Women in Brass Bands

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by gluestick, Sep 12, 2013.

  1. gluestick

    gluestick Member

    Tony Jaeger- Fozard
    I am seeking information regarding the first time females were accepted into brass bands, of any standard, I Have some information already at my disposal, however I am trying to find out more. Obviously most of the 'lower section' bands have had female members for many years, and I would be grateful if names and the dates these ladies joined their bands could be provided.
    The thorny problem of when female members were 'allowed’ to join the top bands also needs to be included in this project!
    Therefore I would be grateful if every band in the country (and if anyone is aware of details from bands which no longer exit) could contact me with any information they can provide. Obviously FB could become quite crowded so please contact me on jaeger1954@btinternet,com. If you could include return email details and a mobile number (and a landline number if possible 'cos I get free calls after 7pm!).
    Thanks for your help in advance and I expect several hundred replies for this important research as part of our movement
    My contact numbers are 07989 457935 or 01484 647762

  2. stevetrom

    stevetrom Well-Known Member

    it's going to be quite difficult to find when the decision to allow women to play in a band was made.

    Finding when the first woman joined s band may well be easier but women may have been asked to join much earlier but no one can join a band if there are no vacancies and even if there are you have to be the best applicant.
  3. Accidental

    Accidental Supporting Member

    Just out of curiosity, what is this research for? What makes it important, and will it benefit our 'movement' in some way?

    As far as getting the info goes, you may find you get more out of some bands if you contact them direct rather than hoping they see and act on a post here.

    I suspect the answers will vary hugely from band to band - and for some of our 'name' bands the dates they actually allowed women to become bandmembers are horribly recent, even if they've used women deps for decades.... will you differentiate?
  4. gluestick

    gluestick Member

    Dear Accidental, The research is confidential to myself at the moment.

    Stevetrom, Thus far I have had several responses, regarding this post.

    I rather hope that all replies will be positive, and don't expect any negative replies from the nay sayers.
    Perhaps you could make enquiries with your own bands when women were first allowed to join?
  5. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    It also won't be easy distinguishing historically between bands that would have welcomed women members had they wanted to join in with what was seen as traditionally a male activity and bands that wouldn't have. Looking for the date of the first female member joining gets around that at the expense of simplifying the question - probably an unavoidable simplification, though.

    With my band, as with many, I rather suspect the answer is lost in the mists of time. Formed by merger in 1992, we had a female conductor (Catherine Underwood) for much of the subsequent period (1994-2010). Prior to the merger, the two halves were Kidlington Silver and Oxford Concert Brass. OCB were only formed in 1972, so I rather doubt whether they would have ever barred women. KSB were formed in 1892, so I suppose it's possible. I know many of the youthful band of the 70s were girls, and pre-war band photos that I have seen have been all male, as I recall.

    On a wider scale, the earliest female brass band conductor that I'm aware of was Elizabeth Lumb, who conducted the band at Highfield School in Bradford in the late 40s. I think Barbara Stone was the first female conductor at the British national finals in the top section, with BR Swindon in 1973 (and again with Hanwell in 1977 and 1978, finishing 7th on the latter of those occasions). At the Open, I think the earliest was Betty Anderson with Ratby in 1978. She is recorded conducting Leicester Imperial band back to at least 1958, which is the earliest senior band conducting role I'm currently aware of.

    But these are not conclusive - only what I have quickly extracted from BrassBandResults.
  6. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    The Grimley Colliery Band first admitted a female to their ranks in 1996. They even made a film about it.
  7. gluestick

    gluestick Member

    Yes but it was a film and not actually true
  8. pedaller

    pedaller Member

    I think you may need an irony transplant!
  9. Mello

    Mello Active Member

    I know that Cornetist Mary Simm played with Ferodo in the mid 1950's . Used to play with Kearsley Band and went to Ferodo from there. Keith Caldwell was principal Cnt and Mary went on 2nd Cnt but later moved to Rep.
  10. Ianroberts

    Ianroberts Well-Known Member

    are we talking women actually playing, or just in the fund raising / buttie making role ?

