This March The Iridium in New York City will be all women, all month. The 180-capacity club has booked 16 female performers across the spectrum of genres, comedy troupes, and set up panels to inform and encourage women in the live entertainment industry. Grace Blake, the General Manager and co-booker of The Iridium spoke to Amplify about starting this month-long series HerStory, Her Voice and what it will mean for the club going forward.
“In light of our present situation and the dynamic in the country, I felt that our voices needed to be heard and I really wanted to be a strong supporter of what was going on with the Women’s March (Jan. 21), which I participated in with my two daughters,” Blake told Amplify. “Women’s voices need to be heard on more than just that particular day. It’s got to be continuous.”
Blake said “HerStory, Her Voice,” is a program she has wanted to enact since she started booking for the legendary jazz club four years ago. She and owner/co-booker Ron Sturm agreed this year that the month of March was entirely hers to schedule.
“The whole aim was putting together an eclectic mix of genres,” Blake said. “Also taking into consideration who we are as a club, which is the home of Les Paul.” Legendary guitarist Les Paul was in residency at The Iridium for 14 years and the club has seen many jazz greats such as saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, Kenny Garrett, and Stanley Jordan. The club has also hosted performances by Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Eddie Van Halen, and Slash.
“What I was really looking for were dynamic women who had been in the industry for years, and also some emerging artists that I thought would make a statement in terms of what they stood for,” Blake said. She wanted performers “who have had their fair share of obstacles in the industry and have overcome them. I looked at all these women who went against the grain and that’s how I built my roster.”
The 16 performances throughout the month will include country star Chely Wright, singer/songwriter Liz Longley, Michael Jackson’s former guitarist Jennifer Batten, and jazz artist Rhonda Ross, who is the daughter of Diana Ross. The series opened March 1-3 with Meshell Ndegeocello, a Grammy-nominated neo-soul singer-songwriter.
On March 7, blues singer Beth Hart’s set was filmed for PBS’s series Front and Center, which is one of two shows regularly filmed at Iridium. The club also records episodes of MTV Live’s monthly series MTV Live Setlist. Blake is a producer for both shows.
The roster will also feature several international artists like Ireland’s Aoife O’Donovan, Wales’ Judith Owen, and Israel’s Yael Deckelbaum.
“I was quite excited when Yael’s agent presented her to me,” Blake said. “I did some research on her and knew she would be fabulous with her “Prayer of the Mothers” song and Women Wage Peace movement bringing together Palestinian and Israeli women.”
Deckelbaum’s song was the anthem of the movement’s 2016 March of Hope, which unified Israeli and Palestinian women to protest the escalation of violence in the region.
Blake said developing the roster for HerStory made The Iridium rethink the booking process. Scheduling performers for the women’s month was more difficult than expected, she said.
“It really made us look at ourselves, at our venue. I would say 90% of the programming at our venue is male,” she said. “Even looking at rosters for agents, the majority of their rosters are male.”
She added “One of our mandates as well is making sure that women get paid the same as men. That was something that I felt strongly about. With this month and the budget, I wanted to make sure that this was perfectly clear that these women artists are not making less than some of the male artists that we book. Everyone is paid on the same level. It is based on your draw, on your profitability, and everything else that goes into that. The same standards apply.”
Blake intends to make HerStory, Her Voice a yearly series and is even considering finding female artists with entirely female bands as well.
In addition to the musical performances, HerStory will have a panel and networking event for women on March 20. The panel, titled Finding Your Voice: Women Empowering Women in Music, will be moderated by Eventbrite’s Head of Music Strategy LJ Malberg, who helped put the panelists together.
“The panel came out of a discussion with LJ and her passion for the industry and her being on the business side of working for Eventbrite. Once she heard about what I was doing she said this would be great if we could collaborate and merge our ideas together,” Blake said.
The panel will be a discussion between Blake, General Manager and booker at Bowery Electric Diane Gentile, Talent Buyer at Creative Entertainment Group Jennifer Sellers, and Jessica Sobhraj who is CEO at Cosynd, Inc. and President of Women in Music.
A portion of the month’s proceeds will also go to the Women’s International Music Network, which advocates for women in music and audio, and produces the annual She Rocks Awards, which shines a spotlight on female role models from all walks of the industry.
“It would be great to give to the ACLU,” Blake said, “but we wanted to give to organizations like Women’s International Music Network that people haven’t heard about and could use more help. They are really important and at a grassroots level.”
Tickets for events during HerStory, Her Voice at the Iridium are on sale now on the club’s site. Shows by additional fierce female performers will be announced at a later date.