Women trombone players are commonly overlooked in the male-dominated field of the trombone. Despite the stereotypes that the trombone is an instrument for males, women have been playing the trombone as early as the sixteenth century and continue to do so today. This list contains sixteen of the most famous female trombone players of the classical and jazz genres.
Famous Female Classical Trombone Players 🎻
1. Maria Trombetti
Maria Trombetti was understood to be the daughter of Ascanio Trombetti, a name you may recognize for his talent as a cornet player and teacher in the sixteenth century. She was a nun trombonist and organist at the convent of Santi Gervasio e Protasio. With her father being a respected musical teacher of the nuns in the Bolognese convent of San Lorenzo, Maria was not the only nun to learn the trombone.
A quote from Ascanio in 1584, Italy, reads: “As a musician, I’ve often gone to teach the sisters the trombone and viola. More precisely, I’ve taught the trombone and viola to Sister Florentia, and to many others as well—Sister Semidea Poggi, Sister Angelica Fava, Sister Panina, and Sister Cecilia Ghisliera”
The embouchure necessary to play the trombone, or other brass instruments, distorts the face and it was believed this made the face ugly and not suitable for women during this time. However, in a church full of female nuns, there was no reason to care about preserving the beauty of the face. For this list’s purpose, Maria Trombetti represents all of the past nun trombonists who played in secrecy.
2. Pelizzari Sisters of Mantua
The Pellizari Sisters of Mantua were born in a musical family and would be taught by their father to sing and play musical instruments. In historical documents they are most well-known for their involvement with the production of Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo. However, before Duke Vincenzo requested their services, the two sisters performed in Edipo Tiranne in Venice (1585). Documentation of the event makes it clear that they played cornetto and trombone. These talented sisters were not only famous singers for their day, but they were also making strides for women trombonists as early as the 1600s.
3. Oda Rudolph
One of the earliest documented touring female trombonists is Oda Rudolph. She was born in 1874 and by 1897, she was being mentioned in newspapers regarding her talent in the Clara Schumann Ladies Orchestra. This was an all-women ensemble from Chicago that would travel around to different venues to play their music for audiences. Despite there being women ensembles, it was still not common to see a female trombonist at this time.
Records kept in archives of Newspapers are evidence of Rudolph’s impact on the musical scene of the time and include portraits of Rudolph and her trombone. A review of her performance can still be found today in the Toronto Daily mail and Empire, with the publish date April 21, 1897.
The review reads: “Miss Oda Rudolph, trombone, Miss Florence E. Beckett, flute, and Miss Alice N. Mead, harp, in their respective solos, surprised the audience by their technical ability. Certainly, in the case of the trombone, it is a novelty to hear a lady play this instrument.”
4. Dorothy Ziegler
Dorothy Ziegler was born in Iowa, USA, in 1922. She studied at the Eastman School of music as a double major in piano and trombone and in 1943, she studied trombone with Emory Remington. She received her masters from University of Southern California, CA, USA and a performer’s certificate from the American Conservatory in Paris in 1947.
She has held a variety of positions, beginning in 1940 with Leopold Stokowski’s first All-American Youth Orchestra. From there she held positions with the National Symphony from 1943-1944 and St. Louis Symphony 1944-1963, holding the principal position from 1944-1958. Most Significantly, she was the first female trombonist to be awarded Eastman’s performer’s certificate in the trombone.
5. Betty Glover
Bass Trombone Pioneer, Betty Glover, was born April 30th, 1923 in Illinois, USA. She completed her schooling at Illinois Wesleyan University, IL, USA and Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, OH, USA. Glover has held positions with Kansas City Philharmonic, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and worked with C. G. Conn in the development of the 60H bass trombone.
Most significantly, Glover became known as the first female bass trombonist in a US orchestra, upon her acceptance with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) in 1952. She stayed with CSO teaching and paying for thirteen years, until her retirement in 1985. Additionally, she was honored at the first International Women’s Brass Conference in 1993 as a brass woman pioneer.
