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Influence of the Rosie The Riveter Movement on Girl Jazz Bands During the World War II

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World War II is remembered for its fostering of the Greatest Generation, the Rosie the Riveter movement and an overwhelming amount of American Nationalism. This pivotal event of the twentieth century marked a new culture and era. When great nations clashed on the battlefield, the resulting impacts are extensive with many events and cultures being often marginalized or completely forgotten amongst future generations.

Swing music became the cultural link to World War II. The genre proved an outlet to both men and women to forget the tragedy of war and an opportunity to come together and dance. Linked to peacetime, swing music, ironically, was fostered by one of the most devastating times in American history: the Great Depression. This enlightening explosion came from a time when people’s meer priorities were providing food on the table and roofs over their heads.

While popularized in the 1930s it would take a decade for the sound to develop into a cultural identity of American music. The 1940s provided the opportunity for American culture to absorb and carry the genre as their pop culture. However, with so many men fulfilling their duty as soldiers during World War II, one would assume the music scene would shut down as more and more musicians were drafted. Yet, this was the time the genre flourished into how future generations know it today. Because swing music was cherished by both men and women, there was a desire from each to want to perform and be involved in this musical style. Women who played instruments and composed arrangements experienced a hefty debate and controversy in music societies and pop culture. While history books place emphasis and promote swing music icons such as Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Fletcher Henderson as the genre’s leaders, they neglect to even mention the all-female who in some cases revolutionized the genre in secrecy.

This secrecy in part is due to the lack of records available. This has been one of the largest historical problems in studying and promoting all-girl bands. With little record that these bands existed, when the war ended the glory faded. Men returned and immediately returned to musical careers and the all-women bands slowly broke up and faded away. Never again would there be as much appreciation for all-women bands, as they were quickly reminded that they were ‘Swing Shaft Maisies’; substitutes for the real thing: men.

During World War II, all-women bands performed in both civilian and military groups utilizing swing music as a reminder of a peaceful past in hopes of boosting morale for the American people. During this time period, the symbolism of Rosie the Riveter gave these women the ability and possibility to foster a movement and take part in the music genre. Despite societal prejudice, these big bands proved to take part and fulfill the role to the male counterparts. It is not until recently, although, that these all-girl big bands have emerged from the dark and have been included in jazz music’s history. Through their careers and musical work they became the link between swing music and World War II for America.

As the war drove men off into fighting around the globe, middle-class women took their place and entered the workforce to aid the effort. This movement was later recognized and represented by a quintessential image of World War II: Rosie the Riveter. She was not just a woman worker but an image that represented the right doings for the female population at the time. Described by Sarah Hawks, Rosie the Riveter was: “The modern factory girl – a woman who could effortlessly bridge the gap between masculine and feminine”. She represented a women’s duty to America while her partner was fulfilling his abroad. As the demand for men rose overseas, the demand for shifted over to women in the economic market. Men who once played and performed in big bands were now fighting in foreign countries, so women were now put into a demand spotlight at home. Nightclubs did not shut down, so women fled into filling these positions at rapid rates. In most cases, these women had started their musical career long before World War II but due to circumstances their popularity and success came from the lack of men available at the time. Tucker describes their success by their attitudes to the Rosie The Riveter movement. The Rosie The Riveter movement gave women musicians to pitch their music as an effort for the war. This allowed for a gain in publicity and reviews even if they were professional musicians before.

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Although given the publicity they deserved, these all-girl bands still struggled with being characterized as ‘real musicians’, as many perceived them as substitutes filling in until the ‘real bands’ returned. Rosie the Riveter movement was aligned and link to the all-girl bands because women would improve their chances for bookings and improved their popularity if they were linked to a patriotic icon. If not linked, they would risk being regarded as unpatriotic; in simplest terms this image was forced on them by society purely because of their gender.

Prior to World War II all-girl bands existed but were shadowed by American society. During the 1930s all-women bands such as Ina Ray Hutton and the International Sweethearts of Rhythm were able to gain popularity. With this, these brass bands performed successfully but were still confined to the domestic sphere in which women musicians were looked as the substitute cheerleaders that no matter how well they performed, would never be taken seriously. This followed into the 1940s with women musicians continuously struggling to figure out ways to be viewed as legitimate without linking themselves to images of patriotism. At the same time, all-girl jazz bands needed Rosie the Riveter as they weren’t able to gain the publicity they sought for until the movement began. This link provided the toolbox for women musicians to fight in keeping the morale high during World War II, ultimately linking their swing performances to World War II.

During World War II, the United Service Organization became the institution troops would rely on for emotional support. Through their performances troops not only receive this support but were able to reconnect with their American culture. This exposure allowed for motivation and enthusiasm to continue their war effort. This music provided nostalgia and desire for things to return back to normal. Of the United States Organization a large sect became all-girl bands; there to reinforce hope through their musical performances. These American all-girl bands that toured with USO included the Sharon Rogers Band, Ada Leonard’s All-American Girl Band, Joy Cayler’s Band, D’Artega’s All-Girl Orchestra, and the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. Known for being a racially integrated band, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, had problems in the south due to harsh race relations. Beyond society not fully accepting all-girl jazz bands, there was severe rejection of multi-racial women bands in America. However, the all-girl jazz bands that toured through the USO enjoyed these performances setting all racial judgement aside.

On the road, troops enjoyed the visual aspects of these performances. Much of their success is often connected to the objectification of these performers. While the music was appreciated, the femininity and physical appearance of the performers was given the same amount of value. Glamour became closely associated with patriotical duty. The popularity of swing music its women performers amongst the troops gave women the opportunity to not only control their sexual identity but showcase it publicly. Women in the USO were able to set sexual encounters on their own terms. Women were given the ability to comment and display sexual tensions where as those comments were most likely kept hidden prior to the war. This societal development was a direct result of the wartime atmosphere as expectations of gender-roles were completely demolished. This allowed women to define these roles within American Society by sparking conversation on feminine sexuality and its new meaning.

These young women embodied the dream of American men to come home to their glamorous American wifes. Sharon Rogers’ All-Girl Band idealized this image of white American womanhood and sparked the troops with a spirit of adventure. This allowed them to attain their ultimate goal of improving morale of America; a goal that all girl jazz bands had when touring with the USO.

While World War II allowed all-girl jazz bands to become a prominent image through the public eye, it is easy to forget that these jazz musicians had been performing since the 1930s. With lack of documentation, however, there is great scarcity to information about these women during this period. With still little material, it is easy for men to dominate this genre and its narrative. However, with the emergence of new reporting on all-girl bands, this narrative can revolutionize into an account that is not only more inclusive but more authentic. These women will be viewed as true artist who furthered the genre by their own merit. These women were not a circumstance of an era but a stimulant to change in music and society.

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Influence of the Rosie The Riveter Movement on Girl Jazz Bands During the World War II. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
“Influence of the Rosie The Riveter Movement on Girl Jazz Bands During the World War II.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
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