Women Who Made Music History
Concert Series

Photo: Scott Treadway

For the past 10 years, Paula Hanke and I have conceived and performed several shows that focus on female music icons and legends. For instance, “A Musical Romance” is the name of the show Paula produced that honors the relationship between Billie Holiday and Lester Young. “Love Letter” is a show I put together that honors Bonnie Raitt. “A Night of Brazilian Jazz” revolves around the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim where Paula even learned to sing in Portuguese! I take audiences through several decades of the ever evolving Blues genre with my History of Blues Women concert. Together, we’ve produced two fabulously fun shows: Etta James: Muse of the Blues and our latest collaboration, “Love is a Rose: Celebrating the Music of Torch Singer, Linda Ronstadt.” The motivation behind honoring Ronstadt is in part due to her being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013.

So last July, on the cusp of meeting with Paula to discuss an upcoming booking, I happened to be perusing our local entertainment guide. I was interested in a show coming up at Diana Wortham Theater. With intent to purchase tickets, I visited the DWT website. There I discovered a gamut of events and show dates from which one could choose. It struck me that very few of the productions described on their calendar were made up of artists or acts that one might call “household names.” International Dance troupes, stage plays and musicals, a puppet show and a tribute band are among the types of acts I saw mentioned and are indicative of other performing arts theater schedules. As a member of this community, I was thrilled to see before me a cornucopia, if you will, of intriguing cultural opportunities!

I, in turn, became excited to share with Paula this notion I began to feel, that somehow we needed to discover how all these acts get booked at venues like DWT. I remember saying to her, “I mean these acts are ones I’ve never heard of before!” She speculated that each of them was represented by an agency.

For the next hour and with great optimism, our cylinders fired around this idea of breaking into the performing arts theater circuit. We shared V-8 moments like when Paula realized that all our individual and collaborative shows have celebrated female icons and legends. She wondered aloud why we couldn’t form some kind of umbrella entity, and offer up all our varied shows to give talent buyers options and choices. It was truly palpable for both of us to think that all the hours we spend putting on these specialty shows could have bigger meaning and pay off!

Our momentum soared when I remembered that we both know another singer in the area, whose resume includes fifteen years as a director of a performing arts theater in Washington! We would run this by her, an expert, and discover if it had legs! I think we both squealed in the middle of our coffee shop meeting, making the other patrons a little uncomfortable, as we anticipated what this could mean to us and audiences! We closed down that coffee joint that night, knowing that we were truly onto something!

After meeting with our friend a week or so later, she validated our proposal with great enthusiasm and urged us to attend an annual four-day that happened to be coming up in just three weeks’ time. This hotel conference event attracts more than 200 directors and many agencies from the southeast section of the USA, as well as a contingent of independent artists from parts known and unknown. All these presenters, facilitators, and acts convene each year, in a rotation of hosting cities within the network, to network. The directors are looking to fill their upcoming season’s calendar and the entertainers are hoping to attract them. Valuable and comprehensive workshops are offered and geared toward everyone. Juried and independent showcases take place where selected artists perform a 20 minute segment of their act in front of agents and directors, in hopes to increase their chances of developing a tour.

So here it is almost a full year after our idea was hatched. Paula and I are elated that the legs on our project have grown steadily since we attended that well-oiled conference in Orlando . We are capitalizing on all this experience, all these successful shows, and all the momentum we’ve generated with our umbrella undertaking, aptly named, “Women Who Made Music History Concert Series.” We have produced a website, are becoming an LLC partnership, and have already landed several bookings.

We see this project as vitally important in continuing to bring women to the forefront, as their greatness is often muted or dimmed. We also feel a sense of responsibility to share with young female artists about the courageous souls who have preceded us, and to EMPOWER and ENCOURAGE them through inspiring stories and a formidable library of songs f these women we celebrate have recorded.

We will honor Linda Ronstadt, especially on her seventy-first birthday, which falls on Sat July 15th. Our host venue is none other than Isis Restaurant and Music Hall, show starting at 8:30pm. We will be presenting her chart-topping, genre-hopping hits while educating attendees with a delightful, short slide show, antidotes, and intriguing stories, all of which emphasize her contributions in compelling, entertaining ways. After all, the fondness and global admiration for this torch Singing Queen cannot be denied! This is a seated show on the main stage. For tickets, please visit their website: isisasheville.com. Our exceptional band includes Bob Bencze on keyboard and backing vocals, Grant Cuthbertson on upright and electric bass, James Vandenberg on guitars and vocals, and Justin Watt on drums.

Paula and I are super stoked to also announce our first performing arts theater booking, which will be on Sunday, August 13th at 7pm at Tryon Fine Arts Center in Tryon, NC. Tickets are on sale on their website at tryonarts.com.

Though we’ve invested our own money while developing this initiative, to launch it on a level playing field takes more money than we’ve got.

If you’d like to learn more about our campaign or make a donation visit www.gofundme.com/womenwhomademusichhistory
Our website is www.womenwhomademusichistoryconcertseries.com.
To donate to Parkinson’s Disease visit: www.parkinson.org/ or www.michaeljfox.org/

Peggy Ratusz
Written by Peggy Ratusz