The Female Louis Armstrong: Tiny Davis

It’s the Eurovision Song Contest this Saturday (which I hope you’re all going to watch) and so in good taste, I’m going to do a post about something that definitely is NOT related to Eurovision. Meet Ernestine “Tiny” Davis, not the murderer electrocuted on death row, but the very cool singer/ jazz trumpet player.


I first came across her in a documentary called Tiny & Ruby: Hell Divin’ Women from 1988. It was an extra on a DVD documentary called Before Stonewall about the American gay community before the Stonewall riots that took place on June 28 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village.

Here is a shortened version of the docu:

Tiny Davis played the trumpet most famously in the band The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, during the 1940s. They were quite an individual group of women, mainly because they “abandoned” their children and husbands to tour and play – something which was highly frowned upon in those days. They were the first integrated all women’s band that existed in the USA and started out when members of the Piney Woods Country Life School for poor and African American children, the majority of which were orphans, got together to play swing and jazz. Here they are in full swing (my favourite is Jump Children):

Tiny joined the Sweethearts when Jessie Stone took over as composer in 1941, and sought out more professional musicians to play alongside the less experienced members. The band itself was not only multi-talented, but multi-racial, an important thing in segregated America. When they toured the country, they practically lived on the tour bus – practised, studied, slept there – mainly because they couldn’t stay in hotels due to the segregation policy. In the documentary, Tiny speaks about the fact that even though some of the women in the Sweethearts were in heterosexual relationships – married with children – they would still get together with the other female musicians when on tour. She herself was in a relationship with Ruby Lucas, a fellow Hell Divers band member – the band that Tiny formed after the Sweethearts. They were adopted as heroes of the gay rights movement, and during the 1950s they ran a bar in Chicago called Tiny and Ruby’s Gay Spot. They even have a song on their Hot Licks album called Diggin’ Dykes.

Tiny was highly talented, but being a woman, she was rarely taken seriously. Strangely, World War II helped a lot of female musicians, especially the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, into the spotlight simply because male musicians were away at war. Of course, this meant that when the war finished, the Sweethearts had fewer gigs, and is one of the main reasons they disbanded by 1949. Tiny was such a brilliant musician, she was considered the female Louis Armstrong. In fact, he even tried to hire her away from the Sweethearts, but she turned him down, and when asked why later, she said, “I loved them gals too much.” Following the Sweethearts, Tiny went on to other musical projects. She died in 1994 at the age of 87.

A final quote of hers from the book Queer America:

“I don’t like to hear that ‘plays like a girl’ or ‘plays like a sissy’. I had more chops than most men… So no, we never got the credit we deserved. But women have a hard time in anything. There’s nothing you can do. Just keep on keeping on.”

Well said, Tiny.

See for more information on this documentary – or buy it here!

International Women’s Day: Hypatia

I first came across Hypatia in the 2009 film Agora.


Based in Roman-ruled Egypt, the film centers around the raging disputes between the main religions of the day –  Judaism and Christianity, and ends with the death of Hypatia, a Greek philosopher. Essentially, it is suggesting that ancient religions allowed no place for philosophy or science and in fact divide us as people, though this concept may have been made stronger for the sake of the film plot.

Hypatia sprang to my mind as someone to write about, because for a start, women were not really regarded as equals in Ancient Greece or Rome. Hypatia lived in the later stages of the ancient world, around 350-370 AD. But as an aristocrat of her day, money allowed her to thrive in a man’s world.

She was a mathematician (the first known woman mathematician) and philosopher, and as the head of the Platonist school at Alexandria, she taught many male students on these subjects – based on law rather than nature – making her a woman apart from her time. One scene in the film that has stuck in my mind (probably out of shock value), that apparently did happen in real life, is when one of her suitors makes a pass at her (suggested as Orestes in the film though this is not historically true), and she gives him her menstruation rags, saying there is nothing attractive about carnal knowledge. As to the rest of the film, it’s probably fair to say that history has been somewhat distorted.

Essentially, her eventual death resulted from rising tensions between the Christians and Jews. Or rather, the situation was used to get rid of her. Orestes was the governor of Alexandria at this time, and Cyril was the Bishop of Alexandria, and both became more furious with each other’s actions. Although Hypatia was widely held highly and with virtue by most men, it was because Orestes came to her for council that Cyril cited her – an untrustworthy pagan- as the reason for his and Orestes’ inability to get along, which amounted to the wider conflicts between Christians and Jews in the city. Really, he was jealous of her – jealous that people came to her for her wisdom, and that a woman could hold such a power as wisdom.

One report by Socrates Scholasticus states that after Cyril spread these rumours, she was kidnapped by a mob of Christians, stripped naked in a church, and attacked with roof tiles, before her body was torn limb from limb. Another report says that her body was dragged naked through the city. Along with many others, she was made a scapegoat for the conflicts, and it was because she was such a strong female figure, that she was seen as much of a threat as the other men.

International Women’s Day: Catherine of Aragon

For me, Catherine of Aragon was the strongest of Henry VIII’s wives. Probably even as strong as Elizabeth I – the daughter of Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn.


Born on 16 December 1485, and daughter to Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, she was given an education almost as strong as her brother’s, and we all know that knowledge is power.

