because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Valaida Snow

Valaida Snow was an entertainer, but not just any entertainer. She was a headlining trumpet player in the United States  in the 1930's, a period when men had a lock on jazz. Despite the fact that Louis Armstrong himself repeatedly referred to her as "The Second Best Trumpet Player in the World," Snow was typically seen and treated as a novelty act. She also played nine other instruments and was a popular jazz singer around the world, but the trumpet was her principle medium of expression, which meant that Snow often turned to alcohol or other drugs to numb the pain of rarely receiving her due.

In Europe, Snow was taken somewhat more seriously and didn't have to bump up against the added insult of racial segregation as much, so she spent as much time as possible there. Unfortunately, this left her vulnerable to being taken by the Nazis in Denmark in 1941 to a concentration camp for eighteen months. Some think it had to do with her drug use. Others cite her skin tone. Regardless, when Snow was traded for a Nazi prisoner-of-war in 1942, she weighed less than 100 pounds and was in an emotional state from which she never fully recovered before her death at the age of fifty-two.

Perhaps she was, in fact, broken, but whatever her real experience in the camp, a fictionalized version has Valaida saying, "They beat me and fucked me in every hole I had. I was their whore. Their maid. A stool they stood on when they wanted to reach a little higher. But I never sang in their cage...Not one note." Did the writer just make this up or was he privy to some inside information? In-your-face women sometimes go to the grave with the best and strongest parts of themselves never fully recognized, but that doesn't mean it wasn't in there.

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