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OBITUARY: Rosetta Reitz; champion of women in jazz; 84

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    OBITUARY: Rosetta Reitz; champion of women in jazz; 84 http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20081124/news_1m24reitz.html By Douglas Martin NEW YORK TIMES
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 24, 2008
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      OBITUARY: Rosetta Reitz; champion of women in jazz; 84

      http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20081124/news_1m24reitz.html

      By Douglas Martin
      NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

      November 24, 2008

      Rosetta Reitz, an ardent feminist who scavenged through the early
      history of jazz and the blues to resurrect the music of long-forgotten
      women and to create a record label dedicated to them, died Nov. 1 in
      New York City. She was 84.

      The cause was cardiopulmonary problems, said, her daughter Rebecca Reitz.

      Mrs. Reitz (pronounced "rights") came by her interest in jazz through
      her husband and male friends, but as the feminist movement gathered
      steam in the 1960s, she noticed something was missing: the music's
      women. So she started collecting old 78s of performers like the
      trumpeter Valaida Snow, the pianist-singer Georgia White and a bevy of
      blues singers who had faded from memory.

      At the same time, she unearthed lost songs by more famous artists such
      as Bessie Smith, Ida Cox and Ma Rainey.

      "In that decade of the 1920s, when jazz was really being formulated
      and changing from an entertainment music to an art form," Mrs. Reitz
      said in an interview with The New York Times in 1980, "these women
      were extraordinarily important and instrumental in accomplishing that."

      She continued: "Louis Armstrong was a sideman on records in the '20s
      with singers like Sippie Wallace, Eva Taylor, Hociel Thomas, Virginia
      Liston and Margaret Johnson. These women's records were made as their
      records. But when they come out now, they're reissued as Louis
      Armstrong records, when actually he was not that important on them."

      These women "had the power," she told The Christian Science Monitor in
      1984. "They hired the musicians and the chorus line, a lot of them
      wrote the music themselves, and they produced their own shows. They
      were more than just singers; they were symbols of success."

      Music was at first just one element in a busy life. Mrs. Reitz was at
      different times a stockbroker, a bookstore proprietor and the owner of
      a greeting card business. She was a food columnist for The Village
      Voice, a professor, a classified-advertising manager and author of a
      book on mushrooms. She was a founding member of Older Women's
      Liberation. She raised three daughters as a single parent.

      Mrs. Reitz also wrote "Menopause: A Positive Approach" (1977),
      considered one of the first books to look at menopause from the
      viewpoint of women and not doctors. She listened to her recordings of
      women while she wrote the book, many of them celebrating the strength
      of women rather than treating them as victims.

      "I was so alone and needed to be nurtured, and I found I was getting
      it from them," she told the Los Angeles Times in 1992.

      Mrs. Reitz started Rosetta Records in 1979 with $10,000 she had
      borrowed from friends. Her routine was to scout out lost music,
      usually through record collectors. She then supervised the remastering
      of records that were often severely damaged; researched and wrote
      detailed liner notes; and designed graphics and found period
      photographs for the album covers. She personally wrapped each order
      and took it to the post office for shipment. About a dozen stores
      later carried the Rosetta label.

      Over the years, Mrs. Reitz went from vinyl recordings to tapes to CDs.
      She refused to give sales figures, but she did tell the Los Angeles
      Times that the four titles in her "independent women's blues" series
      of compilations – including "Mean Mothers" – sold about 20,000 copies
      each. Some albums centered on themes like railroads or prisons.

      Much of the music she recorded was in the public domain, but Mrs.
      Reitz said she had devoted time and energy to tracking down the rights
      to some songs and to paying artists royalties when she could.

      Her label had not issued a recording in at least 13 years, but
      previous releases are sometimes sold on the Internet. A number of
      mainstream labels also have reissued albums of the artists Reitz admired.

      Rosetta Goldman was born Sept. 28, 1924, in Utica, N.Y. She attended
      the University of Wisconsin for three years, moved to Manhattan and
      got a job at the Gotham Book Mart. She negotiated a loan to buy her
      own bookstore, the 4 Seasons in Greenwich Village, where literary
      figures like Ralph Ellison were celebrated.

      For years, Mrs. Reitz lobbied for a postage stamp honoring Bessie
      Smith, which was issued in 1994. She produced concerts by longtime
      female blues singers for the Newport Jazz Festival, Carnegie Hall and
      the Hollywood Bowl.

      She married Robert Reitz when she was 23, and they divorced in the
      late 1960s.

      Mrs. Reitz is survived by her daughters, Rebecca of Manhattan, Robin
      Reitz of Tucson and Rainbow Reitz of Manhattan; and a granddaughter.

      Mrs. Reitz did not always finish what she started. She had planned to
      make 26 albums, she said, but completed only 17. She never finished a
      book on women in jazz. Even her success with the Rosetta label had
      left her with a conviction that more work had to be done.

      "My hope and dream," she said, "is that there won't be a need for a
      women's record company."

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