The Celebration of Women and Their Music
Celebrates its 20th Anniversary
Event founder Deb Jenkins still in awe of young female artists’ immense talent
BY ASHLEY REZACHEK
Deb Jenkins works as a nurse once a week, caters and serves meals at three different places, has published a cookbook and has released two CDs with her band.
Even with her whirling schedule she still manages to organize downtown Fargo’s annual Celebration of Women and Their Music. This year will mark the 20th year since the celebration’s beginning.
The event allows high school girls to show off their artistic talents in hopes of winning a monetary award. Many former participants will be back to perform and contribute to the mission statement, which reads, “our mission is to recognize artistic passion in women and create opportunities for emerging and established artists by opening avenues for networking, mentoring, support and promotion of their individual talents.”
Deb Jenkins has spent nearly the last 40 years in the Fargo area after marrying her husband who is originally from the area. She started her band in 1980, which was originally called “Second Wind” but is now “The Deb Jenkins Band”. Her first gig was at Minnesota State University Moorhead’s Underground, which was known at the time as The Wooden Nickel, and she has been performing ever since. She says her favorite song to sing is Etta James’ “Out of the Rain.”
“My favorite, favorite song is one I wrote, and it’s called ‘Leaves,’” she said. She mentions that “Leaves” is a very personal song for her. The song has changed so much since she first wrote it. It can mean different things depending on who is listening.
The Deb Jenkins Band plays rhythm and blues, with hints of jazz. (Video by Prairie Public Broadcasting.)
In the ‘90s she applied for a job at the Full Circle Café in a single room occupancy building. The thought was that the people living in the building would work in the café and that would help them get themselves transitioned back into the community. They would be provided with job coaching. At the time, Jenkins had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was working full time as a nurse. She took off a year and chose to change her path and go into managing the restaurant.
“Everybody thought I was so crazy, because the money went from double digits to single,” Jenkins said.
She suggested that art be incorporated into the restaurant, pointing out that many of the residents there would not be able to go to museums for art and are not going to bars for the live music. She mentioned that many musicians will jump at any opportunity to play. Word got out and more people asked her if they could play at the café and she started to meet people in town she wouldn’t have otherwise.
“Also, at the same time in that year, Lilith Fair was going on,” Jenkins said. “That was a big women’s festival going on all over the United States, and so I was like ‘this is so cool,’ so then we started having music. And then I just thought it would be really great to have our own little mini Lilith Fair.”
Although the event has always been staged at the Fargo Theatre, the event has evolved with time. Four years ago, Celebration of Women and Their Music became a nonprofit entity. Celebration has also extended its reach beyond the music world and into the art world in general.
“We do visual art, dance, music — we used to do literature,” Jenkins said, but mentions they didn’t get many literary entries. She speculates that many writers of high school age are not putting their writing out for people to see.
The show features local and national talent. People from Los Angeles, Boston and Michigan will be among the performers this year. Musicians like Chastity Brown, Claudia Schmidt and Reina del Cid will be performing, all in support of the event’s mission statement.
“If one young girl or one woman watches all these women and connects with one word that one woman said that says, ‘Oh yeah, I feel like that, I’m going to be OK,’ ” Jenkins said.
Young girls feel encouraged to get involved and perform when they see other women performing and being creative, Jenkins said. Watching other women and having that representation helps them see that they, too, have their own potential.
“When you witness somebody’s work you’re really testifying for them,” said Karen Branden.
Branden is a sociology professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead, director of the interdisciplinary center for Diversity and Social Justice and a longtime friend of Jenkins.
“We are lucky to have (Jenkins) in our community,” Branden said.
Branden has been a volunteer at the event for roughly 10 years. This year she’ll be making sure VIP guests will be seated in the right area. Branden and Jenkins also organize an annual sustainability retreat that offers seminars on sustainability and relaxation.
“We’ve opened a lot of avenues for people,” Jenkins said, “(who) aren’t necessarily like you’d hear their name and go ‘Oh yeah, I hear their name all the time.’ That’s not what it’s about.”
Chastity Brown and previous award winner Rosie Sauvageau sing “Backroad Highways” by Brown. (Video by Celebration of Women and Their Music.)
When asked why she felt moved to start an event that focuses on women, Jenkins said, “easy answer … because at the time I was going through chemo, I changed my job from nursing to restaurant, which, you know, people thought I was crazy, and we have a daughter. And I wanted to show my daughter that as a woman you can still do so many different things and still do more and just, I wanted to empower her and just show her that yeah, I was sick but I have the strength to keep going and to do it.”
Jenkins’ daughter has been involved in the Celebration of Women and Their Music by writing grants and emceeing for the event.
“I just wanted to show her as a woman that you can do whatever you want … and you don’t have to be in a niche,” Jenkins said.
“It’s a big deal when you have a crowd of people witnessing and testifying somebody’s creativity and voice,” Branden said.
One reason why this event is important is it gives the community a voice. Branden adds, “you get support for the fact that art is important.”
“It’s really hard to pursue an art thing when you are shy,” Jenkins said. “But getting that support from everybody else is pretty cool.”
There are people across the United States coming together and supporting these young women. The Celebration of Women and Their Music is an opportunity for girls to share their talent and be supported by their community.
“If you’re in high school, and you’re a girl, that’s a big deal, it’s big deal, (seeing this support) almost never happens,” Branden said.
The event is not only for women. A few men came into the Jenkins’ restaurant after the early events and said, ”Oh my gosh. I brought my daughter to that … it just changed her life,” as recounted by Jenkins.
“Some of their daughters were (very small) … I’m like yes, yes get them while they’re young,” Jenkins said.
Even after 20 years, she’s in awe of how talented young artists are in this community.
The Celebration of Women and Their Music is a nonprofit event; none of the artists get paid. The doors for the show open at 4:30 p.m. and the show starts at 6:00 p.m. on Feb. 18. Tickets are still available and can be bought online or at the door. VIP tickets will include a pre-show appetizer and wine tasting on the 4th Floor of the Loretta Building starting at 4:00 p.m.. The money raised from the event will go toward an endowment fund established through the FM Area Foundation. A scholarship is given to a local high school girl to continue her post-secondary education in the arts.
A lot of work goes into this event. “And it’s worth it,” Jenkins said.
(Ashley Rezachek is a multimedia journalism and biochemistry and biotechnology major at MSUM. She hopes to one day combine her majors for a career in science writing or editing, and help bridge the gap between the public and the science world. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)