I recently got a press release for singer Cyrille Aimee’s new album that featured the following blurb: “When you see Cyrille Aimée perform, you instantly fall in love with her—her voice, eyes, curls and the joyful spirit she invests in each song.”
The quote comes from a 2013 interview with Aimee by the singer Roseanna Vitro. Out of the four qualities Vitro praises, only one directly relates to skill and talent. “Joyful spirit” is related, but it reads fairly gendered to me (how many male singers would be praised for their joyful spirit?). What do Aimee’s eyes and curls have to do with her singing, or why you would want to listen to her music? Nope, nothing. What are two of the things that help make Aimee such a compelling performer? Her appearance. That this is the interview’s very first sentence immediately frames Aimee as a gendered and sexualized object, who also sings.
Perhaps, in this case, it’s ok that attention was drawn to Aimee’s looks because the writer was female. But it’s not – the sexualization of female jazz musicians by writers is not limited by the writer’s gender. What it shows is that the practice, especially in regards to singers, is so ingrained that it has become the modus operandi for writing about female musicians by most writers.
I haven’t heard Aimee’s new album, but I’m currently listening to her with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra on their Burstin’ Out! album. (If memory serves, it was my pick for vocal album of the year in last year’s NPR critics poll). It’s the only recording of her’s I’ve heard, and from the first listen I was really shocked by her great sense of rhythm, timing, natural shaping of phrases, and her great voice.