The SheBoom Sisterhood

SheBoomFrom left: Candyce Dostert, Janine Fay, Lesley Bannatyne, Janet Axelrod, Deb Pacini, and Julie Schneider. Not pictured: Adria Steinberg and Lisa Doyle. All photos by Sasha Pedro.

They have many names for themselves. “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Drums.” “The Rolling Crones.” A “post-menopausal percussion and vocal ensemble.”

They are many things—women, activists, mothers. One was a realtor, another’s a former professor, and a third has written five books about Halloween.

They came together haphazardly.

“It’s a small world in Somerville and Cambridge,” says Lesley Bannatyne.

“Especially for old feminists,” Janet Axelrod adds.

SheBoom started eight years ago as four weeks of drumming classes. Many of the women didn’t know each other, and only one is a professional musician.

The eight women, all in their 60s and 70s, now practice weekly with Brazilian drummer Marcus Santos. He has “infinite patience” for them, they say.

“We’re like his eight American mothers,” Axelrod says. “He really loves us.”

Santos teaches the women various drum beats, and they gradually hear songs from their past in the rhythms. They rewrite lyrics to those songs, typically to reflect their firmly liberal views.

SheBoomThe tune of “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, for example, gets reimagined as a section of a song about BP: “Ah ha ha ha drilling to hell, drilling to hell.”

“These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” is channeled into a song about protesting and women’s rights: “You just want to legislate my body / And I don’t want this congress in my bed / These boots are made for marching / And that’s just what they’ll do.”

Peggy Lee’s “Fever” becomes a comment on global warming: “Mother Earth has got a fever / That is one thing we all know / Wind and solar that’s the future / These fossil fools have got to go.”

The women gather for rehearsal on a weeknight in June, with cake and champagne to celebrate Candyce Dostert’s birthday. At 66, she is at the younger end of the group.

They sit around an oval table in Janine Fay’s Prospect Hill home, swapping news about mutual friends’ health and laughing at each other’s jokes.

Weekly rehearsals in the “Boom Boom Room”—a living room turned practice space in Fay’s home—are sacred for the friends. They made an unspoken promise to show up every week and have become a huge support system for each other, they say.

“We’ve always searched for this kind of sisterhood,” Axelrod says.

The Boom Boom Room is littered with evidence of the group’s liberal views. A throw pillow shows a picture of Barack Obama with the line “Hooray for the president.” A sign stuck to a lamp declares “We demand $15 minimum wage and a union.” A Rosie the Riveter sticker reading “¡Sí se puede!” adorns one of the drums.

Having come into adulthood in the ’70s, many of the SheBoom members have been activists throughout their lives. But most of them never thought they’d be on stage singing about their views. Several had to work through stage fright. They explain, though, that they feel supported by their communities.

“My major spiritual moment was at PorchFest, when we were making mistakes, and it didn’t matter,” Fay says. “It just didn’t matter, and that was so freeing.”

Being part of SheBoom helps keep their memories sharp, several members say with a smile.

“We could be playing mahjong, or we could be playing bridge, or we could be playing tennis, or whatever, but this is what we like, so this is what we do,” Axelrod says.

They say that young women sometimes come up to them after their shows and tell them that it’s wonderful to see older women performing, being creative, and embracing their age. The SheBoom members point out that there are few examples of older women being portrayed positively in American society.

“People really don’t see a lot of older women in ways that they like. It’s nice to know that people our age can still be cool,” Axelrod says. “Life is long, and you can do a lot of great things during your lifetime. Don’t think you have to rush and hurry and do everything in your 20s or 30s. If you’re lucky and you live, you’re still able to do lots of stuff into your 60s and 70s. And that stuff is some of the best stuff you’ll ever do,” she adds.

Gathered around Fay’s kitchen table, the women marvel at what the group has been for them—a place to express political views, to be supported, and to have fun.

“You can count on Monday night, you’re going to laugh your ass off for two hours,” Deb Pacini says.


This story originally appeared in the Do Gooders, Key Players, and Game Changers issue of Scout Somerville, which is available for free at more than 200 locations throughout the city or by subscription.

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