Anna Mae Winburn

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Anna Mae Winburn
Alexander and Winburn.jpg
Anna Mae Winburn and William D. Alexander in the 1940s
Background information
Birth name Anna Mae Winburn
Born (1913-08-13)August 13, 1913
Port Royal, Tennessee, U.S.
Died September 30, 1999(1999-09-30) (aged 86)
Genres Jazz, big band
Occupation(s) Singer, bandleader
Instruments Vocals
Years active 1936–1956
Associated acts International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Cotton Club Boys

Anna Mae Winburn, née Darden (August 13, 1913 – September 30, 1999) was an African-American vocalist and jazz bandleader who flourished beginning in the mid-1930s. She is best known for having directed the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, an all-female big band that was perhaps one of the few — and one of the most — racially integrated dance-bands of the swing era.[1]


Anna Mae Winburn was born to a musical family in Port Royal, Tennessee, and migrated to Kokomo, Indiana, at a young age.[2] Her mother's maiden name was Canell.[3] She had three sisters: Matilda, Judy, and Easter.

Julia Mae (Judy) Darden (b. December 20, 1920) sang with groups around Minneapolis] and was married to Frank Perkins, a pianist and son of Red Perkins.[4] Sometime around 1961 Judy married saxophonist and bandleader Percy Caesar Hughes of Minneapolis.[5] Judy, then known as Julia Mae Hughes, died of lung cancer on January 1, 1975. Anna Mae's sister Easter married drummer and vibist William "Jeep" Stewart, and after divorcing him, later married James Overton.

Winburn married Eustace "Duke" Pilgrim (b. 1921 Eustace Michael Pilgrim; d. 1970) around 1948.[6] They had four children. They lived in Elmhurst, New York, among many Harlem transplants and jazz greats. Duke Pilgrim had a prior marriage to Alberta Adams.

Winburn died in 1999 in Hempstead, New York.

Indiana and Nebraska[edit]

Her first known publicized performance was singing with the studio band of Radio WOWO, Fort Wayne. She worked at various clubs in Indiana, including the Chateau Lido[7] in Indianapolis (where she appeared under the pseudonym Anita Door).[8]

From there she moved to North Omaha, Nebraska, where she sang and played guitar for a variety of territory bands, or groups whose touring activities and popularity were geographically limited to several adjoining states, that were led by Red Perkins.[9] During that time Winburn was a collaborator of Lloyd Hunter, frequently singing for Lloyd Hunter's "Serenaders". She also led the Cotton Club Boys out of Omaha, a group that at one point included the amazing guitarist Charlie Christian.[10] When many of the musicians were lost to the World War II draft, Winburn joined the International Sweethearts of Rhythm.[11] Soon she went to Oklahoma City and led bands for a short while. It was there that she led Eddie Durham's "All-Girl Orchestra", which eventually earned her an invite to join the International Sweethearts of Rhythm.[12]

International Sweethearts of Rhythm[edit]

Eddie Durham had been the composer for the International Sweethearts of Rhythm for two years before leaving to join Count Basie's band.[13] After being recommended by Jimmie Jewel, who owned North Omaha's Dreamland Ballroom, Winburn became the leader of the band in 1941.[14] She was reportedly hired for her attractive figure, with the intention of doing little actual composing or singing.[15]

In a video interview from 1986, Winburn reported of her first meeting, "I said 'What a bunch of cute little girls, but I don't know whether I could get along with that many women or not."[16] Despite rumors of Betty Carter being groomed to take her place after her marriage,[17] Winburn was the leader of the band until it folded in late 1949.

Winburn formed other incarnations of the International Sweethearts for the next 10 years, often billing her name before the band's. However, those bands never regained the notoriety of the early years.[18]


  1. ^ Liz, Sher (1987), "The International Sweethearts of Rhythm", Sage: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women. 4(1), pp. 59-60.
  2. ^ Daniels, Douglas Henry, One O'clock Jump: The Unforgettable History Of The Oklahoma City Blue Devils. Beacon Press (2006), p. 197.
  3. ^ Minnesota Death Certificate Index for Anna's sister, Julia M. Hughes.
  4. ^ Verbal recollection of Stewart "Dirk" Fischer, given to the contributor of this article via email, October 28, 2007. In 1948-49, Judy Perkins was divorced, according to Mr. Fischer, who knew them personally.
  5. ^ Percy Caesar Hughes, Jr. Archived September 8, 2003, at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved 5/5/08.
  6. ^ McPartland, M. (2003), Marian McPartland's Jazz World: All in Good Time, University of Illinois Press, p. 142.
  7. ^ Jack Ginty owned the Chateau Lido in the 1930s.
  8. ^ Grove Music.
  9. ^ Daniels, Douglas Henry (2006), p. 194.
  10. ^ (nd) International Sweethearts. MusicWeb Encyclopedia. Retrieved 7/8/07.
  11. ^ (nd) "The International Sweethearts of Rhythm". City of Charlottesville. Retrieved 7/8/07.
  12. ^ Placksin, Sally (1982), American Women in Jazz: 1900 to the Present : Their Words, Lives, and Music, Seaview Books, p. 108.
  13. ^ Hickok, G. V. and Barnhart, T. (1990), A Celebration of Women in the Arts: The Best Selections. Helicon Nine Editions, University of Michigan, p. 332.
  14. ^ Handy, D. A. (1998), Black Women in American Bands and Orchestras, Scarecrow Press, p. 63.
  15. ^ Feather, L. (1987), Jazz Years: Earwitness to an Era, Da Capo Press, p. 137.
  16. ^ (1986) International Sweethearts of Rhythm. Schiller and Weiss. Swing Time Productions.
  17. ^ Bauer, W. R. (2002), Open the Door: The Life and Music of Betty Carter, University of Michigan Press, p. 21.
  18. ^ Hine, D. C. (2005), Black Women in America, Oxford University Press, p. 132.

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