Retired CPS teacher shares black women’s musical achievements at Douglass Branch Library
Ora Dobbins, a retired CPS music teacher, is on a mission to assert the role black women played in popularizing various American music genres. With March being women’s history month, the Douglass Branch Public Library and Dobbins hosted a “Snippets of Women in Musical History’ event for the community on March 15.
Dobbins took the small, intergenerational audience on a journey through time highlighting women who have contributed to blues, jazz, gospel, hip hop, country and rhythm and blues. She discussed the likes of Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and Lena Horne.
“The blues was born out of agitation and depression,” she said, playing Smith’s ‘Down Hearted Blues’ for the audience.
Dobbins also discussed jazz, playing classics such as Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’, — a 1939 song describing the sight of black people who were lynched, that speaks on the realities of racism at that time.
The event was both informative and interactive, with Dobbins encouraging the audience to sing and clap along. She discussed the origin of certain genres—for example, explaining that gospel was created from the chords of jazz and blues,— and had children out of their seats dancing while the older crowd happily sung along.
“I liked it,” said Jamari Seymore, an eighth grader from the North Lawndale community. heard about this event from one event from one of the librarians. This was Seymore’s first time attending an event themed around the history of music genres.
Dobbins has had an interest in music since junior high. She sang in choir all throughout her time in high school and went on to receive a bachelor's degree in vocal music performance from Northern Illinois University. She went on to be a music teacher in Chicago Public Schools for over 32 years at the elementary school level.