AUGUST 5: Ernestine “Tiny” Davis (1909-1994)


Born on this day in 1909, Ernestine Davis was a popular jazz singer
and trumpeter of the LGBT music scene. Nicknamed “Tiny,” she gained fame with The International Sweethearts of Rhythm which was the very first fully-integrated, all-female big band in the United States. 

Tiny was often called “the female Louis Armstrong” (x).

Tiny was born on August 5, 1909 in Memphis, Tennessee. She
was her parents’ youngest child out of seven and grew up with 4 older sisters
and 2 older brothers. She attended Booker T. Washington High School and it was
there where Tiny first picked up a trumpet and discovered her natural musical
abilities. When the family moved to Kansas City in 1935, Tiny joined a band
called the Harlem-Play Girls but she was forced to leave the group a year
later with the birth of her first child from her marriage to Clarence Davis.

In 1941, The International Sweethearts of Rhythm jazz band
severed its ties with the Piney Woods Country Life School of Mississippi which
had founded the band back in 1937. Now based in Virginia and free of all
financial responsibilities to Piney Woods, the 16-piece band began recruiting new
members. Tiny was one of three musicians who the band picked up for this new
era and during her 7 years with The International Sweethearts, Tiny toured all
across the United States, performed at The Apollo for celebrity musicians such
as Louis Armstrong and Eddie Durham, and took part in a USO tour during World War

Tiny performs “How ‘Bout That Jive?” with The International Sweethearts of Rhythm.

In 1947, Tiny left The International Sweethearts and started
her own band called The Prairie Co-Eds, which was later renamed to The Hell
Divers. Her new band enjoyed a successful career of touring throughout the Caribbean
and Central America and recording for Decca Records before disbanding in 1952.
From the mid-1950s until their deaths, Tiny and her partner Ruby Lucas – who
was also a musician and was the bassist for The Hell Divers – operated a club
in Chicago called Tiny & Ruby’s Gay Spot. Tiny regularly performed at the
club well into her old age and passed away on January 30, 1994. You can learn
more about Tiny in the 1988 documentary dedicated to her over 40-year long
relationship with Ruby titled Tiny &
Ruby: Hell Divin’ Women