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Gilbert, Peggy (1905-2007)  
page: 1  2  

Gilbert married a soldier, but they soon divorced. She found her life partner in Kay Boley, a vaudevillian and contortionist who was performing at the same nightclub as Gilbert's band. The two fell in love and remained together for more than six decades.

With the end of World War II and the return of many men from military service, employment opportunities for female musicians declined sharply. Gilbert took a full-time secretarial job at Local 47 of the Musicians Union but still played as many engagements as possible at night and on weekends.

Gilbert was tireless in her support of other women. "Peggy became the chief advocate for women musicians," states Pool. "She worked hard to get them jobs and restart their careers. When you see all those musicals, like the Busby Berkeley productions, with dozens of women playing in the bands, it was Peggy who got them the jobs."

Gilbert retired from her post at the union in 1970 but remained on the Board of Trustees. Ever the champion of women, she contributed a column entitled "Tuning In on Femme Musicians" to the union's monthly publication, The Overture, from 1979 to 1984.

Retirement did not bring inactivity for Gilbert; on the contrary, she launched a new and very successful phase of her career. In 1974 she founded the Dixie Belles, a band composed of older women musicians. The group played at jazz festivals, clubs, and private parties in the Los Angeles area before coming to nationwide attention with a performance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1981. The Dixie Belles went on to appear on many other television programs, including The Golden Girls, Father Murphy, Dharma and Greg, Married with Children, Home Improvement, Madame's Place, and Ellen.

The band recorded their only album, Peggy Gilbert and the Dixie Belles: Dixieland Jazz, in 1986. It was re-released as a CD in 2006. The Dixie Belles continued to perform together until 1994.

While in her eighties and nineties, Gilbert appeared in numerous television commercials for such companies as Coca-Cola, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Toyota, and Ultimate Electronics.

Gilbert is the subject of Pool's 2006 documentary Peggy Gilbert and Her All-Girl Band. Narrated by the musician's friend and fan Lily Tomlin, the film combines interviews with Gilbert and other musicians with rare archival footage and recordings, photographs, and other documents to tell Gilbert's inspiring story.

Tomlin keeps one of Gilbert's saxophone reeds as a cherished memento. When she asked what had become of Gilbert's instrument, Gilbert told her that she had sold it because "it was way too good a horn not to be played."

Although both Gilbert and Boley had to cope with health problems including cancer, they remained very active, particularly in caring for others. Until 2004 they devoted a great deal of time to assisting homebound friends by bringing them groceries and prescriptions and to calling on other friends in hospitals and nursing homes. Well-versed on Medicare rules, Boley helped people with their paperwork. Gilbert summed up their philosophy: "If you get up each day and do something for someone else, you've done what you are here for."

Pool collaborated with Gilbert to write a biography, The Peggy Gilbert Story: American Jazz Band Leader, Saxophone Player and Advocate for Women Musicians. No publication date has been announced.

Gilbert entered the hospital for hip surgery in early 2007. Pool reported that on the eve of the operation, Gilbert "had me reading proofs [of the biography] to her at her bedside."

Unfortunately, complications developed following the surgery, and Gilbert died on February 12, 2007 at the age of 102. She is survived by her longtime partner, Boley.

Linda Rapp

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Fox, Margalit. "Peggy Gilbert, 102, Dies; Led Female Jazz Ensembles." New York Times (February 25, 2007): 1, 28.

McCarthy, Dennis. "Strike up the Band for Centenarian." Daily News of Los Angeles (January 2, 2005): N3.

McLellan, Dennis. "Peggy Gilbert, 102; Blazed a Trail for Women in Jazz." Los Angeles Times (February 18, 2007): B14.

Pool, Jeannie. "The Peggy Gilbert Story: Saxophonist, Band Leader, Advocate for Women in Music." (2007).

_____. "The Top Ten Things I Learned While Making the Documentary 'Peggy Gilbert and Her All-Girl Band.'" IAWM Journal 12.2 (2006).

Rasmussen, Cecilia. "L.A. Then and Now; Tooting the Horn for Former 'All-Girl' Band Leader, 101." Los Angeles Times (August 27, 2006): B2.


    Citation Information
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Gilbert, Peggy  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2007  
    Date Last Updated March 4, 2007  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2007 glbtq, Inc.  


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