Lady Be Good

Ada L's Girl Band


"Lady Be Good is a mesmerizing film about female jazz instrumentalists! The photography, interviews and live footage of extremely talented, passionate and courageous players is spellbinding. These are women who open our ears, eyes and hearts as they blaze the trail for others to follow. It is an inspirational must see for anyone interested in the history of American music."

— Nancy Rumbel GRAMMY award winning instrumentalist

"Lady Be Good was such a refreshing joy! It was so well done and so inspiring, I didn’t want it to end. It was very enlightening in so many ways, it's sinful that I wasn’t aware of many of these players. There wasn’t one female player in it that didn’t completely kick ass. Every school really needs this film as required viewing."

— Jennifer Batten Guitarist

"It would be incredible to have it as required learning in our schools. It would be so good for inner city kids to know what all the roots are, to grow musically and just for self-esteem as a person. I think it would be fantastic."

— Quincy Jones

"Lady Be Good is an essential and exciting film encyclopedia of performances and interviews that demonstrate shared experiences of Womens' historic engagement of jazz--especially as musicians, arrangers and bandleaders--as well as diversities based on race, class, era, region and personal style."

— American Routes Producer

"Kay D. Ray’s film, Lady Be Good: Instrumental Women in Jazz, draws deeply from rare archival footage and interviews to illuminate the myriad of ways in which female jazz musicians contributed to the development of the idiom, despite numerous challenges placed before them in the name of gender. It is a celebration of survival that leaves no doubt about the abilities of the women who devoted their lives to jazz."

— Bruce Raeburn, Curator, Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University

"Lady Be Good: Instrumental Women in Jazz (Kay D. Ray, 2014). A Seattle filmmaker shines a light on unsung (no pun intended) female musicians, with lots of interviews and vintage clips. A bounty of wonderful stories, and the music – from soulful to silly – is pretty much a treasure from top to bottom."

— Robert Horton Film Critic

Lady Be Good; Instrumental Women In Jazz, by Holly Homan

BY ADMIN, ON JUNE 7TH, 2014 East Portland Blog

My third movie as part of Seattle International Film Festival was an utmost treasure. Lady Be Good: Instrumental Women In Jazz was a documentary by Director Kay Ray, and co-producer Cathy Wadley. Lady Be Good reveals the lost stories of female jazz musicians from the early 1920s to the 1970s through archival footage and interviews with the surviving members of the orchestra leaders and players.

The names Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, etc. are still legend, but who has heard of The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, The Syncoettes, (Sweet Emma Barrett, Lil Hardin-Armstrong), through the rise of the all-woman big bands (Ina Ray Hutton & Her Melodears, the Hollywood Redheads), to the female musicians that were instrumental players (Dorothy Donegan, Mary Osborne) and arrangers (Mary Lou Williams, Melba Liston). These women broke down barriers to lead and play big band music, often sharing the stage with the all male bands. This occurred at a time when jazz was considered seedy and inappropriate for women. Women weren’t supposed to play horns like trumpets or saxophone, and, god forbid, drums.

During the second world war, the all female bands played all over the country and many times played in army bases to entertain troops.

Many of these bands were all black women, while some were mixed. This posed a serious problem when they toured the south during Jim Crow. They had to watch where they went, whom they associated with, and the black musicians couldn’t stay in certain hotels. Often they were taken in by black families or traveled in a large bus that doubled as sleeping quarters with berths.

Still, they often weren’t taken seriously and looked upon more as a novelty than as serious musicians. When they refused to meet officers alone in hotel rooms they found themselves fired from playing for the USO and after the war the all female bands were forced to dissolve to make way for the returning men. One woman described how when she came into a bar manager’s office to get paid, he chased her around his desk.

The anecdotes and sheer demeanor of the women came across poignant and charming. I had never heard of these all female bands, nor had I any familiarity with their names. I do now.

Lady Be Good is an absolute treasure.

– Holly Homan

Kay D. Ray Uncovers Musical History

Thursday, May 29, 2014 | by GILLIAN G. GAAR, Cityartsonline

Asked to name a woman in jazz, most people would think of a vocalist like Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald. But local filmmaker Kay D. Ray has uncovered a hitherto unexplored history of female instrumentalists in her latest film Lady Be Good: Instrumental Women in Jazz, which plays SIFF on June 1 and 2, with Ray and co-producer Cathy Wadley scheduled to attend.

After attending film school in Vancouver B.C., Ray worked on low budget features, corporate films, commercials, and documentaries in Los Angeles for five years. She then returned to the Pacific Northwest, where she's produced and directed film projects for the Museum of History and Industry, Experience Music Project, Spokane's Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, and the Washington State Historical Society, as well as the films Corazon Contento: Then and Now, created for a special needs school in Nicaragua, and Ernestine Anderson: There Will Never Be Another You.

