Today’s Love Goes to America’s First Integrated All-Female Band

The International Sweethearts of Rhythm gained popularity in the 1940's, at a time when an all-female group couldn't be taken seriously as a jazz band.

By Asraa Mustufa Apr 04, 2011

Today’s love is a blast from the past that shows us how far music and artistic expression can go in defying gender and race boundaries. The International Sweethearts of Rhythm gained popularity in the 1940’s, at a time when an all-female group couldn’t be taken seriously as a jazz band.  The Sweethearts were a multiracial women’s ensemble that eschewed the soothing quality of songs by other all-girl orchestras of the day in favor of some hard-hitting jazz that often broke records made by popular male bands. 


The Sweethearts’ original members were black, Hawaiian, Mexican, and Chinese.  John McDonough of NPR’s "All Things Considered" explains how, in the beginning, the band was able to sidestep the controversy of its diverse composition. 


"Seen through the peculiar lens of 1940s Mississippi law, [member Willie Mae] Wong wasn’t out of place in a largely black orchestra — her Chinese face was as nonwhite as a black one. For the moment, then, the Sweethearts were able to evade the social consequences of race mixing and the arm of Jim Crow."


Trouble began when the Sweethearts brought in two white players, including saxophonist Rosalind Cron, and the tension was especially pronounced in the Deep South. After an incident at a Baltimore restaurant, Cron recalled her road manager explaining Jim Crow laws to her, and giving her the option of going home. 


 "After that Baltimore episode and I had made up my mind right then and there without any hesitation, I knew — in a sense, I knew what I was in for but not really, of course, " Cron told NPR.  "But I knew whatever it took, that’s the way I was going to be. I wasn’t going to back down." 


So here’s to their music, and courage. We’re ending the day as often as possible by celebrating love. We welcome your ideas for posts. Send suggestions to, and be sure to put Celebrate Love in the subject line. You can send links to videos, graphics, photos, quotes, whatever. Or just chime in to the comments below and we’ll find you. Be sure to let us know you’ve got the rights to share any media you send.

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