Celebrating Women’s History Month | Part 2

Paralleling some of PCM’s key programs and in celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re sharing a series of blog posts that look at the past, present, and future of Women in the fields of Western Classical, Jazz, and Mariachi music. In our second post, we celebrate the contributions of Lil Hardin Armstrong, Dianne Reeves, and Cécile McLorin Salvant, and how they paved – or are currently paving – the way for future generations of women in Jazz.

A black and white photo of a woman posing

Past: Lil Hardin Armstrong (1898-1971)

Lil Hardin Armstrong was a pioneering Jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader whose contributions to the genre helped shape the course of American music. Born Lillian Hardin in 1898 in Memphis, Tennessee, she began playing piano at a young age, displaying natural talent and a deep love for music.

Armstrong’s career took off when she moved to Chicago in the 1920s, where she became an integral part of the city’s vibrant jazz scene. It was there that she met and married Louis Armstrong, one of the most influential figures in jazz history. While their marriage was tumultuous, Lil Hardin Armstrong’s impact on her husband’s career cannot be overstated. She was his pianist, arranger, and manager, helping shape his musical style and elevation to international fame.

In addition to her work with Louis Armstrong, Lil Hardin Armstrong was a formidable musician in her own right. She led her own bands, composed numerous Jazz standards, and recorded several solo albums. Her compositions, such as “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue” and “Just for a Thrill,” are celebrated for their infectious rhythms and innovative harmonies.

Lil Hardin Armstrong broke barriers as a female bandleader in a male-dominated industry. Her legacy lives on as a trailblazer whose talent and vision continue to inspire musicians around the world.

A woman smiles looking to her right wearing a bright yellow dress

Present: Dianne Reeves (1956 – )

Dianne Reeves is a Grammy Award-winning Jazz vocalist known for her captivating voice, remarkable improvisational skills, and dynamic stage presence. Born in Detroit, Michigan, Reeves was exposed to music at an early age through her family’s love for Jazz, gospel, and R&B.

Reeves’ career took off in the 1980s, gaining recognition for her soulful interpretations of Jazz standards and original compositions. Her versatile voice, ranging from velvety smoothness to powerful highs, combined with her ability to infuse emotion into every note, quickly established her as one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary Jazz.

Throughout her career, Reeves has collaborated with a wide array of artists, spanning various genres, including Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She has released over 20 albums, showcasing her range and versatility as a vocalist and interpreter of music.

Reeves’ accolades include multiple Grammy Awards for Best Jazz Vocal Album, as well as honorary doctorates from prestigious institutions including the Berklee College of Music and the Juilliard School. Beyond her musical achievements, Reeves is admired for her commitment to mentoring young musicians and advocating for arts education.

With her unparalleled talent and dedication to her craft, Dianne Reeves continues to enchant audiences worldwide, leaving an indelible mark on the world of Jazz and beyond.

A woman in a multi-colored vibrant dress smiles at the camera.

Future: Cécile McLorin Salvant (1989 – )

Grammy Award-winning Jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant is acclaimed for her exceptional vocal range, expressive storytelling, and inventive approach to interpreting classic Jazz standards and original compositions. Born in Miami, Florida, to a French mother and a Haitian father, Salvant’s musical journey began at an early age, studying classical voice and piano before discovering her passion for Jazz.

Salvant rose to prominence after winning the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in 2010, which catapulted her into the spotlight as one of the most promising young voices in Jazz. Her debut album, “Cécile,” released in 2009, garnered critical acclaim for her unique blend of traditional jazz sensibilities with modern twists.

Known for her impeccable technique and daring improvisational skills, Salvant’s performances are characterized by her ability to inhabit the characters of the songs she sings, infusing each lyric with depth and emotion. Her repertoire spans a wide range of styles, from blues and swing to French chanson and lesser-known gems from the Great American Songbook.

Salvant’s accolades include multiple Grammy Awards for Best Jazz Vocal Album, cementing her status as one of the preeminent vocalists of her generation, pushing the boundaries of Jazz while honoring its rich traditions.