Pamela Rose revives forgotten female songwriters' music

COURTESY Jennifer Paschal<p>Singer and music historian Pamela Rose has put together a cabaret act showcasing standards by female songwriters who aren't as well-known as they should be.</p>

Are you a music lover? Can you identify Doris Fisher, Alberta Hunter or Kay Swift? If not, get yourself over to Pamela Rose's “Wild Women of Song” at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco.

It's part history lesson, part performance, but “all entertainment” according to Rose, who has been exploring the legacy of female songwriters since discovering the Fisher's catalog.

“Doris Fisher is no household name, even to singers who perform a lot of standards but the jaw-dropper for me was the phenomenal list of really popular songs when wrote like 'You Always Hurt the One You Love' and 'Put the Blame on Mame' and so many more.”

Intrigued, Rose turned to a bit of Internet research and was disappointed to find “only one little raggedy low-resolution photo that had been passed around forever, a couple of lines of obit. That was it.”

Digging deeper, Rose discovered songwriting was the Fisher family business. Father Fred composed “I'd Rather Be Blue” and “Peg O' My Heart” and his sons Danny and Marvin also took up the trade.

“How Doris had really been forgotten kinda blew my mind,” Rose says.

What followed for Rose was something between cultural archaeology and a treasure hunt. “I started asking anybody – music publishers and sheet music societies – really anybody who might know a little something about Doris Fisher.”

Enter Harold Jacobs, a sheet music aficionado whose collection, amassed with partner Roy Bishop, was featured on “Michael Feinstein's American Songbook.”

Jacobs had befriended Fisher late in her life. “At the time she was so thrilled that anyone remembered her that she gave him this big trunk filled with photographs, letters from grateful singers and even a half-finished family memoir.” When Fisher died in 2003, Jacobs contacted the family about the material and was told “no one's interested in any of that old stuff,” says Rose, who discovered the family also sold Fisher's music catalog soon after her death.

“It really kinda set my teeth on edge,” says Rose, acknowledging that in Fisher's era “women weren't supposed to blow their own horns.”

Rose heard many similar stories, including that of singer-songwriter Alberta Hunter, who switched careers to nursing in her 60s before having a music renewal in her 80s, performing and writing the song score for Robert Altman's 1978 thriller “Remember My Name.”

“She bookends the show. We start out talking about the '20s in Chicago where Hunter got her start and we close the show with 'Remember My Name' in a special arrangement I wrote,” says Rose.

IF YOU GO

Pamela Rose

Where: Jewish Community Center 3200 California St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Dec. 4

Tickets: $25 to $35

Contact: (415) 292-1200, www.jccsf.org

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