pre-teen Woods and other Piney Woods students ranging in age from 13-19.

The all-girl band toured extensively to raise revenue for the school. Eventually, the band relocated to Arlington, Virginia, where its manager Daniel Gary, changed its name to the International Sweethearts of Rhythm to reflect the ethnic composition of the group, which featured not only African Americans but also Asian, Mexican, Native American and European American women.

The ensemble became huge during World War II. For a time, Jesse Stone, who would eventually write the Rock N Roll classic, “Shake, Rattle & Roll,” was their arranger and brought polish to their sound.

They had their own tour bus and set a Howard Theater box office record when they attracted more than 35,000 patrons for a week of shows there in 1941.

They did a USO tour for the troops and performed at prestigious venues ranging from the Apollo Theater in Harlem to Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. They shared stages with or backed acts such as Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Louis Armstrong and Count Basie were fans.

In 1944, they were cited as America’s Top All-Female Orchestra by DownBeat Magazine. Although, they mostly performed hit songs of the day, they also recorded their own songs such as the popular “Jump Children” in 1945.


(Courtesy photo/NMAH Archives Center International Sweethearts of Rhythm Collection)
By 1949, the group had folded and Woods moved on with her life.

“When I found out other women could play trombone better than me, I retired myself,” she cracked at the Smithsonian forum.

She married William Alfred Woods and raised a family in Omaha, where she earned a nursing degree and a master’s in social work. She worked at the Douglas County Hospital there for more than 30 years.

Because of her history with The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Woods was inducted into the Omaha Black Music Hall of Fame in 2007.

For the last few years, Woods has lived in Sarasota, Florida.

She is survived by her four children, Catherine Liggins Hughes, Jacquelyn Marie Woods, William Alfred Woods and Dr. Robert Anthony Woods.

One of Woods’ favorite sayings was, “Never give a person credit for what they have done when cash would be more appropriate.”

In keeping with her wishes, the family requests that the public make financial donations to The Helen Jones Woods Fund at The Piney Woods School to help insure and guarantee a solid education for the next generation.

(For more information, visit https://bit.ly/2DzOSHB.)

Reprinted from the Tri-State Defender

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