Episode 38:Visiting with Barbara Hedlund of Urbana, IL, and her story “A Rippling Effect”
ANNOUNCER: Raising women’s voices. One story at a time.
Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast.
JENETTE JURCZYK: Thank you for joining us once again, here on The She Said Project Podcast. I’m your host, Jenette Jurczyk, National Director of The She Said Project. So happy to be here with you sharing women’s stories. And as always, in studio, my dear friend and co-host, Kerry Rossow, Co-Founder of this incredible project, this incredible program. How’s it shakin’? What’s going on today, Kerry?
KERRY ROSSOW: Hi, Jenette. Well, I’ll tell you, I’ve gotten fluffy in this pandemic so it’s a lot shakin’. I’ll tell you that. It came on so quickly.. oh, I can’t stop myself.
JENETTE: There’s just more of you to love, K Ross, more of you to love. And more Kerry around means that we can, you know, we can, we can spread our mission, we can spread you and we can spread our mission.
KERRY: Hey hey hey! Too far, Jurczyk! Too far! (laughing)
JENETTE: But even in a pandemic, you know, we are finding ways to keep our mission moving forward of sharing women’s stories, raising women’s voices, giving them a microphone. Cuz you know, women—we’ve got something to say. Don’t you think?
KERRY: We have a lot of things to say and our guest today, I will tell you that different things she said from the stage or things that she said during our rehearsals and getting-to-know-you time, pop into my head all the time. I adore this guest.
JENETTE: Here, here, and before there was a pandemic, and before there was a thing called COVID, there was a live show called That’s What She Said. And our guest today, Barbara Hedlund, appeared on stage, in person, when that was a thing, back in February of 2020, where she shared a personal story in one of our shows—so she’s here with us today, on deck, in the Zoom studio. Welcome and thanks for joining us, Barbara. How are you in these crazy times?
BARBARA HEDLUND: I’m doing great—to see all of you again! I can’t believe a year has already passed almost. Crazy! You’re a bright spot in the day!
JENETTE: Well, I appreciate that so much, because when we come together as women—oh my gosh—to support each other and raise each other up, and you have a legacy of doing that. You shared a story about a time in your life where you stood up for yourself and gave permission to other women to stand up for themselves. And I want to thank you for that. And all the women who were in your show learned from you. You were like a mentor and a guide, how was that experience, connecting with those women and being brave and vulnerable with those women altogether?
BARBARA: Well, it was a bold moment for me actually, because, although I’ve been a mentor and a guide as a teacher and a mother—and now a grandmother—my whole life, especially since I moved to Illinois, I hadn’t shared that part of my life with anyone here and I put it behind me. I moved on because of it and learned from it, but you gave me the courage to actually bring it up and talk about it.
JENETTE: That means so much. You are a professional cello player, a phenomenal cellist, a teacher, an advocate for musicians, for women in music. You have done incredible work in your community. And I think it’s time that the rest of the world gets to know a little bit more about Barbara Hedlund.
So we’re just going to go right to your performance, because I think, like you said, you brought up a time in your life that you don’t share often. And that was what was so beautiful about it and we want everyone to hear what you had to say. So, so without further ado, I’m really honored to introduce to all of our listeners Barbara Hedlund and her performance from the 2020 production of That’s What She Said in Champaign, Illinois with her story, “A Rippling Effect.”
BARBARA: (recorded February 2020) Good evening. Thank you for being here and supporting all of us. (applause)
Growing up our black and white television was filled with the images of the first moon landing…the civil rights movement…assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King…the Vietnam War…fighting communism…the women’s liberation movement… Elvis Presley… American Bandstand… and the Beatles.
Little did I know then that the growing women’s liberation movement would eventually impact my adult life and that I would find the strength and courage to speak up for myself.
