Five Movies about Women Who Kick Brass

By Rebecca Epstein-Boley

It may be different where you all are, but where I am right now in Michigan, the air is beginning to cool down and leaves are just beginning to fall from the trees. It is the midway point of my academic semester and I’m beginning to need a mental break from all my work. There is only one reasonable response to these circumstances: movie night!

For anyone else who will be having a night in, I share this list of five films featuring influential women who play brass:

1. Everything but Oom-Pa-Pa (Original German: Kein Zickenfox)

This film tells the story of the Frauenblasorchester Berlin, the largest women’s wind band in the world. Discussing the women in the band’s personal lives as well as the music they perform, this documentary is an inspiring celebration of the power of women who come together to make music. 

2. Abbie Conant: Alone Among Men

This film, by filmmaker Brenda Parkerson, alternates between documentary-style storytelling and dramatic musical parody. It recounts the story of Abbie Conant’s struggle to win and keep her position in the Munich Philharmonic under the conductor Celibidache.

3. The Girls in the Band

This 2013 documentary tells “the untold stories of female jazz and big band instrumentalists and their journeys from the late 1930’s to the present day.” It covers the stories of a huge range of women in jazz playing a variety of instruments and has found significant critical acclaim.

4. Tiny and Ruby: Hell-Divin’ Women

This 1989 documentary film profiles the legendary jazz trumpet player Ernestine “Tiny” Davis and her partner, drummer-pianist Ruby Lucas. It includes rare footage, vintage photos, and narrative poetry by Cheryl Clarke.

View the film on Kanopy

5. The International Sweethearts of Rhythm

Another documentary by Jezebel Films, The International Sweethearts of Rhythm recounts the story of the incredibly influential 1940s band of the same name. The first integrated “all-girl” band in the United States, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm at their peak attracted large, enthusiastic audiences across the world.

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