Ernestine Davis

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A trumpeter who was often called the "female" Louis Armstrong, Ernestine "Tiny" Davis was a member of the all-female International Sweethearts of Rhythm, a popular and innovatively interracial big band…
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A trumpeter who was often called the "female" Louis Armstrong, Ernestine "Tiny" Davis was a member of the all-female International Sweethearts of Rhythm, a popular and innovatively interracial big band that was formed in the late '30s. She was the group's best soloist, and was reportedly offered ten times her salary in the band to jump ship and go to work for Captain Satchmo, who apparently loved her playing. In the decades following the career of the band, Davis and her associates, such as her long-term partner, pianist Ruby Lucas, became adopted as cultural heroes for the gay rights movement. Davis and Lucas, who also performed under the name of Renee Phelan, ran a bar called Tiny and Ruby's Gay Spot in Chicago during the '50s. The two were the subject of a documentary film entitled Tiny and Ruby: Hell Divin' Women.

A great player, Davis was never really taken seriously simply because she was female. Even the opportunity to work steadily was denied until the Second World War took quite a few male musicians out of reach of ringing phones. This resulted in a few different female bands having the opportunity to perform, some of them such as the International Sweethearts of Rhythm amassing large followings and breaking attendance records. But because of the mixed racial grouping within the band, which not only included blacks and whites but Latinas and Asians as well, exposure was mostly limited to black audiences. Tours through the South were particularly heinous, with white players either having to put on blackface or hide beneath the skirts of one of the black players to avoid being arrested for violating Jim Crow laws.