  11. Ianroberts

    Ianroberts Well-Known Member

    and yes, that was a joke
  12. halsasaurus

    halsasaurus Member

    Found this Bandsman cutting ref Besses and 1990's Besses related British Bandsman Scans (7).jpg first female player
  13. halsasaurus

    halsasaurus Member

    Also, what about Gracie Cole
    Gracie Cole was born on 8 September 1924 in Rowlands Gill, County Durham.[SUP][1][/SUP] Her father Albert moved to Yorkshire in search of work as a miner when Gracie was two years old.[SUP][2][/SUP] Albert played cornet in colliery bands, and taught Gracie to play the cornet at the age of 12. Gracie played with local brass bands in her teens, including the Firbeck Colliery Band alongside her father.[SUP][3][/SUP] In 1939 aged 15, she made her first broadcast on BBC Radio for Children's
  14. halsasaurus

    halsasaurus Member

    I believe that she played with Besses in the 1950's

    There was an article in 4BR
    Was the remarkable Gracie Cole the first female to play with Grimethorpe in a contest - some 68 years before Sheona White? 4BR looks at the intriguing story of the great female pioneer.
    [​IMG]The recent news that Sheona White has been signed by Grimethorpe to play at the British Open, therefore becoming the first woman to play with the Yorkshire band at a contest in their 93 year history, may not be quite as ground breaking as it seems.

    The family of the late Gracie Cole, contacted 4BR, following the release of the news, as they believe the trailblazing cornet and trumpet player may have played with the band in a contest some 68 years before Sheona steps onto the stage at Symphony Hall – in 1942.

    Amazing musician

    Gracie Cole was a truly amazing musician, and came to national brass banding prominence after winning the prestigious Alexander Owen Memorial Scholarship that year – the first female winner of the award.

    She was however already well known in northern banding circles, winning numerous solo contests (one of her first mentions in the banding press coming in 1938 after winning a slow melody competition in Dinnington)


    As a cornet player with the Firbeck Colliery Band, she played at the 1938 British Open (only one of four women to do so) and on winning the scholarship chose to undertake the prize of two years of free studies with the great George Thompson, at the time, the conductor of Grimethorpe Colliery Band.

    [​IMG]She was soon being featured as a regular guest soloist with the band (as well as Besses, Fairey and Foden’s), as well as playing in the Grimethorpe ranks in concerts – something confirmed by James Scott (right), who knew her well at the time.

    “Gracie certainly played with the band,” James recalled. “She played regular solos with us (James Scott was 17 at the time and playing bumper up) and would sit in and play on repiano. She was a wonderful player, although she had to travel to concerts with her father on a separate bus.”

    David Read also has fond memories of the player – right back to when he was a very young man. “I once had my photograph taken with her as a little boy with a band hat placed on my head, well before I started playing the cornet, so I always knew of her and how good a player she was.”
    Well reported

    Her numerous concert appearances with the likes of Grimethorpe were certainly well reported in the banding press, although intriguingly in her obituary in the Guardian newspaper in 2007, it was also stated that she played at contests too.

    The obituary itself clearly states: “At Grimethorpe colliery the conductor thought Cole would make a useful band member. The musicians agreed, but on condition that she travel to contests separately. She did so, chaperoned by her father.”

    However, it has proven difficult to substantiate that she in fact played in a contest with the band at the time.

    Regular contests during the War were rare, even though marching contests held at Belle Vue and the British Open itself were still popular.

    1942 British Open

    It would appear that the 1942 British Open, held at Belle Vue in Manchester on 5th September was perhaps the only occasion Gracie Cole may have played with Grimethorpe in a contest.

    Unfortunately, the programme for the event sheds little light.

    The usual list of players names for each band were not included during the War years, although the programme does include the announcement of Gracie playing a solo item with Grimethorpe at the end of the contest:

    The programme reads: ‘At the conclusion of the Contest immediately following the last band, Miss Gracie Cole (Recent Winner of the Alexander Owen Memorial Scholarship) will play a cornet solo accompanied by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band.’

    The first?

    So Gracie was certainly there on the day – but did she play at the contest itself?

