Women’s History Month might be coming to an end, but we wouldn’t dream of finishing out the month without mentioning one of Minnesota’s brightest and most tragic stars, Judy Garland. Born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, Judy started entertaining at the age of 2, traveling across America with her mother, performing in nightclubs, cabarets, hotels and theaters. She went on to attain international stardom during Hollywood’s Golden Era. Over her 45-year career she received many awards including a juvenile Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and she was the first woman to win the Grammy Award for Album of the Year for her live recording of Judy at Carnegie Hall.
Despite her far-reaching success, Garland led a troubled life. At 13 years old, she was signed to MGM where she soon began working on her role as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz (1939). Film executives constantly criticized her physical appearance which led Garland to struggle with her self-image and mental health. They fed her numerous pills, such as amphetamines, to achieve the desired streamlined figure and combat her exhaustion on set. The constant flow of narcotics soon led to a downward spiral that resulted in Garland’s life-long addiction to drugs and alcohol – a habit which ultimately led to her death at age 47 from a barbiturate overdose.
Although Garland battled with severe addiction and mental health issues, she nevertheless continued on to receive a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in A Star Is Born (1954); at age 39, Garland became the youngest and first female recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in the film industry; And the American Film Institute placed her among the 10 greatest female stars of classic American cinema.
In addition to her professional accomplishments, Garland led a lavish love life. She was married five times and had several celebrity lovers including Mario Lanza, Yul Brynner, Frank Sinatra, Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles. In pop culture, Garland became a gay icon due to her role in The Wizard of Oz and her numerous personal struggles that seemed to mirror those of gay Americans at the time. Her search for strength, authenticity, and acceptance in her self-identity continues to resonate with and inspire people everywhere.
In 2013, our CEO and owner, Buffie Blesi, attended the inaugural Minnesota Women Business Owners Hall of Fame induction ceremony. During the event, she was struck by how many successful companies in the Twin Cities are run by women and how few of those women are recognized for their accomplishments. Finally, an organization like the Minnesota Women Business Owners Hall of Fame was creating an avenue for these powerful female voices in business to recognize, celebrate, and love themselves.
For this week of Women’s History Month, we want to highlight a couple of those powerful voices that most profoundly impacted Buffie when she heard their story at that first induction ceremony just five years ago: Mother-daughter team, Ebba Hoffman and Sharon Avent.
Ebba Hoffman grew up in a time before women had the right to vote. By 1944, she had married, and was firmly entrenched in her role as a housewife with no dealings in her husband’s Hastings-based business, Smead. When her husband died suddenly in 1955, the newly widowed homemaker, with two young children and an eighth-grade education, found herself at the helm of his debt-burdened office products company.
Over the next 43 years, Ebba steered the Smead Manufacturing Company out of a crippling financial situation, through the era’s gender biases, past competitors, and into a position as one of Minnesota’s greatest, and quietest, success stories. Under her savvy leadership, Smead grew from roughly $4 million to over $300 million in sales. When she passed the business on to her daughter, Sharon Avent. The company had gained a nationwide reputation as an office-products powerhouse.
With her many ongoing innovations, Sharon continued to expand upon her mother’s work. Today, she is the sole owner of this 100-plus year-old company that continues to be identified as one of the largest woman-owned manufacturers in the United States with more than 2,000 filing and organizing products sold in the U.S. and Canada by large retailers such as Office Depot, Staples, Office Max and Amazon.
It’s Women’s History Month and of course we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to highlight this powerful singing trio that became one of the best-selling musical groups to ever emerge from Minnesota! Nicknamed “The Queens of the Jukebox Machines” for their many hit records, the Andrews Sisters were an American close harmony singing group of the swing and boogie-woogie eras. The group consisted of three sisters from Minneapolis: Patty, Maxene and LaVerne. Known for their precise harmonies and perfectly syncopated dance moves, the girls reached heights of worldwide fame and set staggering sales records. Their musical influence continues to inspire modern musicians, such as Christina Aguilera and Bette Midler.
Among their many achievements, The Andrews Sisters were the first female group to achieve a Gold Record award and became one of the best-selling female vocal groups of all time with somewhere between 75 and 100 million records sold. Of their billboard top 100 hit songs, they are most known for “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” and “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.” They were even among the inaugural inductees to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame upon its opening in 1998.
Andrews Sisters Fun Facts:
During World War II, the sisters Entertained extensively with frequent concert appearances at military bases in America, Italy and Africa, visiting Army, Navy, Marine and Coast Guard bases, war zones, hospital and munitions factories.