She was originally married to Henry the VIII’s older brother Arthur, having been betrothed at the age of three. But their marriage was short-lived as Arthur died soon after at the young age of 16. She was then married to Henry VIII to keep the allegiance between her home country and Henry’s.

Why does she deserve a blog post for International Women’s Day? Because she was quite an interesting and strong character.

When she first came to Britain she couldn’t speak English. Gradually, her Spanish maids-in-waiting were taken from her, and replaced with English women. In essence, she was expected to forget who she was, to become fully English as the future Queen of England. Despite her homesickness, she endeavoured to learn English – which she barely spoke a word of on her arrival – and to win the hearts of the English public.

Even on her wedding day to Arthur, she defied public expectation by showing her Spanish heritage through riding into London side-saddle on a mule. Despite this, she soon won the public’s heart. So much so that when Henry VIII demanded a divorce from her years later, it was to great public disapproval. And the public continued to support her, during Henry’s long drawn-out attempts to claim a divorce from the Pope, making it an international spectacle, and probably the most public divorce you could ask for. All the more humiliating for Catherine, who was now known as the Queen who couldn’t produce a male heir (and who was no longer attractive to the king).

Even though she fought hard against the divorce, in the end she could do little more than sit back and watch as her royal status was slowly taken from her – her home, her waiting staff, her title, and even her daughter Mary. All the while she knew that once upon a time, she had stood in for Henry when he went to war in France in 1513, when he appointed her Regent or Governor of England. In his absence, she had even rode North in full armour, to defend England against the Scots, and was even heavily pregnant at the time. Of course, her daughter Mary never forgot her mother’s integrity, especially that of her religious integrity, and eventually became known as Bloody Mary.

For more information, read David Starkey’s Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII.

International Women’s Day: Melanie Klein

I asked my sister which women or female figures have influenced her in life. She said it’s difficult – most of the people who influenced her through her teenage years, and even now, have been men. But there were a few exceptions – Alanis Morissette, Anne Frank, Judy Blume, Joni Mitchell and Melanie Klein.

Who the frack is Melanie Klein?

melanie klein

Most people have heard of Sigmund Freud, many have heard of Carl Jung, and some will now perhaps recognise Sabina Spielrein as an early, yet somewhat overlooked, psychoanalytic theorist as a result of the film A Dangerous Method. Much of Spielrein’s theories had been forgotten or hidden until the 1970s – even now she is more famous for her possible affair with Carl Jung, not her work which was on a par with her male contemporaries.

In fact it was some of Spielrein’s work, primarily on child development, that influenced Klein when she witnessed a talk given by Spielrein at the Psychoanalytic Congress in 1920.

melanie klein and granddaughter

Melanie Klein (30 March 1882 – 22 September 1960) was a post-Freudian psychoanalyst. She was born in Vienna to Jewish parents, and became influenced by psychoanalytic therapy during the First World War in Budapest. After receiving little support in Berlin for her work in the field, she was invited by British neurologist and psychoanalyst Ernest Jones to work in Britain in 1926. She was a strong follower of Freud, who with Ernest Jones’ help, also moved to Britain in 1938 with his family to escape Nazi persecution.

Klein was the first person to apply psychoanalytic therapy to children, using Freud’s theories on the stages of childhood development, as a basis for her own – such as the object relations theory. She is probably best known for her therapeutic technique of play therapy. But this is where the British Psychoanalytic field divided, as although Klein believed that children could be psychoanalysed, Anna Freud – Sigmund Freud’s daughter – thought the opposite.

She stood out in society. Though she was a woman who was divorced with children, and worked in a field of men, she had an immense impact on psychology and psychotherapy – with play therapy still widely applied today.

International Women’s Day: A Taste of Honey

Yes it’s that time of year – International Women’s Day on the 8th of March.

And why does it exist?

Well, because all the other days of the year are men’s days and we need a chance for all the men in the world to say “Well done, dear” for achieving…something.

Ho ho ho – only kidding! Of course that’s not the reason. No, this day is generally used to raise international awareness of campaigns regarding violence and oppression towards women. It started out back in the early 1900s following a women’s march through New York, demanding better working conditions, pay, and the vote.

Since then, it has been annually recognised. I have therefore decided that for the next 7 days, I will write about  women in history who have influenced me throughout my life (which is difficult – I’ve had to dig through the many male historical figures and the token few Joan of Arcs and Florence Nightingales that too readily spring to mind and remind myself of the women that influenced me) every day for the next 7 days…beginning with:


A Taste of Honey

This duo were a disco band in the 1970s. Why do they make it onto their own blog post? Back in the 70s, (and even the case today, as I have personally experienced) women were not taken seriously by the music industry or the general public as real musicians. Women sang songs written by other people, played by other people and generally did what other people told them. The other people were mainly men. Janice-Marie Johnson and Hazel Payne bucked the trend.

They played alongside drummer Donald Ray Johnson and keyboard-player Perry Kibble, yet they not only fronted the band but also played a collection of instruments and wrote the music. It was their song Boogie Oogie Oogie that sent them to the bigtime – staying at No 1 for three weeks in 1978, and selling more than two million copies. This song impressed me – as a bassist, it taught me that a bassist could be female, funky, lead a band, and sing at the same time. And all in heels. Even today, it still inspires me. Just see for yourself…