This year marks the centennial of American women’s right to vote, and Clazzical Notes is celebrating with a free Zoom-based program, Women Rise!, honoring some of the lesser-known lights of the women’s suffrage movement. The program is scheduled to stream on Sunday, Oct. 18, at 5 p.m.
Pasadena-based Clazzical Notes’ producer and founder, Jerri Price-Gaines, said the celebration will draw on different disciplines. “Our performers will use song, dance, and the spoken word to introduce us to heroines whose names we may not recognize,” Price-Gaines said. “Art is such a powerful tool. What better way to reveal the strength, courage and resilience of these women?”
The diverse group of honored activists include abolitionist and women’s suffrage leader Frances Ellen Watkins (1825-1911), who popularized African American protest poetry; former slave Sojourner Truth (1797-1883), an outspoken advocate for abolition, temperance and women’s rights; composer Amy Beach (1867-1944), the first woman to premiere a symphony; feminist writer María Jesús Alvarado Rivera (1878-1971), author of “El Feministo,” the first revolutionary essay of the 20thcentury; and Chinese suffragist Mabel Ping-Hua Lee (1896-1966).
Watkins and Truth didn’t live long enough to witness women winning the right to vote on Aug. 18, 1920, when the 19th Amendment became enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Truth died before a single state had given women the right to vote, but signs of change were emerging. By the time of Watkins’ death in 1911, five states—California, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Washington–had granted women the right to vote. California enfranchised women in 1911.
Early feminist Rivera was a Peruvian activist who used theater and cinema to promote women’s suffrage. Peru didn’t grant women the right to vote until 1955.
Suffragist Lee was born in Guangzhou, China, and came to the U.S. in 1905 who first came to the US in 1905, eventually earning a Ph.D. in economics from Columbia University. Nonetheless, she would not be granted the right to vote in 1920 because racist laws barred East Asians from becoming naturalized citizens. Although Chinese immigrants were finally able to be naturalized as of 1943 and other Asians from 1952, it is unknown whether Lee became a U.S. citizen or voted before her death in 1966.
“Each of their stories is so inspiring and encouraging,” Price-Gaines said. “They overcame so many obstacles, which makes them wonderful role models for us during these difficult times.”
Artists participating in Women Rise! are opera soprano Shana Blake Hill, recording artist Nia Allen, dancer Brittany Daniels (who made a Clazzical appearance in MAYA!, a celebration of Maya Angelou at Boston Court in February), Chinese bamboo flute (dizzy) player Josie Hung; and spoken word actresses Dee Dee Stephens (Kai in the 2018 film My Name Is Myeisha), Gigi Yam (任霜霜) who is a host for the Chinese broadcasting station SkyLink TV and Puerto Rico-born Gabriela Bonet.
In addition, Martha Zavala, president of the Pasadena League of Women Voters, will discuss the importance of voting. Pasadena resident Rachel Fine, executive director/CEO of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, will act as host.
To register for Women Rise! and find more information about Clazzical Notes, visit ClazzicalNotes.org.