Del Rey’s Women in American Music concert/lecture follows the development of the music from classic blues, to rural blues, to swing and rocking hillbillies, through the stories of the diverse and interesting women that played music from 1900 to 1950. The show begins in the ’20s when pianists Lovie Austin and Lil Hardin, led jazz bands and wrote songs for singers like Alberta Hunter and Blue Lu Barker. Moving on to the ’30s singers Mildred Bailey and Billie Holiday are followed by instrumentalists like pianist Mary Lou Williams and bebop guitarist Mary Osborne. The bluegrass and hillbilly women are represented by Rose Maddox and the great tradition of Tex-Mex border music by singer and 12-string guitarist Lydia Mendoza. The diverse music of these women is tied together by new guitar arrangements that bring the songs to life for younger generations. The show is interesting both for its historical information and the innovative musicianship involved in playing these pieces on guitar. There is both humor and inspiration to be enjoyed in the lives and music of these women and it is exciting to have a woman instrumentalist playing the songs in the here and now.
Women in American Music is available as a 60–75 minute concert presentation or as a workshop 30–60 minutes long which includes time for question and comment afterwards. Focused presentations can be designed for particular class topics; for instance a focus on Depression era music, or the music of Memphis. A reading list and suggested topics for classroom use are also available.
Women With Guitar: Forgotten American guitarists from 1900 to 1950 is an exhibit of historical photographs and text. It was first commissioned for the 1997 In Guitar festival in Dubendorf Switzerland. Musician and writer Del Rey unearthed an exciting array of guitarists from parlor music to bebop. She dug through archives, interviewed family members and scoured the Internet for the stories and music of these unjustly neglected musicians.
The exhibit incorporates text biographies of women guitarists in American popular music with ten 20 x 24 inch photographs. Accompanying the photographic exhibit is a video of rare archival film shorts showing the work of Mary Osborne, Mary Kay, Rosetta Tharpe and others. The Women With Guitar exhibit can be shown in conjunction with a live concert/lecture from guitarist Del Rey on the broader subject of Women In American Music.
Vahdah Olcott Bickford Revere (1885-1980) primarily a classical player, she had a great interest in “parlor music”, a combination of classics and popular songs of
Memphis Minnie (1897-1973) recorded over 200 sides between 1929 and 1949.
Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973) and Mary Deloatch both had peculiar crossover careers between gospel and secular music.
Mary Osborne (1910-1989) was a bebop guitarist who worked on 52nd Street in the forties
Mary Kay played jazz and pop music from Las Vegas to the Sunset Strip in the fifties.
Lydia Mendoza first recorded in 1928, her guitar and vocals developing from the rich mixture of border culture and music in the Southwestern USA.
Maybelle Carter played a distinctive style of country guitar that became the traditional sound for several generations of muscians.