Lady Be Good has been a labor of love for Ray, who began working on the film in the '90s. “I love meeting people, finding out their stories, and searching for archival footage and photos to help their stories come alive,” she says. It's that determination to bring a story to life that makes Lady Be Good such a fascinating and compelling film.

What gave you the idea to make this film?
A colleague's husband told me his mother was a jazz guitarist. I had studied jazz at the University of Washington and had not heard of any women jazz musicians, let alone a jazz guitarist. They showed me a film clip from Art Ford's Jazz Party TV show of Mary Osborne playing a big beautiful Gibson guitar with a male jazz quartet and backing up Billie Holiday. She was jammin' and I loved her guitar!

I began to write a film just about Mary, then as I continued my research, I was referred to more and more women musicians. Dr. Sherrie Tucker was doing her PhD thesis on women big bands, and gave me numerous women's names and contacts. So I kept writing grants, having fundraisers, going around the United States filming interviews with dozens of women who spent their lives as musicians both in all-girl bands and with men's bands. I kept waiting to find that someone else had done this film, but no one had at that time. I felt obligated to continue the work after these women opened up their lives, their time and stories with me.

Why do you think there hadn't been a film on this subject before?
Because the subject was huge and ignored and the archival footage and music was scarce, many believed the subject didn't warrant being part of the story of jazz history; the belief that "Women can't play jazz." And because the clearances were expensive.

I’m sure you didn’t expect you’d be working on this film for 20 years. Would you have taken it on if you knew that? What were the biggest obstacles?
I think the biggest obstacle was funding. I learned how to write grants and actually get some! Not something I ever wanted to learn, but as an independent, you have to learn to do everything. I want to especially thank all the individuals, and granting organizations that emotionally and financially supported me and this project. I really couldn't have completed this film without them.

Because this was a part time project as I worked with the museum jobs and occasional corporate clients, this film took longer to complete than originally thought. Jean Bach, who produced A Great Day In Harlem told me 15 years ago to start my music clearances as soon as possible. She was so right. I cleared most of the music and film rights along the way but had to wait until the final film cut to go to the majors; Universal, EMI, Warner Chappell. Through an attorney in LA, I've finally finished, but they are outrageously expensive for an independent film and will limit my ability to distribute the film as much as I would like.

How did you go about finding your interviewees? What surprised you and what made you think, 'wow, things haven’t changed for women musicians?'
I wrote the original proposal from my research from the books Stormy Weather by Linda Dahl, American Women In Jazz by Sally Placksin and Black Women in Orchestras and Bands by Dr. Antoinette Handy. From their histories, I began calling. Each woman I met, each historian I spoke with, led me to another woman and where they lived. The most surprising discovery was how many women were playing music in the 1930s,'40s and '50s. Some of the obstacles that many of these women encountered still exist today—sexism, women rarely accepted in male big bands—although the scene has changed. You do see women on the bandstand more often now, and most people aren't surprised. But the old boys network still exists in the educational system; very few women have university tenure in music departments.

I was delighted to meet 100-year-old New Orleans pianist Sadie Goodson who sang and played “Don't Get Around Much Anymore” for me; Aletra and Virtue Hampton, who were so close they finished each others sentences; and to have Marion McPartland play for me on her beautiful grand piano in her living room. At those moments, I thought "I love this job!" I really enjoyed meeting all these women who spent so much of their lives on the road doing what they loved to do. I was also fortunate to meet and interview Jesse Stone, Artie Shaw, Quincy Jones and Gerald Wilson.

You've amassed a lot of material over the years while you were working on the film; what your plans for it?
I would love to create a traveling museum exhibit with the records, recordings, posters, photos, concepts from early days of jazz in the 1920s, the family bands, all girl bands, women in men's bands, the USO, an interactive radio blindfold test—choosing women vs men bands—use some of the contemporary women musician interviews talking about the glass ceiling, and where jazz is going today. I've been playing with ideas and want to write a proposal soon.

Is there a DVD release planned?
I am in discussion with a couple of distribution companies, but really hope to get distribution in the libraries and educational systems. Video on demand may not be a possibility because of the large companies' music clearance limitations.

Besides the obvious point of the film uncovering a hidden history, is there anything else you think is especially important about this film?
In addition to telling powerful and inspiring stories, Lady Be Good will educate people about the importance of female musicianship and their persistence in the male-dominated jazz field. It is so important that their musical narratives be integrated into the American musical history.

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