As an adopted child, my parents would regularly physically abuse and mentally berate me. They claimed I’d never amount to anything. My adopted mother gave birth to two sons, but she always wanted a daughter to play dress up with. Like many mothers of the time, she dreamed that I would become the next Shirley Temple. She dressed me in frilly, homemade dresses with corrective shoes and she rolled my hair in rags every night so I would have those wonderful little sausage curls and the top knot…all the way till high school. (audience reaction)
Well, sending me to school looking like that only led to bullying and it was motivation to get away from that life. Music became my escape. Applying to college to pursue a career as a professional cellist meant breaking family traditions and defying my parents’ wishes. For which, they disowned me. Fortunately, I managed to survive on my own from the age of 17 to 23 and was the only family member for three generations to go to college and graduate with honors. (cheers and applause)
At 23, I met my future husband, who was an opera star. For a variety of odd reasons, my parents refused to meet him for four years. And they wouldn’t come to our wedding. The struggle to gain their support was still a lost cause. With my husband’s encouragement, he always said I seemed to have been cut from a different bolt of cloth. Did I ever want to find my birth parents? Well, I did and I searched and found them both. I was 30 years old then. The positive reunion provided so many answers to unanswered questions when I was growing up.
Fate intervened fifteen years later and I became the power of attorney and caregiver for my biological mother in her final years. Now that story is a rather intriguing one, but there’s another story to tell this evening.
In preparation for this program it was suggested that I share with you some of the highlights of my ongoing career which includes wonderful performance opportunities throughout the United States and abroad. A few favorite memories from my early career in New York include playing numerous Broadway shows, including the original run of The Wiz, playing at Radio City Music Hall, making a..
(audience member: Wooo!)
Yeah! (laughter and applause) It was quite a show, especially from the pit. (laughter) It was. Another memorable evening was making a Carnegie Hall debut with my husband performing in the same opera. (cheers) (He’s still amazing!) I was lucky enough to record the soundtrack to Star Trek 4 in Hollywood. (cheers and applause) I played for innumerous famous artists and toured with them. And more recently, I earned an Emmy for a PBS documentary and an Ebertfest thumbs-up award for producing and performing for a silent film with orchestra in this wonderful (Virginia) theater.
When starting out in the music business in the 1970s, it was primarily a male-dominated industry. At times, I was one of few women in the orchestra and served in leadership roles. Far too often, I dealt with unwanted advances and remarks for male coworkers. They pinched my butt as I walked on stage to get to my chair. They tried to cop a feel, ask for dates and suggested some rather improper actions. At my New York Philharmonic audition, one man walked by me, looking straight at my chest and not at my face, and said, “Hi honey. How did you get here?”
They judged me then on appearance and not on talent. I was treated with less respect and not as a qualified musician. For years, I laughed off and ignored their comments, “Now boys just behave.” I had to play nice to try to keep getting hired and not ruffle feathers. Not only had I dealt with improper parental mistreatment and improper advances from male high school and college professors, but now I was getting it in the music business too.
Well, life changed in 1982 when I became pregnant. Starting a family was important, and the stakes were certainly much higher. While working full-time as principal cellist of the New Jersey Symphony, I had been denied the same medical benefits as my male co-workers. I was also well aware that one of the women in the orchestra had received benefits but not through the standard audition I took. To discuss my case, a meeting was set up with the music director and personnel manager. At the meeting, I was informed that my eligibility for benefits depended on providing special benefits and spending more time with the maestro. He was informed, I was happily married, pregnant with our first child, and not interested in such an arrangement.
As you might have guessed, the next day a termination notice arrived. And I was shut out from my union job. Yet the story continues. While walking into that meeting, my new motherly instincts kicked in. A gut feeling told me to reach into my purse, turn on the cassette recorder. (cheers and applause) But I did it. I had just used that recorder to record my solo in rehearsal. Well, I never got to hear and critique my solo. But that entire conversation was caught on tape. (applause)
After receiving the termination notice, charges were filed with the union for unfair labor practices and sexual harassment. The American Federation of Musicians gave me their full support. In retaliation, management shut me out and prohibited me from returning to a job I had successfully served in for five years with glowing written reports. My next step, with the help of a female attorney, was to file suit with the National Labor Relations Board. The recorded conversation was accepted into evidence.
