After the opera, ballet, and classical music seasons ended at New York City’s Lincoln Center, a magical transformation took place around the bandshell in Damrosch Park. A dance floor materialized, framed by hundreds of twinkling lights, and Midsummer Night Swing got underway late last month with a three-week series of swing, salsa, disco, rock ’n’ roll and dance sessions.
In the opening concert, Bria Skonberg led a powerhouse all-female band that paid tribute to the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the first integrated all-woman band in the United States from the 1940s.
The 14-piece all-star aggregation that Bria recruited featured violinist Regina Carter and clarinetist Anat Cohen along with saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, Sharel Cassity, Chloe Feoranzo and Camille Thurman; trombonist Emily Asher; trumpeters Linda Briceno and Jami Dauber; pianist Champion Fultons’ bassist Endea Owens; drummer Savannah Harris; and tap dancer Michela Lerman.
– International Sweethearts –
The International Sweethearts of Rhythm were once described by pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines as “the first Freedom Riders.” The original members of the band came from the Piney Woods Country Life School, a school for orphaned African-American children in Mississippi. They initially toured raising money for the school, but ended its connection with Piney Woods in 1941.
The make-up of 14-to-19-year olds from different races, including Latina, Asian, Caucasian, and Native American, lent the band an “international” flavor. Pauline Braddy, the drummer had been tutored by Big Sid Catlett and Jo Jones. They played such venues as the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, the Howard in Washington, D.C. (where they set a box office record of 35,000 patrons in one 1941 week), the Regal Theatre in Chicago, the Cotton Club in Cincinnati, the Riviera in St. Louis, the Dreamland in Omaha, and the Club Plantation in Los Angeles.
The original members received $1 a day for food, plus $1 a week for allowance – a grand total of $8 a week. By the time the band broke up in the late ‘40s, the musicians were making $15 a night, working three nights a week. During World War II, the Sweethearts embarked on a six-month tour performing for troops in France and Germany, making them the first integrated women’s band to travel for the USO.
– July Schedule –
The Glenn Crytzer Orchestra followed the Sisterhood of Swing with its rendition of 1930s and ’40 jazz on June 30. The July schedule includes the Brianna Thomas blues band on July 1st; Garba in the Park showcasing two dance groups from India, on the 3rd; Mambo Legends (made up of former members of Tito Puento’s band), on the 4th; Tanghetto from Buenos Aires, the 5th; Lindy Hop champion Naomi Uyama and her Handsome Devils, 6th; Heybale one of Austin’s hottest honkytonk bands for an evening of the Texas two-step, 7th; Puerto Rican salseros Orquesta Macabeco, 10th; Havana-style salsa Orquesta Akokan, 12th; U.K soul man James Hunter, 13th; and the Harlem Renaissance Orchestra, 14th.
The annual Lincoln Center Kids Dance with dancing classrooms for children ages 6-10 will take place on the afternoon of July 14, along with Silent Disco after-parties where DJs broadcast straight to dancers’ headphones.
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