Wonder Women: Inez Wyrick

Inez Wyrick

Back in the days of Myspace, I remember connecting with a female double bassist. As with most things on social media back then, a picture usually led the conversation:

Inez Wyrick

My first thought was, “Wow, what an elegant double bassist.” (I didn’t know the Wagner rehearsal story yet, not that it makes her less elegant, it just illustrates a high-spirited sense of humor).

My second thought was, “Wow, what a unique fingerboard. She’s unafraid to project her personality.” Let’s face it, it’s pretty brave to have showy green swirls on your fingerboard, given some of the stereotypes associated with classical music. (Again, I had yet to hear the Wagner story or hang out with her and her husband, Donovan Stokes, who entertained some of the Bass Coalition Summer Workshop staff for an evening at their home, laughing over silly and wonderfully dark-humored YouTube music videos).

My Myspace profile pic at the time featured my NS Design CR5M electric upright. This garnered two reactions: viewers either loved how “progressive” that bass was, or viewers hated how progressive it was. I had cut my teeth with classical training, but at that point in time, I was distancing myself. The NS electric upright in the profile pic was both a badge of honor and a hard “line in the sand,” communicating something of a “screw you” to the old guard.

But the elegant lady on Myspace with the upright was… unaffected. Instead, she reached out and connected with me. I didn’t know she was raised on jazz in a time when “women didn’t play the bass”…(a refrain also echoed by the old guard in jazz as well). I didn’t know that her teacher made her learn “Mack the Knife,” and she had to play the song around the entire Circle of 5ths. She simply looked “classic” in that Myspace pic, with that lovely hair. The green swirls on that fingerboard were the single cue that she might just be bending the rules. And once you got to know Inez Wyrick, you found she most certainly was. She loved bass in all it’s forms and genres.

She again made an impression when she started asking questions centered around the experience of being a female bassist. I truly wish I could remember her exact wording, but that conversation thread is long lost to a locked-up Hotmail account lost to another decade. Her question wasn’t positive or negative, or even feminist. It was just in the vein of “it is what it is.” I remember my reply was along the lines of, “I’m a spirit born into a female body, having a female experience. But the spirit is neither male nor female. It just is.”

After that, things really got interesting. I was building up the Virginia Bass Forum. Seventy miles away from me, she and her husband were building up the Bass Coalition Summer Workshop. In 2010, I met her for the first time at the first Bass Coalition Summer Workshop. As I got to know her over time, that’s when the “Bass Mom” nickname began to land for me.

2014 Bass Coalition

When I set out to do the Wonder Women series on No Treble, I had certain people in mind right off the bat. Some of them I made a higher priority due to age or other factors. But, in a web-based column like this, it is necessary to have a balance between the new generation (the Tanya O’Callaghans, Kirby Barbers, Mohini Deys, and the Ellen Alaverdyans of the world) and recording the stories of the older generation… the forerunners who helped build the world these younger ladies now live in.

The stories of the old guard are the stories I’m more afraid of losing, especially as we’ve just gone through a pandemic. These are the women who truly were in the minority, often told by teachers and conductors that “women don’t play bass,” and who worked twice as hard as their counterparts to land the same gigs. Women, aside from harpists, were not in major symphony orchestras. This Time news article will give more context.

I spoke with Donovan in preparing this article, and he shared this of Inez, “She was told by one of her former teachers that women shouldn’t play the bass. She was also told to her face that she couldn’t work with a particular big band jazz group because she was a woman. In fact, she was told that the only women who would be in the band were singers, and even then…only if they were attractive. Even though Inez had been playing professionally six nights a week since the 8th grade and she was in her local symphony orchestra as a high school student…she was turned away. The discrimination was very real.”

These were the times that a young Inez cut her teeth.

I do favor the old guard in my column to a degree simply because these stories need to be recorded and remembered. But sometimes, you can’t get to everyone, no matter how hard you try. Unfortunately, Inez is someone I had on my list from the outset, but I was not able to personally interview for this series. Thankfully, she’s left us quite a legacy, so it’s still possible to feature her and give her story the attention it deserves.

A good place to begin is with a passage from Inez’s Tribute Archive:

“She began performing music in the 8th grade with her father, and taught music and served as a psychic consultant for the entirety of her adult life, never fully retiring. She served on the Board of Directors for the International Society of Bassists, which awarded her the “Young Bass Ambassador” award in 2001 and which, starting in 2022, is named the “Inez Wyrick Prize” in her honor. She was also Co-founder and Co-Artistic Director of the Bass Coalition Summer Workshop.

