The Sweethearts of Rhythm is the story of a real all girl band that traveled around the country in the 1930s and 1940s. The band was unusual because it was all girls and because it was integrated.
One reason the girls got this chance is World War II. A lot of men were fighting in the war so it was easier for a girl band to get gigs. Sometimes the band had trouble performing because the band was integrated. When the band played in the South they had to sleep on their tour bus because it was illegal there for black and white people to be in the same restaurant or hotel. Sometimes the girls had to wear disguises to hide the fact that their skin color was not all the same.
The author tells the story of the Sweethearts in poems. She uses the rhythms of jazz music in her poetry. Read the poems, look at the great pictures and then don’t forget to read the author’s note in the back.
From the 1870s to the 1950s, Indiana Avenue in Indianapolis served as the focal point of Indianapolis’s black community. The black population in Indianapolis surged in the early 1900s as blacks migrated to the city from the South. Indiana Avenue businesses included restaurants, saloons, grocery stores, clothing stores, hair stylists, barber shops, a hotel, and more. Some of the most well known businesses on the Avenue were the Indianapolis Recorder (a black newspaper) and the Walker Building (which housed a casino and theatre, offices, a beauty college, drugstore, and restaurant.) In the 1930s, the Avenue’s businesses were focused on food and entertainment. By 1940 there were more than twenty-five jazz clubs on the Avenue where both national talent and local legends played. (from The Indiana Historical Society 2011 Indiana Black History Challenge)
I wonder if the Sweethearts of Rhythm ever played there? Here is a movie poster of a different performer from the 1950s advertising a Rhythm and Blues show in Indianapolis. The poster is an Artifact at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.
Lula Reed Poster – Lula Reed began to demonstrate her singing ability in church in the late 1940s. With the help of well-known gospel singer Harold Boggs, Reed débuted with the Sonny Thompson Orchestra in 1951. Achieving two hits on the Billboard Rhythm and Blues Chart, she performed for audiences throughout the country. On one of these trips, she performed for African American audiences in Naptown, a nickname for Indianapolis, at the Rhythm and Blues Show in the late 1950s.
Websites, Activities & Printables:
- Video: The Sweethearts of Rhythm
- Scholastic:History of Jazz
- Indiana University: Archives of African American Music and Culture
- Brown University: African American Sheet Music
- National Museum of American History: Jazz
- Fact Monster: Notable African-American Musicians
Biography in Context is a database you can use in any IndyPL Library Branch or at home. Biography in Context will show you biographies, magazines, videos and more about The Sweethearts of Rhythm and other African American Musicians.
Use your indyPL Library Card to check out books at any of our locations, or check out e-books and e-audiobooks from home right to your device. Click on a book jacket below to request a book or download it. Need help? Call or ask a Library staff member at any of our locations, text a librarian at 317 333-6877, or leave a comment.
To learn even more about fascinating and inspiring black history makers, visit the Center for Black Literature & Culture at Central Library. The Center is dedicated to celebrating the vibrant and resilient heritage and triumphs of those born of African roots.
“To get young people engaged, one of the things they need is to see themselves in books. It is important for all of us to see ourselves in books, because that encourages us to read in a different way and encourages us to write more.” ~ Dr. Jerrie Cobb Scott Founder of the African American Read-in #weneeddiversebooksPrint This Post