6. Maisie Ringham Wiggins
Maisie Ringham Wiggins was born in 1924, in Woolwich, London, UK, and by the age of ten years old she was appearing in concerts and was coined as “The Wonder Girl Trombonist.” This gifted child went on to complete her schooling at the Royal Manchester College of Music and held positions as principal trombonist for the BBC Midland Light Orchestra and the Halle Orchestra.
Most notably, Wiggins had numerous solo works written for her, Erik Leidzen’s Concertino for Trombone and Band and Ray Steadman Allen’s The Eternal Quest. It is also important to mention that she was the only female bandmaster in British Territory for a number of years.
7. Abbie Conant
The future avant-garde trombonist, Abbie Conant, was born March 14th, 1995, in New Mexico, USA. She studied at Temple University, PA, USA with Dee Stewart after graduating from the Interlochen Arts Academy. She continued her studies at both Yale University, CT, USA and The Juilliard School, NY, USA. She has held performance positions such as principal trombone of the Royal Opera for Turin and principal trombone of Munich Philharmonic in Germany, which she held for 13 years. However, also explores music education positions, as she took on Professor of Trombone at the MusikHochschule in Trossingen, Germany.
You may have already heard about Conant from her lawsuit against the Munich Philharmonic in 1980 due to sex based discrimination. Despite earning the first chair position in a blind audition, she was replaced due to her being a woman. This did not stop Conant. After eleven years, she won the battle and is still contributing to the music community today.
8. Monique Buzzarté
Monique Buzzarté is best known as a composer, however this does not diminish her role as a female trombonist. She was born August 26, 1960 in California, USA. She completed her education with the University of Washington, WA, USA and with the Manhattan School of Music, NY, USA. Buzzarté is a founding member of LULU, which is a composer/performer consortium and she has completed highly regarded research regarding women composers of brass compositions.
She is known for her key role in the international protest against the Vienna Philharmonic using sex based discrimination to keep women out of their ensemble. Her role in the International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM) and her activity as a female trombonist continue to normalize female trombone players and composers.
Famous Female Jazz Trombone Players 🎷
1. Marguerite Dufay
Marguerite Dufay was known at the turn of the nineteenth century as a comique excentrique entertainer of France. She traveled throughout Paris and performed at its many music halls as a one-woman entertainer. The advertisement posters of her performances are famous for their exaggeration and comic relief. Dufay was regularly made fun of because of her weight and attractiveness, which the media used to further perpetuate the stereotype that the trombone makes women appear ugly. Despite these obstacles, Dufay did not let it bother her and used it to her advantage to draw a crowd to see such a spectacle as herself.
2. Helen Jones Wood
American jazz and female trombonist, Helen Jones Wood was born in Mississippi, USA, in 1923. As a child, she was taken from an orphanage and brought to Piney Woods Country Life School. This is where she learned and practiced her musical talents. When she got older and to a proficient level, she joined the Cotton Blossom Singers, which toured and performed music to raise money for the school.
Eventually, she left the school with some of the ensemble members and founded the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, which gained recognition for their talent, despite being an all African-American women’s group. Because of her talent and popularity, she became one of the first African American women to tour with the United Services during World War I.
3. Melba Liston
The woman of big bands, jazz icon, and arranger, Melba Liston was born January 13, 1926, in Missouri, USA. She was mostly self-taught on the trombone, but did study with the famous jazz instructor Alma Hightower. By the age of eight, she was already playing the trombone on the radio, and by sixteen, she had secured a spot in the pitband of the Los Angeles Lincoln Theatre. From there, Liston played and arranged with jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, and John Lewis, among others. In 1958, she released her album Melba Liston and Her Bones, which is her only album as a band leader.
In 1973, she moved to Jamaica to serve as the Director of Popular Music Studies at the Jamaica Institute of Music. This is also when she continued to focus on more of her arrangements, before returning to the US and founding the all-female jazz band called the Melba Liston Company. Liston is the first female trombonist to play in Big Bands and one of the most successful female jazz musicians, despite the abuse, discrimination and even sexual assault that she endured.
