Black and Deadly at the NFSA

BY SOPHIA SAMBONO

The Indigenous collections team at the NFSA are celebrating the lives and careers of pioneer female Indigenous recording artists with the forthcoming ‘Black and Deadly’ exhibit in Canberra.

WARNING: this article contains names, images and voices of deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Album sleeve for 'Georgia Lee Sings the Blues Down Under’

Female Indigenous recording artists date back as early as 1903 with Fanny Cochrane Smith. From here it was a slow burn build-up of female artists achieving success in Australia and overseas from the 1950s to today.

There has been a veritable explosion of Indigenous female talent on the Australian music scene since the 1990s with Christine Anu, Tiddas, and the Stiff Gins; Shakaya, Casey and Emma Donovan and Jessica Mauboy in the 2000s; and onwards to 2013 with Thelma Plum.

The NFSA is redesigning showcases in the permanent exhibition gallery in Canberra to tell stories from the Indigenous Collections, tentatively titled ‘Black and Deadly’. The first themes to be explored will be the stories of these fabulous women in music.

The music business has always been a tough road to travel and their success is even more significant when you consider the obstacles these women overcame. The famous Torres Strait Island blues singer Dulcie Pitt (stage name Georgia Lee), told the press in her heyday, ‘It’s hard to be a woman, but harder still if you are a woman and Black’.

Georgia Lee is described by Clinton Walker as the ‘original Indigenous diva of Downunder Blues and Jazz’; she was the first Indigenous person to release a full record and the first person in Australia to release one in stereo. She even toured with Nat King Cole on his 1957 tour of Australia.

We only have one copy of her only album Georgia Lee Sings the Blues Down Under, recorded in 1962 on Melbourne’s tiny Crest imprint (pictured). As you can see from the photograph it is a well-loved copy and we will only be able to display it for a limited period.

If you know of another copy of Georgia Lee Sings the Blues Down Under, we would love to help it find a safe home here at the NFSA to preserve the treasured heritage of women like Georgia for generations to come.

For now you can listen to a track from the album in our collection.