A few years ago I was invited to a show at the Jazz Festival. ( Montreal is a city that adores Jazz – our festival has become one of the largest and best-attended in the world. Every June our city becomes a Mecca for jazzophiles of every color, age, nationality and gender… there is, literally, something for everyone.) The show was to be performed by a woman I had never heard of (ok, I don’t get out much), and I went more for the pleasure of spending an evening out with a friend, than for anything else.
With no fanfare or introduction, a beautiful young woman walked onto the stage and took possession of it in short order. Ms. Gardot is an exceptional musician, a presence to be reckoned with, and someone who has battled demons and won. I was smitten (in a musical sense), instantly. I honestly can’t imagine walking on to a stage and laying myself bare. But there are women who have been doing just this for centuries. We have a lovely poster of a woman named Helena Dyas Laszky – a small waisted Art Nouveau beauty – about which no information can be found, but it would seem that she was the Melody Gardot of her age.
Often we find posters for shows or performers who’s only traces are the posters themselves. In the case of La Houppa, we have been able to find out that she was a performer who’s real name was Michelle Charpentier, that she had a song-and-dance show, and was often taken as the inspiration for other performers. I think that the Houppa poster we have might in fact be of a female impersonator who had a Houppa show, but there is no way of proving that – could just be a masculine looking poster of a woman who was plainly female. Or not – check out the photo of Ms. Houppa above …
We also have some contemporary posters of women in the performing arts – like this magnificent piece from La La La Human Steps. Oversize, lovely colors, and striking … kind of like the production upon which it was based.
Back to Ms. Gardot. Since the moment I saw and heard her, I have taken to playing her music when I am quiet and alone. Her lyrics speak to me, and her voice has the ability to make me stop what I am doing and listen. In June of this year, I will happily go see her again when she plays at the gig Montrealers call simply ‘the Festival’.