4. Betty O’Hara
Betty O’Hara was born in 1926, in Idaho, USA. Her interest in music began at a young age when she began on the trumpet, and it multiplied from there. She became known as the woman of many instruments and is frequently pictured with several of the instruments she is proficient on, including: trombone, trumpet, valve-trombone, euphonium, and cornet, among others.
In the 1950’s, she held positions in the Hartford Convention Big Band, the Hartford Symphony, her own female jazz quintet Jazz Birds, and she even toured with Dizzy Gillispie, Bud Freeman, and Toony Newsom. She was also a composer and released two albums titled “Horns Aplenty” and “Women’s Intuition.”
5. Annie Whitehead
Annie Whitehead was born on July 16, 1955, in Lancashire, England. She held her first position at the early age of sixteen with Ivy Benson’s All Girls Orchestra. After gaining experience as a performer, she focused on composing and recording. She also has three completed albums, including: Mix Up (1984), Home (2000), and The Gathering (2000). Most importantly, she contributed to the dub and experimental side of music with her experimental jazz album Mix Up.
6. Gunhild Carling
Entertainer, Gunhild Carling, was born May 7, 1975, in Gothenburg, Sweden to a musical family. She is a multi-instrumentalist with proficiency in trombone, bagpipes, trumpet, recorder, and others. She has received a number of awards and scholarships for her great musical ability and talents that was fostered as she grew up with already musically talented family members.
Although Carling was never professionally trained, her ability on the trombone is beyond that of the average trombone player and she is known for playing three trumpets at once. Although she is primarily a jazz musician, Carling sings, dances, and so much more. She is an all around performer.
7. Angela Wellman
Jazz and Black culture activist, Angela Wellman began her collegiate schooling with the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri’s Kansas City, received a Master’s degree in Music Education from the Eastman School of Music, and finished her doctorate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has received the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Study Fellowship, the City of Oakland “Cultural Key to the City,” the“Jazz Hero Award” from the Jazz Journalists Association, the Arhoolie Award from the Arhoolie Foundation, the 2020 Caffie M. Greene Community Building Award, and the County of Alameda 2021 Arts Leadership Award.
Most significantly, she founded the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music (OPC) in 2005, to ensure that Black children and adults have access to culturally resonant, affordable music education. Wellman continues to play the trombone and make a difference in the lives of musicians.
8. Natalie Cressman
This modern female trombonist, Natalie Cressman was born in California, US to Santana trombonist Jeff Cressman. She graduated from the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, CA, USA, and from the Manhattan School of Music, NY, USA. Her early teens were filled with Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, and jazz influences and in 2012 these experiences led her to performing with trombone enthusiast Wycliffe Gordon. She has also played with Trey Anastasio, stepped in for her dad in Santana, and founded her own band Secret Garden.
Thanks for reading! 🎵
From sackbuts to sliphorns: A concise history of women trombonists. Ruth Peterson Google Slides. Retrieved February 21, 2023, from https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/183UfiuC0DhnR6GUn91DuUXLFEIgRz4pZVUdWzJLS-j4/mobilepresent?slide=id.g11947df9522_0_23
Trombone history: 17th century (second half). Will Kimball. (n.d.). Retrieved February 21, 2023, from https://kimballtrombone.com/trombone-history-timeline/trombone-history-17th-century-second-half/.
Women in trombone history: 1500–1900 - spinditty. (n.d.). Retrieved February 21, 2023, from https://spinditty.com/genres/Females-in-Trombone-History-1500-1900.
Dorothy “Dottie” Ziegler: Pioneering Champion of the Trombone. Doug Yeo. 2023. International Trombone Association, 51(1), 46–49. https://doi.org/https://www.yeodoug.com/articles/Yeo_ITAJ_January_2023_Dorothy_Ziegler_tribute.pdf.