And I won! (loud cheers and applause)
That litigation period was very stressful while protecting my work rights and keeping my dignity in the face of management’s slander. The whole ordeal taught me how to speak up and defend myself for the very first time. Since then adversity has motivated me to find solutions and move forward. The solution also helped us decide where we wanted to raise our son—and I’m proud to say it was here in Champaign-Urbana. (applause)
Eighteen years after the suit, while at a conference in Maryland, I unexpectedly ran into some women from the orchestra and learned that my suit had also opened doors for them to speak up and fight against sexual harassment. (applause) They credited my case as their motivation to fight back. Suddenly I no longer felt alone and realized that a small pebble thrown into the pond created a rippling effect. A positive rippling effect for other women who were subjected to similar workplace harassment. At the time, I did not realize I had been a pioneer in the “me too” movement long before its current prominence. (cheering) Thank you. (applause) Naturally, I was grateful to have won the suit but saddened that it should happen to any woman.
Thankfully women are more aware now, raising their voices and standing up for themselves. That whole incident motivated me since we moved to Central Illinois to make a difference, not only performing and teaching, but by providing performance opportunities, safe supportive learning spaces, better workplace environments, collegial support, addressing gender and salary issues, fighting age discrimination, producing and performing in school concerts through philanthropy and community service.
I’m still married and perform concerts with my husband of forty-five years. (applause) We have two accomplished sons and daughters-in-law with four wonderful grandchildren. (applause) I think I’m a pretty cool grandmother.
Yes, there were some rough roads and detours along the way. Yes, thankfully at the bottom of Pandora’s Box, there has always been hope to guide me.
KERRY: And the crowd goes wild! Barbara, I got to tell you..
Well, first of all, I have to say that every time I call you Barbara I kind of giggle, because you earned the nickname throughout this process as ‘Badass Babs.’ No surprise that you had never been referred to as Badass Babs because you are the epitome of class and sophistication and so many people know you in your professional sense and admire you that way. So it was easy to be kind of intimidated and want to be on my best behavior and not say any curse words. And then..
KERRY: I know, it’s true. But then you make everyone feel so comfortable and you are so lovely and put everyone at ease. And then to hear you tell this story that was so different than the ways that you’re typically known. It was really beautiful to see you in such a vulnerable state. And then to see the way you dealt with it, in such a Badass Babs kind of way.
BARBARA: It’s true. I think I had always been vulnerable before and it taught me… also it was a time when I was becoming a parent, I was pregnant at the time it happened, and I knew I had to fight for someone else at that point and so suddenly it kind of change my little Southern upbringing of “Oh, you be a good girl now,” and suddenly it was like “Hell no, I’m not going to do that anymore!” (laughing)
BARBARA: It was unfair and I wasn’t going to put up with it.
KERRY: And I love that because I think so many of the women that not just that sat in the audience that night but shared the stage with you, but so many women everywhere, have been raised with that “Be nice” and “Be a nice girl,” and sometimes that gets in the way of sticking up for ourselves.
JENETTE: Yeah, just ignore those little comments, yeah, they’re harmless.. we’re not taught to stand up and say, ‘“Excuse me, that is inappropriate and I won’t stand for it.” I mean, you were a woman in a man’s world—in the professional orchestra at the time—and for the people in power to think that they can take advantage of that, you know, that you had to play by their rules to advance in your career.
I am so, so fed up. Yeah, I am so angry that that is done and still exists today but so grateful for you and women like you who stood up and said NO, NO MORE and love, love, love that moment where you turned on the tape recorder and you’re like, “I know something’s coming” and you caught it and you won. You won. You were a voice for women everywhere. So, do you ever still think back on that time and that moment and, you know, give yourself a pat on the back or a little cheer—cuz it’s so important.
