It’s undeniable. 2018 is the year of the woman. And while it seems as though the unification of women has exploded over the past year with movements such as #MeToo, there are many women who have been standing up and standing together for much longer. One of those women, is Jennifer Hill, musician, organizer, and pioneer of the Connecticut chapter of Support Women Artists Now Day—also known as SWAN Day.
Born in Connecticut, Hill is a lifelong musician—singing since age 3 and playing piano since age 7. She also attended the University of Hartford for musical theater, and led several successful bands, such as Jennifer Hill and Co. as well as her latest musical endeavor, Murderous Chanteuse. But her journey has not been an easy one. After graduating from college, Hill moved to New York City to pursue music. She was involved in an abusive relationship at the time and became pregnant with her first child. Hill ended the relationship, and planned to move back to CT on what ended up being one of the most awful days in U.S history—9/11/2001. She gave birth to her daughter just 5 days later. Shaken from her previous relationship and the devastation of 9/11, Hill decided to take a break from music and focused on raising her daughter for the next few years.
When she got back into music, Hill noticed inequalities for female musicians. Women were paid less and offered fewer shows than male acts. They also were less likely to be re-booked if they brought up concerns about details of the show, especially when it came to negotiating wages. According to Hill, “It was like you we were expected not to talk back, and if you did, then you would get labeled a ‘bitch’.” As a struggling artist herself, Hill sought support through WomenArts. WomenArts was planning to begin a SWAN Day festival in 2007, mainly supporting females involved in theatre and film. Hill suggested the inclusion of all types of female artists, and with permission granted by WomenArts, Hill put together the first ever multi-genre SWAN Day festival in CT in 2007.
Over the course of the next 3 years, the event grew, creating interest from a local woman to film a documentary on Hill’s SWAN Day event. The documentary was sent to Martha Richards, Executive Director and Founder of WomenArts, who noted Hill’s success. Richards began working with Hill directly to support SWAN Day CT with small donations, as well as advocacy towards barriers that Hill came up against, such as helping the community to accept the inclusion of burlesque performers in the festival.
The festival has expanded globally, with 7,000 SWAN Day events occurring across the world between the months of March and April. Hill’s festival in CT was recently named a “Super SWAN” event because of it’s success over the years—a title given to only 7 SWAN Day festivals across the world. She includes all types of arts, such as music, dance, art, burlesque, and jewelry, and the event is an all inclusive, LGBTQ friendly festival. Women who participate have the opportunity to promote their art through radio interviews, photo shoots, and local press/media coverage.
As SWAN Day evolved, Hill made connections with other SWAN Day organizers internationally, which she states, has “opened up her eyes to women’s issues around the world.” She has a special relationship with the country of Kenya’s SWAN Day organizer in particular and says, “We’re fighting against ‘the good old boys club’. They’re fighting against war and losing friends and family.”
This year, SWAN Day features musical acts such as Nicki Mathis, a legendary African American female jazz musician, and EMI recording artist Patti Rothberg, who became famous in the 90s from her song “Inside” (on Rothberg’s album ‘Between the 1 and the 9’). Rothberg is promoting her new album, a new autobiography, and also is showing her artwork, as she is a Parsons Design School alum. There are 18 female fronted bands/performers total, many of which are local CT acts, including Hill’s band, Murderous Chanteuse, and my band, Laini and the Wildfire.
As a female musician myself, it is impossible not to feel the incredible tour de force of women who are coming together and supporting one another through movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp. While Hill has always been vocal about her personal struggles, she sees the impact that these movements are having on female artists. “It has a lot of women cleaning house, and feeling validated that the things you felt are real. And musicians are writing about it.” Clearly, it is a powerful time for women in the arts, and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to participate in SWAN Day CT this year. As for the future, Hill plans to help expand SWAN Day into communities with limited opportunities for female artists, and hopes to continue to be a connector for creative women.
SWAN Day CT will be held on April 14, 2018 at Trinity on Main in New Britain, CT. To purchase tickets and get more information visit www.swandayct.com . Admission: $22
Laini and the Wildfire is a piano-fronted pop rock trio from New Haven, CT. The band has refined their eclectic sound with the upcoming release of their latest album, Wandering, which features elements of modern pop and rock, mixed with a touch of 60s soul, all set behind Laini Marenick’s powerful vocals.
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