They appeared in more films than any other singing group in show business history.
They recorded 47 songs with Bing Crosby, 23 of which charted on Billboard, including three million-selling platters, “Don’t Fence Me In”/”The Three Caballeros,” “South America, Take It Away”/”Get Your Kicks on Route 66-!” and “Jingle Bells”/”Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.”
March is Women’s History Month! We plan to celebrate this month by doing what we do best: highlighting some of Minnesota’s most powerful female voices in music, business, theater and community. Next week, we’ll kick off the month with a look at some of the most influential female musicians in our state’s history. The following week, we’ll dive into the world of Minnesota business, after that comes theater, and last but not least, community.
So come along for the ride as we find inspiration in the past, present, and future of Minnesota Women’s History. While our Minnesota cities might seem small, there’s no doubt that our Minnesota women have made big contributions to the world.
Stay tuned for stories of talented women who Rock What They Got! And we would love to hear from you too, so don’t forget to take some time this month and share about the historical female figures who inspire you the most.
Behind every great idea, there’s a passionate individual. As we enter the final week of preparations for Rock What You Got, we wanted to get a little personal, to pull back the curtain behind our very own “Wizard”. Today, we want to introduce you to the woman who has the courage, heart and brains to take on this monumental event.
The lineup of unique experiences and interactive opportunities explains it all. It takes a village to put together this one-of-a-kind event, but leading that village is one innovative champion for women in Minnesota. Her name is Buffie Blesi, and her title is CIO (chief inspiration officer).
“Buying this event and attempting to completely change it, along with the minds of those who have strong opinions about it, has been both rewarding and frustrating,” says Blesi. “But I am truly grateful to all of the amazing and powerful women who trusted me and agreed to be a part of this crazy mission.”
That mission? To be a guide and catalyst to help every woman fulfill their dreams and potential. Whether it’s small business, a professional career, or family life, Blesi has been and continues to be a fierce advocate for women. That is why she is determined to revolutionize this expo— to provide women with experiences, relationships and introduce us to the community we deserve. Celebrating ourselves and lifting each other up with the goal of transforming this event into a festival of women rocking what they’ve got without ever apologizing for it.
Perhaps you’ve felt guilty for the decisions you’ve made in life. Perhaps you’ve found yourself saying “sorry” for your success or your drive to achieve. Perhaps you’re looking for more substance and meaningful connections in life. If you are a woman, you can likely relate to Buffie Blesi on her journey. And thanks to her vision, you can take comfort in knowing you’re not alone.
The holiday season is over and we’re all working to get back into the swing of a routine. It’s a new year, filled with fresh perspective and redefined goals. We should be filled with excitement and a renewed sense of purpose. Instead many of us are exhausted from the holiday gatherings, lack of vitamin D, and the constant struggle to stay relevant in a time when we must fight to show our true selves.
Acclaimed musician, Chastity Brown, knows all about the struggle to stand by her true identity in the face of adversity. Raised in Tennessee, Chastity made a drastic change when she chose Minnesota as her new home base. It’s a transition that has come with a specific set of challenges and a finite focus on self-love throughout it all. Her powerful force is exactly why our team at Rock What You Got (RWYG) presented by Twin Cities Women’s Expo selected her to headline our first concert series.
Her newest single, Mad Love was inspired by a confrontation Chastity had with a white supremacist in western Wisconsin. The songs powerful lyrics convey a message of resilient authenticity in the midst of an ever-changing societal climate.
“Wouldn’t be so hard/if I got my way/I’d get far from these crowds/though they scream and shout and hate/like they’re/like they’re angry with themselves/cause we/we got/all the mad love/that they want.”
Chastity stands by her values to choose love in the face of hate. This powerful anthem of acceptance encourages us to abandon our fear, hold tight to our light, and join her in casting positivity into the world.
It won’t come as a surprise that we jumped at the chance to bring this message of hope and love to RWYG LIVE! presented by City Pages on Friday, Jan. 25 at the Earle Brown Heritage Center. Chastity Brown will headline an incredible lineup of women performers as we celebrate our authentic selves and one another, just as we are today! Tickets to the show include a 2-Day Pass to all RWYG experiences.
Put yourself on the path to acceptance by participating in our various performances, guest speakers and interactive experiences. Join us on January 25 and 26. And check back here over the next several weeks as we invite you to Rock What You Got!
