She Bop

It Didn't Start with Babes in Toyland: A Short and Eccentric History of Women in Local Music, 1931-Present

CP:Where else in Minneapolis did you perform?

Andrews: It was just at the Orpheum Theater, but when we were children we performed at benefits around town. Professionally, we didn't have any other jobs in Minneapolis.

CP:So did you enjoy being on the road?

Andrews: That's what you did during that time. We just worked in the business because you had to get a job. Those were bad times financially in this country. But we loved it and our mother and father were with us. My mother did the cooking so we didn't have to worry about that, and Dad drove us from engagement to engagement. Doesn't it sound exciting?

CP:Very. Did you ever come back?

Andrews: Periodically, when we were out of work, we'd come back to Minneapolis. And we'd stay in Mound for a while. As kids we loved it out there, swimming in Lake Minnetonka. When you're starving, the best thing to do is go swimming! But when we became very well known, then we were always on the road.

1938: WCCO Radio hires high school junior Jeanne Arland Peterson (see p.17) to sing and play piano on the air. She keeps this after-school job for 22 years. Peterson later instills in her children a love of music, producing a family of professionals: Ricky, Patty, Billy, and "St. Paul" work in various capacities with artists including Prince, Donny Osmond, Steve Miller, and David Sanborn.

City Pages:How does a high school student land a job in radio?

Jeanne Arland Peterson: I started singing with a band my brother played with at age 15. We used to do remote radio broadcasts and 'CCO heard me. That's how I got the job. I went over there and started singing on some of the early shows with quartets and trios. And then I got my own show with Bob DeHaven—Breakfast with Bob at quarter to nine in the morning for many years. That was my second home. We got to be well acquainted with the singers and musicians and emcees. It was always fun to go down there.

CP:You became an organist for the Twins later on.

Peterson: My husband was the first organist for the Twins, and he died in '69 on opening day. They found someone to replace him for a few days, and then I did it for three years. My kids were little, so I'd bring them up there with me. It was a good time. I was in the same room as Bob Casey, the field announcer.

CP:Were you a baseball fan?

Peterson: Absolutely, and it was at the old [stadium] where they played outdoors, the way baseball should be.

1940s: Las Hermanas Rangel (the Rangel Sisters) start out performing Mexican ballads on St. Paul's West Side—though by the end of the decade, they've switched to Caribbean music (mambos and cha-chas), which is more popular with the local Latino community. Over the years, the sisters perform together in various incarnations: Los Rumbaleros, Las Sieta Notas, and with their brother in the Kiko Rangel Band.

1948: More than 40 years' worth of Frances Densmore's Native American recordings (about 2,400 of them, in all) are transferred from wax cylinders to discs. The 81-year-old Red Wing ethnomusicologist supervises the process. She began the collection in 1906 after buying an Edison recording machine with a $150 grant from the Smithsonian Institution. A pioneer in music archiving, Densmore recorded the songs of dozens of tribes, and conducted in-depth studies on the music of the Chippewas.

1950: Lois Best Herman plays Hammond organ in the Jules Herman Orchestra, the house band at St. Paul's Prom Ballroom. She and her husband met in the Lawrence Welk Orchestra, where Jules played trumpet and Lois was the group's first "Champagne Lady." Soon afterward they left, however, because Welk didn't think his female showpiece should be married. The couple plays at the Prom for the next 35 years.

1956: Ardis Wells and the Rhythm Ranch Gals, quite possibly the first all-girl western band in the country, begin playing regularly at the Flame Bar. Nicknamed "The Yodeling Sweetheart," Wells comes from a family of performers and has spent years following circuses. She has also made a name for herself as a trapeze artist and wrestler in St. Paul. The singer/guitarist's group includes accordionist Jan North, banjo player Fern Dale, and bassist Patti Williams. Years later, when the group's lineup changes and men join the ensemble, they're renamed the Rhythm Ranch Pals.

1960s: Breaking down racial barriers, Ermine Hall Allen becomes the first black singer to perform with the St. Paul Civic Opera. At a mere 4'9", the contralto is quickly dubbed "the vest-pocket Marian Anderson." Allen is also known for her a cappella renditions of African American spirituals.

1969: North Minneapolis jazz singer Shirley Witherspoon begins a one-year stint with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Her very first gig with Ellington is Richard Nixon's inaugural ball. Though Witherspoon would move to California (and later Baltimore), she continues to return to Minneapolis periodically. Throughout the '80s and '90s, she has a successful local career, performing solo club shows as well as theatrical tributes to Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith.

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