Little is known of Davis’ early life and thus her career (so far) is where most get acquainted with her. In 1937, the Piney Woods Country Life School of Mississippi founded the 16-piece band known as The International Sweethearts of Rhythm. The purpose of the band was to financially support the school, which educated the poor and orphaned black children in that state. But in 1941, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm severed their ties with the Piney Woods Country Life School, moved to Virginia and recruited seasoned professionals to join their band.
Included in this group of professional musicians were Anna Mae Winburn, who previously had been singing with and directing an all-male orchestra, singer/trumpeter Ernestine "Tiny" Davis, and alto saxophonist Roz Cron. They toured the United States extensively, with the high points of their tour being the Apollo Theater in New York, the Regal Theater in Chicago, and the Howard Theater in Washington, D. C., where their debut set a box office record of 35,000 patrons in one week. One such engagement was at The Apollo where the audience was on their feet, dancing to the unique rhythms those all-male, white big bands would later hire black arrangers to copy. The energy pulses and throbs as they swung through the moves the new dance form demanded; vibrated the building in Harlem that night.
Tiny Davis was part of the The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, with Edna Williams, Willie Mae Wong, and her partner, Ruby Lucas. While their exposure to white audiences was somewhat limited, they were extremely popular with black audiences. With her partner they owned Tiny and Ruby's Gay Spot in Chicago during the 1950s. In 1988, a short film entitled Tiny & Ruby: Hell Divin' Women was made as a tribute to Davis and Lucas, her partner of 42 years. Ernestine “Tiny” Davis died in 1994.
Louis Armstrong and Eddie Durham stood in the wings, smiling broadly as Ernestine "Tiny" Davis took off in a riveting solo. The International Sweethearts of Rhythm pushed the fevered audience to new levels as Edna Williams, Willie Mae Wong, and Ruby Lucas upped the ante on the song "Swing Shift.” The Sweethearts were unique in that it was both all females as well as a racially integrated group. Latina, Asian, Caucasian, Black, Indian and Puerto Rican women came together and created music that more than held its own in the Swing Era: the musicians and the music they played was admired by their peers, including the likes of Count Basie and Louis Armstrong. Eventually, Armstrong tried (unsuccessfully) to lure Davis away from the International Sweethearts of Rhythm by offering her ten times her salary. They gained their highest notoriety during the war years and toured heavily until 1945, when the American male workforce returned and opportunities for women were again curtailed.
The International Sweethearts of Rhythm played big band jazz that cooks. "The Jubilee Sessions," originally recorded for radio broadcasts aimed toward America’s black soldiers serving during 1943 to 1946, provide a rare opportunity to hear these women play. The Sweethearts did not get as much exposure to mainstream audiences in the South as the all-white, male big bands of their day because of their racial make-up and the atmosphere of violent racism in that region. When they did tour the Deep South, the three or four white women in the group would paint their faces dark so the police would not remove them from the bandstand and arrest them.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
Amazon: Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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