In the 1940s a mixed-race, all-female band named the International Sweethearts of Rhythm zigzagged their way across the United States, playing one-nighters at black venues, setting box-office records and attracting A-list admirers such as Louis Armstrong. Whenever they ventured into the Deep South, they had to stay one step ahead of the sheriffs and Ku Klux Klan-inspired vigilantes who upheld the Jim Crow laws.

As one of the lighter-skinned musicians in the band (which also comprised Asian, Hispanic and Native American women), Helen Jones Woods often found herself in the same predicament as her white colleagues when the law came sniffing around. On more than one occasion, she and two white friends had to be smuggled off the bandstand or the bus (known as Big Bertha) and make a getaway to the nearest railway station before the local sheriff arrived investigating a rumor that white women were playing in this mostly non-white band.

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