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MUSIC Artemis Singers chorus celebrates inspiring women
by Melissa Wasserman

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In honor of herstory, Artemis Signers begins Women's History Month with a concert Sunday, March 3, at the Irish American Heritage Center titled "Sheroes: Women Who Inspire Us."

Founded in 1980, Artemis Singers is a Chicago-based lesbian, feminist chorus that specializes in performing music written or arranged by women. The nonprofit chorus is made up of women singers from diverse backgrounds who are dedicated to "effecting positive change in cultural attitudes toward women and women artists," according to an organizational press release.

"It's important that we've been doing it," said "Sheroes" Co-Artistic Director Katy Clusen, of Artemis Singers having a repertoire intentionally full of women's works throughout its entire existence. "It's important to say that the voices of women need to be amplified and need to be an example for other groups within the larger musical community of our city and of our country. It's stunning to me when I will look at a program and see no women composers on a concert and I'm proud that we do sing music written and arranged by women and that we can be an example for a way of doing programming that is unique, but also really important."

The chorus is open to all women singers and sets out to provide creative opportunities for women interested in all aspects of choral production, including song writing, arranging, performance lighting, choreography, audio, artistic direction, stage management and vocal instruction.

"Women composers, women musicians are just overlooked," said Hilary Marsh, the other "Sheroes" co-artistic director. "Women singers are overlooked, women are overlooked. So, it's an important commitment to make."

Artemis Singers also earned its spot in Chicago's Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame ( now Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame ) in 2008. Throughout the year, Artemis Singers performs two concerts with performances at different events and guest performances at other groups' concerts around Chicago.

"Artemis is all volunteer run and it's much more democratic and consensus driven," said Marsh of the chorus' operation and song selections. "And so, that colors how we work in so many ways."

"Sheroes" will feature a variety of songs honoring women such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Joan of Arc, World War II-era women and Mississippi sharecropper and civil-rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer.

During the concert, audience members will hear a program with songs ranging from Eleanor Roosevelt's quotes and written letters that form the lyrics of "The Beauty of Your Dreams," by Seattle composer Joan Szymko; to the Chicago premiere of "Won't You Marry Me Ruth Bader Ginsburg?," by Ann Reed; to "Girls and Airplanes," a tribute to World War II-era women breaking down barriers by Nashville composer Anne E. DeChant; to the humorous "Big Butch Woman," by Martha Brown; and more.

"We're celebrating the sheroes that are among us and who are us," said Clusen. "For many in the chorus, we are each other's sheroes and so this past summer we chose music that represents different women from across history. ... It's a really broad way of looking at what makes somebody a sheroe in the eyes of someone else."

"Some of our concerts are really political and they're about 'rise up, act up' and those really important messages," said Marsh, who brought the "Sheroes" idea forward. "This one is also an important message, but something positive to hang our hats on. It's about celebrating something as opposed to protesting something. I just felt like it was the right time for that and there are so many songs out there that honor sheroes, whether it's a famous woman or parts of our community or even the sheroes in ourselves."

The event will also feature guest artist Kru Maekdo, who will speak about her Chicago Black Lesbian photo archives exhibit on display, which both Clusen and Marsh described as "powerful"; and Anna DeShawn, founder of E3 Radio, an online radio network that produces radio streams from a queer perspective and president of the board of directors of Affinity Community Services.

Additionally, audience members will have the option to do more than just enjoy the event's artistic talents. During the performance they will have the opportunity to honor their own sheroes. People can send in a photograph and caption identifying women who have stood as a personal hero and have had an impact on their own lives by Feb. 25 to ( with "sheroes" in the subject line ).

"I want people to recognize the heroes that we often lift up," added Clusen of the event. "I hope that people will learn about some new sheroes that they may not know a whole lot about… I think we want people to be feeling lifted up, to be feeling a positive sense of self when they leave, to know that their actions can also be seen as acts of heroism and that we are an inter-woven web and we need one another in each other's lives and this is an opportunity for us to come together and to celebrate that and to sing about it and show it in this lovely space we'll be performing in [on] that March Sunday kicking off the International Women's Month."

For more information on Artemis Singers, visit . To purchase tickets to "Sheroes: Women Who Inspire Us," visit .

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