A pioneer woman of jazz, Anna Mae Winburn directed the all-female, racially integrated International Sweethearts of Rhythm, a top attraction in the '40s. Although often looked at as a novelty act, the reality is that the band included top notch musicians whom were not given a fair respect in the male-dominated jazz world.
From Indiana, Winburn came from a musically-inclined African-American family. She learned to sing and play piano & guitar. She worked in Lloyd Hunter's Serenaders, a popular Nebraska-based territory band of the swing era that included Preston Love. She also led an all-male band (including Charlie Christian!) in Omaha until taking the reigns of the Sweethearts in '41.
The Sweethearts had previously been associated with a high school until the severing of ties with the school due to several girls not graduating due to their "fund-raising" responsibilities on the road. Now a professional entity, Winburn was hired as bandleader for the re-grouped sixteen-piece ensemble of woman from various cultural and international backgrounds. They toured the major black theater circuit, setting some attendance records along the way and made some short film segments in Hollywood.
Segregation laws forced the band to live in the bus anytime they traveled the South, eating, sleeping, rehearsing, studying, etc since hotels and restaurants would not allow mixed race company. They toured Europe in the mid-'40s and the band broke up shortly after. Subsequent revivals of the band under Winburn's leadership were less successful.