BARBARA: No… well I try not to think about it much anymore, but when I do recall it, I remember just feeling trapped and I knew that I was being ganged up on and I knew it wasn’t right in my gut and just knowing that I had somebody else to fight for, was like, no, no, this is wrong. And I knew I was going to have to blow that recording that I had made in rehearsal, but it was worth it. It was really worth it, and thank goodness the judge allowed it to be entered into evidence. If I had not had that recording, it would have been a situation of ‘he said, she said’ and I would have lost.
KERRY: Yup. Well, fast forward to the night of the performance and afterward—what has been the reaction that you’ve gotten?
BARBARA: Well, I was just so glad to get through it because I had a raging head cold, as you all may remember, and I was sitting there with my little tissue box and my hand wipes and I was wiping the microphone and making sure that nobody would get my cold—little did we even know what COVID was by then. And the funny thing is, I’m never… I mean, rarely ever sick, but it just happened during the show. And so I was trying to present myself, but I had to take an antihistamine, and so my mouth was so dry. I could barely talk to make that speech that night. That’s what I remember.. (laughing) I was dreading getting through it, cuz nothing was working. (laughing continues)
JENETTE: But it did. It worked tremendously. And when you gave a little kick, that was spontaneous, improvised kick—the crowd went wild, which is so…
JENETTE: ...great. But do you, did women talk to you after the show about your experience?
BARBARA: Yes. A number of women came up and talked to me. Even some men talked to me. But one of my former students when I was teaching at Urbana High School, teaching in the orchestra, one of my former students, he didn’t know about my adoption story and people that had adoption in their background, cuz I referred to that earlier in the speech, the search for my adoptive parents—my birth parents, rather. They even asked me about that experience. It helped them.
JENETTE: Yeah, and that’s the power of why we do this. You know, by creating that intimate space, by sharing those stories, you know, people can find each other, people can connect. You have so much to give—and the women who shared the stage with you all fell madly in love with you, Badass.
BARBARA: It was mutual.
KERRY: And you know what? There’s one more thing that is something that I’ve thought of many times since, is at one of the rehearsals, we were in my kitchen and Barbara shared that she had never had that kind of experience with women before, and you’d just been working so hard. Can you share about that, Barbara? Because it so touched me.
BARBARA: Well, when I was growing up, I, I was a fat chubby girl and people picked on me because I had corrective shoes and I had long curly hair and it was all frizzy. And I didn’t really have a lot of friends. I joined the Girl Scouts and I sang in the church choir so I could try to have friends, but it was sort of limited. I ended up spending most of my time practicing and in a practice room and I didn’t do girly things cuz I was so busy doing music. So, for me, to be able to hang out with a bunch of interesting, talented women was like, “What? This is very decadent. I’m supposed to be working!”
It was a whole new experience for me. Really!
JENETTE: We celebrate how important it is that women find each other and connect—I mean, that is Kerry’s motto: ‘Find your people. Find your support network.’
So, I’m grateful that you are now in the She Said family. You are a sister for life. Barbara, it’s an honor to know you and to be part of your story, but that is all the time that we have for today. So, I just want to thank you for sharing from your heart and your soul. And you just go out there and continue being the awesome Badass Babs that you are, because the world needs women like you.
BARBARA: Thank you.
JENETTE: And thank you to the listeners, for all the love and support, keep showing up each week as we share more women’s stories here on The She Said Project Podcast.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you for listening to The She Said Project Podcast in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in the podcast for the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That’s What She Said, LLC. For more information on our live shows go to http://shesaidproject.com
This podcast was made possible with support from Carle and Health Alliance and presented by Sterling Wealth Management, empowering women to live their best lives.
When Barbara Hedlund shared her story, "A Rippling Effect," on stage back in 2020, she earned the nickname "Badass Babs." Now she reflects on events of her past as a professional cello player and how she paved the way for women to be treated fairly in the music industry.
The She Said Project Podcast is recorded in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in this podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That's What She Said, LLC. Learn more at shesaidproject.com.