The sound started even before Ma Rainey and Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith came along. It grew and set new artistic standards in the work of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington. And it's still going strong.
The sound of women's voices has always been close to the heart of jazz. So it's fitting that the American Jazz Museum celebrates women in jazz by inviting two first-class singers, Mary Stallings and Karrin Allyson, to perform Saturday at the Gem Theater in front of the 18th and Vine Big Band, an aggregation of great local players assembled by Bobby Watson.
Stallings isn't as well-known to Kansas City audiences as Allyson, but her vast experience in music parallels the experience of many women in jazz -- those who found success and many who didn't.
It's been a full ride, I tell you," says Stallings, who's worked with musicians ranging from Count Basie to Dizzy Gillespie to Louis Jordan to Cal Tjader. I look back at the years and many venues and start running over all the musicians I worked with in my mind, and it's just amazing. When you're there you don't think much about it, but later on, my God!" Like many others, she said, she found her voice singing in church.
I was 8 years old," she said. Both my sisters played and sang. We had a little group, and I was the lead singer. Then one sister got married, and that put me out on my own, a solo act at age 10."