Chicago Women's Musicians Club Reaches out to Southern Sisters

Article excerpt

Chicago and New Orleans both make important claims to the roots of American music: Chicago as home of the blues and New Orleans as the birthplace of jazz. The two cities are more than 900 miles apart, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the fate of musicians in the Crescent City has been much on the mind of Ruth Tobias of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL).

Tobias organized the Women's Professional Musicians Club (WPMC) within the membership of Local 10-208 and recently undertook a goodwill mission to assist the members of a similar group in New Orleans. She's recorded her experiences in a series of columns for the local's Intermezzo newsletter, but there's still more that has remained untold.

In April 2007, Jennifer Silk of Local 10-208 informed WPMC members of a spring clean-out effort: cleaning out closets of performance clothes, boxing them up, and sending them to Local 174-496 (New Orleans, LA). "Our Local Vice President Terry Jares put me in touch with Local 174-496 member Cindy Mayes," Silk says. "Cindy had it in the back of her mind to start a club like ours, and our big box of goodies inspired her to get things happening."

In New Orleans, Mayes worked to organize New Orleans Women in Music (NOWM). "She's on top of where everyone is and how to get in touch with people in the music business," Tobias says. According to Tobias, the women's group responded with tremendous gratitude and made it the mission of their group to find work, find health, and find every good thing for musicians down there.

Tobias traveled to New Orleans in December 2007, meeting up with Mayes and her husband Frank, also a member of Local 174-496. "They were my eyes and ears and history buffs for all that goes on down in New Orleans," Tobias says. She witnessed the recovery efforts in the city, and took note especially of The Pink Project, organized by actor Brad Pitt, which seeks to rebuild homes destroyed by the hurricane with environmentally-friendly building materials.

Tobias also visited the New Orleans Musicians' Clinic, begun in 1998 and working with increased fervor since Hurricane Katrina, as well as the Musicians' Village, created by Habitat for Humanity. "I got so excited by all this, and I thought we don't hear a lot about it up north," Tobias says. "It's been two and a half years, for heaven's sake, and they're still struggling."

On a second trip to New Orleans in February 2008, Tobias met Banu Gibson, a board member of Local 174-4%. Through her involvement with the New Orleans Women in Music, Gibson was able to find Tobias housing while she stayed in New Orleans for a month spent in outreach and discovery. …