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Celebrating Women’s History Month with women of jazz

Scott Haas
Celebrating Women’s History Month with women of jazz
Keanna Faircloth of WBGO COURTESY PHOTO

March is Women’s History Month, and WBGO, the nationally renowned and premiere jazz radio station out of Newark, New Jersey, is celebrating with an array of programming that you can stream for free all month via its website, www.wbgo.org.

From March 1–5, “In The Club” during “Jazz After Hours” with Greg Bryant (weeknights 1 a.m.-6 a.m.) will feature live recordings from female artists, including Mary Lou Williams Live at Keystone Korner (March 4) and Betty Carter Live at Village Vanguard (March 5). On March 2, original works by the Diva Jazz Orchestra from their 25th Anniversary Project  will be the focus of a show hosted by Rhonda Hamilton.

Lezlie Harrison COURTESY PHOTO

The Checkout, a podcast hosted by Simon Rentner, will feature an interview with Rio Sakairi, artistic director and director of programming at The Jazz Gallery. Born and raised in Tsuchiura, Japan, Sakairi came to New York in 1990 and is recognized for her support of emerging jazz musicians. Among her achievements is having helped to create and present a collaborative project with Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest and the reunited Roy Hargrove Big Band. This collaboration broke down a wall between jazz and hip-hop and fired others to take similar musical chances.

A highlight of the month takes place on March 10 from 8 – 9 p.m. on a special edition of The Pulse, a Facebook Live series, featuring the women of WBGO in “a discussion on navigating a career in radio, the challenges of working in male dominated spaces and the unique landscape of jazz.” The evening will feature on-air hosts Sheila Anderson, Rhonda Hamilton, Awilda Rivera, Lezlie Harrison, Monifa Brown, and Nicole Sweeney in conversation with host Keanna Faircloth.

Nicole Sweeney COURTESY PHOTO

Faircloth, who joined WBGO in October 2019, hosts “Afternoon Jazz” Monday through Friday, from 4–8 p.m. In March, on the show’s “Unsung” segment, Faircloth will spotlight women artists she describes to the Banner as “not receiving the recognition that they deserve.”

On March 4, vocalist and saxophonist Vi Redd is featured; on March 5, it will be pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi. Later in the month, Faircloth is considering features on violinist and Berklee Professor Chelsey Green, saxophonist Roxy Coss, singer and songwriter Joyce Moreno, and vocalist Kay Davis.

Awilda Rivera COURTESY PHOTO

Asked what advice she would give young women starting careers in music or broadcasting, Faircloth tells the Banner, “I started my career in radio when I was a student at Howard University, and that will be 18 years as of this August. I did a lot of work for free or for little or no money as an intern. And while I was working, I tried to learn everything, from production to being on-air. And that’s what’s behind success: Learn everything. Don’t limit yourself. And know, too, that you have a voice worth having, a perspective that’s unique. Our sensibility as women will always be wanted. Remember that what you have to offer and say is valid.”

WBGO, which launched in 1979 with Dorthaan Kirk as a founder and Rhonda Hamilton as one of the first voices, has always had a leadership role in bringing women into the foreground of radio. This year marks the first time in the station’s history that a coordinated stationwide programming initiative around Women’s History Month is taking place. The change coincides with new leadership at the station: Steven Williams started as President & CEO the first week of January.

For five years in the 1980s, Congress continued to pass laws proclaiming Women’s History Week, until 1987, when the National Women’s History Project petitioned that the entire month of March be recognized as Women’s History Month.

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