About the database

What

Countess is a free, accessible, online database for everyone, whether you are a performer, educator, community member, researcher, music lover or history lover.

Why?

Jazz historians and journalists in the twentieth century shaped the modern jazz canon, and many of their writings excluded or trivialized the contributions of women in jazz, especially Black women. By excluding women from the narrative, many have been left to believe that women in jazz, particularly instrumentalists, were (and are) an anomaly. This is not true, as is proved by the sheer number of entries on this database. This database, which includes women from the ragtime era all the way up to the present day, was created to preserve the legacies of the women that helped build the vibrant Kansas City jazz scene and spotlight the women on today's scene that keep the Kansas City jazz tradition alive and thriving. This ongoing project is an effort to diversify the highly gendered jazz canon.

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What about vocalists?

The intent of this database is not to exclude anyone or negate the challenges female vocalists have faced (and continue to face) in the historically male dominated world of jazz. However, it has been far more socially acceptable for women to sing than play an instrument throughout the history of Western music. There are very few female jazz instrumentalists in the jazz canon, and when they do "make it" they are often viewed as sidekicks to their husbands or male counterparts.

Photographs courtesy of the Kansas City Museum

Why 'Countess'?

In my research process, I discovered, and continue to discover, so many inspiring women, but the story of "Countess" Margaret "Queenie" Johnson continues to stand out. Johnson, a virtuosic pianist and bandleader (hence the name Countess), passed away from TB at only 20, while on tour with Andy Kirk and his Clouds of Joy, subbing for Mary Lou Williams. Despite passing so young, Johnson had a remarkable career, but, like many women, never got the attention she merited. The luminary broke many glass ceilings, paving the way for future generations. This database and my continued research on Kansas City women in jazz is dedicated to Margaret Johnson, who became a luminary to me, 80 years after her passing. Additionally, the Countess is the image and logo for this database. It is my mission to make sure Countess is never forgotten or erased.

The database logo, an illustration of "Countess" Margaret Johnson.

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About the creator

Hi! My name is Nina Cherry and I am the creator, manager, designer and curator of Countess. I am a Kansas City-based jazz historian, journalist, vibraphonist and vocalist, with a specific interest in swing era women jazz instrumentalists, and of course, the historically rich (and often neglected) Kansas City jazz scene. I currently write for Kansas City Magazine and have a column, Backbeat, and reside in a former Midtown speakeasy from the Pendergast-era.

This database will always be a "work in progress" and I look forward to adding on to this resource and continuing my research on Kansas City women in jazz. I hope to eventually include vocalists in my archival efforts. This project would not have been possible without my mentor, Dr. Alison DeSimone, Chuck Haddix, the UMKC University Libraries, the Missouri Valley Special Collections (KCPL), the Historic Mutual Musicians Foundation, the American Jazz Museum and, most of all, the countless members of the supportive and vibrant Kansas City Jazz community that shared their experiences with me.

Photographs by Cianna Rothwell Morales

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