In addition to teaching music privately, she also served on the faculties of Shenandoah Conservatory, Indiana University’s String Academy, Amarillo College, Odessa College, and Texas Tech University’s Orchestra Camp. She founded the Amarillo Bass Base, the first organization of its kind for young bassists. Her family of students over the years teach and hold professional positions in ensembles, music businesses, and educational institutions worldwide.

An active lecturer, clinician, and adjudicator, Inez appeared regularly at the Richard Davis Bass Conference, Golden Gate Bass Camp, and International Society of Bassists conventions. She has published over 500 arrangements/compositions for the Double Bass Ensemble.”

A note about those 500 arrangements: many of her arrangements were geared toward engaging young bassists to help them have more interesting music to play. To give them something with more challenge than what high school orchestra directors were offering bassists in their concert arrangements.

Inez became nicknamed the “Bass Mom” as she had a gift for teaching young bassists. Another nickname was the “911 instructor.” She had a knack for reaching students who had major challenges. One example was a young woman who was missing her right hand. The young lady was outfitted with a modified boxing glove that was weighted, and a German bow was secured to the glove.

I spoke with Will Robinson, an adult bass student who attended the 2014 Bass Coalition Summer Workshop. He had been playing electric bass for a month when he decided to attend the workshop at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia. The “Bass Mom” nickname landed with him as well when he heard it the first time: “Inez had an amazing aura about her that was so inviting. She was able to bring the aspiring student, the music, and the bass instrument together in a comfortable setting. I have a piece of art that Inez painted still hanging in my practice studio over the doorway, that painting connected for me and matched where I was in my life.”

Thankfully, Jason Heath interviewed Inez in 2015, capturing and preserving her story. I encourage you to check out his conversation with Inez at Contrabass Conversations. Inez discusses her story as a musician, but it also illustrates how her role as a bassist has changed as societal norms have shifted during the course of her lifetime.

And of the Wagner rehearsal story I mentioned earlier? It was noteworthy enough that it made it into a book. Barry Green’s book The Mastery of Music: Ten Pathways to True Artistry relates the tale. Inez welcomed a new conductor to his first rehearsal with the blessings of the orchestra management and other powers that be at the time, “It’s a great prank, go for it.” Let’s say few conductors have probably had their first rehearsal of a Wagner piece welcomed in true Norse warrior style, Inez came in wearing Viking headgear, a long blonde wig, pie plates as chest armor, and a huge dress.

An often repeated phrase at the time of Inez’s passing was “the bass world lost its mother.” That is very accurate. If you knew Inez, I invite you to please take a moment to share a story or a memory in the comments. Perhaps, using the bass community’s collective memory, perhaps we can record her story as part of the Wonder Women series archives, preserving it for later generations to find.

Inez strongly supported the work of both the ISB and the Bass Coalition Summer Workshop. If you feel so moved, please consider a memorial donation to either the ISB or Bass Coalition to help them continue their work.

Brittany Frompovich is a highly regarded educator, clinician, blogger, and bassist who currently resides in the Washington DC/NOVA region. For more content from Brittany, check out her blog, her YouTube channel, and her Bandcamp site. She also offers handmade unisex music-themed jewelry through her Etsy store. Get a Wonder Woman Tee!

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Share your thoughts

  1. Paul

    I played Bass Christmas with Donovan and Inez. Inez placed a young bass student next to me. She told the student to disregard any of my technique, but said “He’s a jazz guy and will be in the right place. If you get lost just go with him.”

  2. Erin Wyrick

    Thank you for the wonderful article! My husband is Inez’s nephew. Last year, in 2021, Inez’s great-niece, my daughter, picked up the double bass and told us “I want to play the bass because my family plays bass and it is cool for a girl to play the bass!!” We are loving watching her learn and Inez would have been so proud! I can’t wait to share your article with my daughter! Blessings!

  3. Chris Childs

    Great story on an incredible woman!

    I am a former student of Inez’s and to say she changed and influenced my life is a HUGE understatement. She was the right teacher at the right time in my high school life. She kept me grounded on all fronts in all kinds of ways throughout my life.

    My wife of 30 years was also a student and she proudly talked about her two bass kids who met and were married and had a bass child in our son. So she was rightly called herself his bass grandmother. In fact she arranged a bass quartet and played it at our wedding. I have TONS of fun stories of our time together both in the rehearsal room and on stage. Most can’t be printed…. :)