Artemis Media Project (Foley, AL)

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            Black and white archival photo of the all-women international Sweethearts of Rhythm jazz orchestra

The all-women international Sweethearts of Rhythm from the Piney Woods country life School in Piney Woods, Mississippi, were featured in the radio documentary Swingtime. Photo courtesy of Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University

When the Great Depression began in 1929, it was an especially difficult time for African-American schools and bands to exist. The swing bands served as a recruitment tool for African-American colleges as a whole, not just their music departments. As swing music became popular from coast to coast, these college bands were in demand, offering more opportunities for African-Americans in both education and the workplace. In addition, these bands’ experiences reflected the lives of African Americans during the Depression and war years, and their triumphs and tribulations. In FY 2007, Artemis Media Project received an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $5,000 to honor these college swing bands from the 1930s and 1940s with a one hour, engaging radio documentary, Swingtime, featuring music and interviews with members from these bands.

Swingtime, made in celebration of Black History Month, was distributed nationally by Public Radio International to more than 75 stations throughout the United States with a total audience of more than 82,000 people. The radio documentary told the story of three influential bands: the Bama State Collegians, Prairie View Co-Eds, and International Sweethearts of Rhythm, exploring the social, musical, and historical legacy of the bands and their role in the development of American musical culture. State-of-the-art recording facilities were used and a Web site was designed to increase access to information about these bands.

The documentary also included more current swing music from Alabama State University, Piney Woods, and Prairie View schools, as well as archival interviews and music. The late Erskine Hawkins of the Bama State Collegians was featured in an interview along with other band members from that time, including trumpeter Clora Bryant from the Prairie View Co-Eds and saxophonist Roz Cron from the International Sweethearts. Listeners heard firsthand what life was like during the Great Depression, and stories about segregation and wartime struggles. They gained a new appreciation for the music they grew up listening to and a better understanding of the musicians’ struggles.

(From the NEA 2007 Annual Report)