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‘Grit and Grace’ highlights women’s struggle for right to vote

Courtesy photo Gigi Campbell (left) and Michele Dugan are two of the actresses who appear in “Grit and Grace,” written by Kathrine Muller of Altoona. The “pageant-style” series of vignettes shares the highlights of women who fought for equal voting rights from 1848 to 1920.

History comes to life through two performances of Kathrine Muller’s “Grit and Grace,” a series of stories and songs depicting women’s struggles to win the right to vote. The shows will be held at 2 and

4 p.m. June 13 at the main stage area at Lakemont Park.

Told “pageant style,” Muller of Altoona will narrate and seven actresses will depict positive highlights from 1848 until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Segments are interspersed with period-appropriate songs performed by Simply Grace.

Creator Muller said, “The journey is depicted through the conversations, letters and articles shared by the women who participated in the suffrage movement. Songs of the eras and fashions of the changing times highlight the story.”

The opening song, “Amazing Grace,” is the only song a bit out of chronological sequence as it was written prior to the Suffragette movement, she said.

Musical selections by Simply Grace include “In the Good Old Summertime,” “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and “Johnny Get Your Gun,” to longer pieces such as “Grandfather’s Clock” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Friends for 23 years, the Simply Grace trio is comprised of Chris Rhykerd of Hollidaysburg and Altoonans Jimmie Wells and Sandy Dodson. The trio first started singing at church so “Amazing Grace” was already on their playlist.

“One of our first requests came from a military group looking for a group to perform Andrews Sisters songs,” Rhykerd said. “Our focus is to sing for the Lord, but then people started to ask us to do different things. We’ve been blessed.”

Their repertoire now includes music from the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s for various events for mothers and daughters, class reunions, and special occasions such as “sweetheart songs” for Valentine’s Day. Most recently, they dressed in nuns’ habits and performed selections from “Sister Act,” a 1992 comedy.

The women learn their songs by ear as they don’t read music and haven’t received any formal musical training, Rhykerd said.

“We do a lot of a capella in three-part harmony,” Rhykerd said. “We have low-range voices, so Jimmie sings the melody, Sandy has a deeper, rich tenor and I sing above Jimmie. We work together and play off each other. Our voices blend well and we have the richness of a friendship. The Lord has blessed us with the gift of music and getting to share it with people.”

“Grit and Grace” creator Muller said the play was performed last fall at Baker Mansion in recognition of the 20th Amendment’s anniversary. After its popular reception, Muller said, she hired a videographer and a modified version was filmed inside Baker Mansion. It is hoped the film will be used by teachers to instruct students about the voting rights struggle.

If you go

What: “Grit and Grace,” stories and songs depicting women’s struggles to win the right to vote

When: 2 and 4 p.m. June 13

Where: Lakemont Park, main stage

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