Living in limbo. That’s how many of us feel in the days between Christmas and the New Year. We find ourselves reflecting on memorable moments while looking forward with excitement to what’s ahead. ‘Tis the season to make resolutions and we have a good one for you to consider… 2019: The Year of You!
Women are notorious for sacrificing their own wants and needs for the benefit of others. While everyone burns the midnight oil from time-to-time, women take it to the next level. More often than not, we agree to take on new responsibilities even when our plates are already full. Sometimes, we stretch ourselves so thin we compromise our personal health and well-being. This willingness to self-sacrifice is part of what makes us incredible human beings, but we shouldn’t have to pay such a high price as often as we do.
Imagine how life would change if we treated ourselves with as much care and compassion with which we treated others. Over the past several years, the idea of self-care has surged in popularity and left many of us wondering, “is this total BS?” If you’re thinking of self-care as switching off your phone and binge watching Friends instead of picking your kid up from soccer practice, that’s not what we mean. To us, at Rock What You Got (RWYG) presented by Twin Cities Women’s Expo, self-care is learning to accept and appreciate yourself as you are. Our event at the Earle Brown Heritage Center will introduce you to new products, services and ideas. The goal? To help the women of Minnesota become the best version of themselves—all while making new and unique connections with a larger community of women.
It might feel counterintuitive or selfish to care for yourself first in order to better care for everyone else, but there are several real-world examples that prove it’s true. Hop on a plane and flight attendants tell you to secure your oxygen mask before assisting others. On a cruise you’re instructed to put your own lifejacket on first. During our two-day interactive experience, our special guests will offer first-hand knowledge to make your daily life more fulfilling. Whether it’s refreshing your home, a healthy and quick dinner recipe, a fitness class or the latest wellness information, RWYG will stimulate your curiosity.
RWYG challenges women to put themselves first. So, join us on January 25th and 26th to shed the stereotype that self-care is selfish. Buy your tickets today. Then, check out this blog over the next month to learn how we will support you through this transformation in becoming the best version of yourself. And remember to Rock What You Got!
Listen up, women. Raise your hand if: you’ve ever found yourself saying sorry for making someone else feel uncomfortable because you were expressing your true self. Raise your other hand if: you’ve been judged by how you look or what you’re wearing rather than for who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish.
Women spend their lives evolving between different roles—as daughters, wives, mothers, working professionals, and friends. Our lives are diverse and complex. And yet, many of the products, services and events targeted toward women merely scratch the surface in making our lives easier, better and happier. Rock What You Got (RWYG) presented by Twin Cities Women’s Expo encourages women to own who they are without apology and say, “We demand more.”
The interactive two-day experience at the Earle Brown Heritage Center offers performances and exhibitors that embrace women as they are. This includes introducing them to new opportunities– ideas, entertainment and products that they may not have previously considered. Our mission is this: if women can show the world that we are comfortable with ourselves, then we can stand in appreciation and solidarity with other women.
“For years, my friends and family have listened to me talk about how I wanted to inspire women to be who they want to be rather than what everyone else expects us to be,” said Twin Cities Women’s Expo Owner Buffie Blesi. “Rock What You Got is the realization of this dream and serves as a catalyst to help women and small businesses achieve their full potential.”
Each of our special guests believes in the power of this event. In fact, we’ve asked many of them to connect with the women who will be joining us in unique ways. Acclaimed musician, Chastity Brown, is bringing something new to the expo by headlining our inaugural variety show presented by City Pages called RWYG Live! on January 25. Other entertainment includes:
WCCO Radio host Jearlyn Steele, who will sit down with Brown for an onstage interview. Guests will then be treated to a special performance.
2 Sugars Show is the sketch comedy duo composed of beloved Twin Cities performers, Shanan Custer and Carolyn Pool. Custer and Pool recently gave a TedX talk in Minneapolis and wrapped their show, “Sometimes There’s Wine” at the Park Square Theatre.
RWYG reinforces our words with actions by partnering with organizations that support our mission and encourage women-owned businesses. They include:
Many of the RWYG speakers, performers and exhibitors are also offered scholarships to participate in this experience. It’s yet another example of how we are women, supporting women-owned businesses, who will (in turn) inspire the women who attend this two-day experience.
RWYG will, no doubt, provide a nice way for you to spend the day with the women in your life. But it is also a must for women who demand more. So, buy your tickets today. Check out this blog over the next five weeks to get excited about our new offers. Then, join us on January 25 and 26 for plenty of fun and fulfillment. And remember to… Rock What You Got!