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Helen Jones Woods

Helen Jones Woods (1923–2020), pioneering female jazz trombonist

by Kirk Fox

Helen Jones Woods was a pioneering jazz trombonist who played with the historic integrated all-female jazz band the International Sweethearts of Rhythm during the 1940s. 

  • Died: Saturday, July 25, 2020 (Who else died on July 25?) 
  • Details of Death: Died from COVID-19 at 96.  
  • We invite you to share condolences for Helen Jones Woods in our Guest Book

International Sweethearts of Rhythm 

Woods was adopted by Dr. Laurence Jones, who was the founder of a Black boarding school in Piney Woods, Mississippi. He started an all-female jazz band of teenagers to raise money for the school called the Swinging Rays of Rhythm. Eventually, some of the group members including Helen were talked into splitting into their own band, they became the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, an integrated all-female jazz big band. The band was very popular, touring all over the States and Europe during the 1940s. Jones endured racism while on the road with the band, sometimes not able to find a place to stay. The band broke up in 1949 and Woods became a registered nurse.  

The excitement of being in a popular band 

Music, she said, “was the way we made our living. It kept us from having to be a cook or a dish washer. It showed us an exciting time beyond the same old dull life. . . . Plus, we got a chance to see the world. That was our reward. It wasn’t money, because we certainly didn’t see any.” —She told writer Leo Biga for a blog post


Full Obituary: Washington Post

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