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All-Female Bands of the Early 20th Century - Happy Women's History Month!

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 12, 2012 02:43pm | Post a Comment

Nehmes Bastet


Female singers have been popular since ancient times. Earlier this year a tomb was discovered in Egypt housing the earthly remains of Nehmes Bastet, a singer who lived and died some 2,900 years ago -- around the time of Carthage's founding and that the Iron Age was making big waves in Central Europe. To date, she's the only known woman buried in the Valley of Kings who wasn't related to the royal families.

Nearly 3,000 years after her death, female singers were still undeniably popular. Although female musicians have long been celebrated in the rest of the world, in the west most were limited to either the piano or harp -- and strictly in a non-professional role -- until the dawn of the 20th Century.

An important development in all-female bands was Lee De Forest's invention of Phonofilms in 1919. Before then, a few early attempts at marrying music to short films were made with Kinetoscopes but were hampered by their short length of 22 seconds. Phonofilms, which were essentially music videos, were longer and often featured female musicians.

Predictably, many of these pioneers were apparently valued more for their looks and/or novelty than their cultural contributions but that, of course, isn't a reflection on their technical or artistic merits. It's just that, as Sherry Tucker's book Swing Shift (one of the few books on the subject) put it, the public "looks first and listens later."

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