I am featuring unsung contributors to their music genre’s. You’ve probably never heard of them either, but you might know their music. By saying their names, they are not forgotten. And there are many more yet to discover.

Peggy Gilbert, born Margaret Fern Knechtges on January 17, 1905, in Sioux City, Iowa, was a pioneering figure in the world of jazz and an advocate for women in music. Her career spanned several decades, during which she broke barriers and championed the role of women in a predominantly male-dominated industry. Gilbert was not just a talented musician but also a bandleader, saxophonist, and a vocal advocate for female musicians.

Gilbert’s musical journey began in the 1920s when she formed her first all-women band, “The Melody Girls,” which achieved considerable success. She moved to Los Angeles in the 1930s and continued to perform and organize all-female bands, most notably “Peggy Gilbert and her All-Girl Band.” This group, and others like it, provided rare opportunities for female musicians to showcase their talents during a time when they were often excluded from the mainstream jazz scene. Gilbert and her bands played a variety of venues, from clubs to film studios, and even on radio broadcasts.

What set Peggy Gilbert apart was not just her musical talent but also her relentless advocacy for the rights and recognition of female musicians. She fought against gender discrimination in the music industry, ensuring that women had opportunities to perform and be heard. Her efforts helped pave the way for future generations of female musicians. Gilbert continued performing well into her 90s, leaving behind an inspiring legacy when she passed away on February.

Cindy Walker wrote over 50 songs for Bob Wills, including “Cherokee Maiden” and “Bubbles In My Beer”.

She had top ten hits in five straight decades (1940s – 1980s) which included songs she wrote for Bing Crosby, Gene Autry, Al Dexter, Eddy Arnold, Hank Snow, Webb Pierce, Jim Reeves, Roy Orbison, Glen Campbell, Ricky Skaggs, Ray Charles, Lacy J. Dalton, Riders in the Sky, Mickey Gilley, and Merle Haggard among MANY other artists. She became a charter member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970 and was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997. Willie Nelson recorded You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker in 2006. So, Willie has kept her songs alive.

Cindy Walker’s songs live on and are still being played every night somewhere. One of the greatest songwriters in American history.

Elayne Jones, percussionist, (1928-2022)

Born in NYC to Barbadian immigrants, Elayne Jones became one of the most prolific and important percussionists in music history.

Playing with the San Francisco Symphony and Opera, and the American Symphony Orchestra, Jones became the first Black opera orchestra member of the New York City Opera in 1949, where she played for eleven years!

In 1958 she became the first documented African American to play with the New York Philharmonic, and in 1960 she became part of the newly created American Symphony Orchestra led by Leopold Stokowski.

In 1972 she won a blind audition for the San Francisco Symphony under the supervision of Seiji Ozawa, making her the only African American to attain such a position at the time.

She co-founded the Symphony of the New World, which advocated integration.

Overcoming racism and sexism, Elayne Jones stood strong and provided the world her artistry and vision.

Elayne Jones began her musical journey at a young age. Growing up in Harlem, she started in her local church choir, learning piano and voice as a child. One day, her mother saw that Duke Ellington was giving out scholarships to Juilliard. Jones was the only black and only female to receive one!

Following her graduation at Juilliard, Elayne went on to work as a freelance musician in New York City, Cleveland, San Francisco, and many other major operas and symphonies across the country. Her spirit and talent became widely known. Elayne Jones was a trailblazer, opening her own, integrated symphony.

She gave hundreds of lectures in San Francisco and taught at Bronx Community College in the 60s and 70s. In her retirement, she wrote a 310 page autobiography called, “Little Lady with a Big Drum.” In 2019, she became the fourth female member of the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame

The Melody girls live on and by the looks of the changing cultures they are being heard by accessibility.

The Melody Girls
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