musician male

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The Heaven (Le Ciel) and Hell (l’Enfer) cabarets of Montmartre, Paris. 1880s.

In the 1899 book Bohemian Paris of To-Day by William Chambers Morrow and Édouard Cucuel, the authors visit several of the City of Lights darker drinking destinations and describes l’Enfer thusly:

“Enter and be damned, the Evil One awaits you!“ growled a chorus of rough voices as we hesitated before the scene confronting us. Near us was suspended a caldron over a fire, and hopping within it were half a dozen devil musicians, male and female, playing a selection from "Faust” on stringed instruments, while red imps stood by, prodding with red-hot irons those who lagged in their performance.

Crevices in the walls of this room ran with streams of molten gold and silver, and here and there were caverns lit up by smouldering fires from which thick smoke issued, and vapors emitting the odors of a volcano. Flames would suddenly burst from clefts in the rocks, and thunder rolled through the caverns. Red imps were everywhere, darting about noiselessly, some carrying beverages for the thirsty lost souls, others stirring the fires or turning somersaults. Everything was in a high state of motion.

And right next door to the Cabaret de l'Enfer was Cabaret du Ciel (“The Cabaret of the Sky”), a divinely themed bar where Dante and Father Time greeted visitors and comely ladies dressed as angels pranced around teasing patrons. As Morrow recalled, the evening’s entertainment was presided over by St. Peter himself, who anointed the boozy crowd:

Flitting about the room were many more angels, all in white robes and with sandals on their feet, and all wearing gauzy wings swaying from their shoulder-blades and brass halos above their yellow wigs. These were the waiters, the garcons of heaven, ready to take orders for drinks. One of these, with the face of a heavy villain in a melodrama and a beard a week old, roared unmelodiously, “The greetings of heaven to thee, brothers! Eternal bliss and happiness are for thee. Mayst thou never swerve from its golden paths! Breathe thou its sacred purity and renovating exaltation. Prepare to meet thy great Creator and don’t forget the garcon!” 

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Ann Dupont, clarinet player and swing band leader (c.1940). Vintage sepia tone photograph.

United States involvement in World War II created the perfect storm for a staggering increase in the number of “all-girl” big bands in the early 1940s. As male musicians were frequently getting drafted, and those left behind on the home front sought musical entertainment as a means of coping, hundreds of female dance bands sprang up to fill the need.