    There is a possibility that she either played with Grimethorpe, drawn 10 in the 17-band field, who chose to play their own choice selection of ‘Lorenzo’, or with her old band at Firbeck Colliery who were drawn 4, and also played the Thomas Keighley work?

    James Scott, who was playing with Grimethorpe on bumper up on the day, cannot be sure – although he doesn’t rule it out.

    ”I can remember Gracie being with the band on numerous occasions, but the 1942 contest doesn’t readily come to mind,” he told 4BR. “I know that she didn’t play solo cornet with us, as I remember the three other men with me on the day, although I can’t be 100% sure that she didn’t play repiano cornet.”

    [​IMG]Big news

    Women playing in contests was big news at the time, with the report of 15 year old Patricia Parkinson from Shipley in Yorkshire becoming the first ever female to play at the National Championships in London in 1938, with Canal Ironworks Band, reported in ‘The Times’ newspaper.

    Unfortunately, in an article written in British Bandsman in December 1986 by Alf Hailstone, in which Gracie talks about her early cornet playing career, no mention is made of her playing with Grimethorpe at contests, although her quite amazing concert appearances, both before, during, and after the Second World War are documented.


    The same blank is drawn in Rodney Newton’s excellent tribute a few weeks after her death, aged 82, in December 2006 – listing her appearance at the massed band concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1942, but no mention of that elusive contest appearance.

    Numerous books written on the banding movement recall Gracie Cole as a true pioneer of female brass playing – but there is no mention of a contest appearance in publications by Roy Newsome, Alf Hailstone, Cyril Bainbridge, Arthur Taylor or Geoffrey Brand.

    Meanwhile, the Brass Band Archive also offers no definitive answer either, with curator Walter Ainscough searching through his extensive records to back up his assertion that he believes Gracie didn’t play in a contest with the band.

    Walter first went to the British Open in 1938, and hasn’t missed one since, and he is certain that despite her brilliant playing, Gracie Cole wasn’t a member of the Grimethorpe on the contest stage that day.

    “I’ve looked back through all the records we have here,” he said, “and there is no mention of her taking part in any contest during 1942 or the British Open. We know she certainly played in the concert before the announcement of the results, but not the contest.”


    It seems then that one of the true trailblazing female brass musicians of the 20th century (right with the Ivy Benson Band and friends), may have been denied the opportunity to become the first woman to play with Grimethorpe at a contest – although the question hasn’t definitely been 100% answered, as Walter Ainscough pointed out.

    ”As there were no registration rules as such in those days, she could well have played at a different contest with the band and it wasn’t reported. Remember – the news reports of contests were nothing like as detailed as they are now. Gracie could well have played with the band on a contest stage somewhere – it can’t be totally discounted.”

    Even if Gracie Cole was not the first female player to perform in a contest with Grimethorpe, her achievements nonetheless are still truly remarkable – especially at a time when true female emancipation in the banding world was a pipe dream.

    Long may her memory stay fresh in the minds of all in the banding movement.

    Iwan Fox
  15. gluestick

    gluestick Member

    Thank you for that Iwan
  16. dyl

    dyl Active Member

    We at Deiniolen believe we had the first female band member in Wales when Gwyneth Jones played with the band in 1929.
  17. hobgoblin

    hobgoblin Member

    I'm guessing that it would not have been possible for many women to join bands before it was legal for them to drive cars - sometime around the mid 1940's I think. I know our band would have ceased to exist long ago if it were not for the influx of lady brass players, but apparently it has mean't a few more issues with drink related bedroom shenanigans causing trouble than when it was just chaps. I know one of our members is no longer allowed on awaydays or socials with the band because of this, but to be honest at the age of 74 I think his wild days are probably behind him and the ladies pose no more danger.
  18. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

  19. Well, since the "o" on a keyboard is a long way from the "a", it does seem that this is not a typographical error. However, you will be very busy if you comment on all of the incorrect grammar and spelling on the forum. Perhaps it just has to be accepted that good understanding of music is not necessarily accompanied by good understanding of English.
  20. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    I was merely pointing out the irony of the error. But you're quite right. I stand corrected and sentence myself to fifty lines!