Annie Bartholomew “Sisters of White Chapel”

Independent, 2023

A moving collection of well-thought-out lyrics accompanied by stunning musicality which personifies the characters.

artwork for Annie Bartholomew "Sisters of White Chapel"Sisters of White Chapel’ is a historic songwriting project by Alaskan songwriter Annie Bartholomew. Based on the narratives of the women who went North during the Klondike Gold Rush, it explores the incredible true stories of the sex workers in Victorian-era Alaska. The main aim of Bartholomew was to bring these women to life, extract the emotional truth of who they were, why they risked everything to follow a gold rush, and their subsequent journeys and misadventures along the way.

After immersing herself in research, with in-person as well archival materials, historical memoirs, interviews with historians and the Library of Congress newspaper archives, the full scope of the project came to include not only this, Bartholomew’s debut album but also a play and stage show. One sorrowful piece of research in the Klondike Nugget newspaper gave the core storyline and opened the door to a world of hidden history. Entitled “A Short But True Story“, the piece was about a woman who lost everything on the journey and had to make the difficult decision to enter sex work.

Opening with the title song, ‘Sisters of White Chapel‘ refers to the red light district in Dawson City, a town in the Canadian territory of Yukon, which was a base during the 19th Century Klondike Gold Rush. In the absence of work, the resolve is to do whatever it takes to survive. Yet, despite the bleakness of the prospects, the brightness of the instrumentation demonstrates the incredible determination of these women who proclaim “I’m gonna swallow all the tears that I cry“.

All For the Klondike’s Gold‘ is adapted from a historic miner’s poem and retells the tale of the loss of husbands, sons and brothers who abandoned their women “All for the Klondike’s Gold“, the women now joining together to survive the gold rush. The driving guitar and fiddle express the courage of the women as together they attest, “Then let us weep our griefs are one, all for the Klondike’s gold.

Dead Horse Trail‘ moves the story on with a resigned, soulless style to the vibe, cleverly achieving the sense of the undertaken journey. The imagery created is perfect, particularly for a stage performance of this work. The trail takes us to the bright, vivid ‘The Cuckoo‘, with its wonderful mix of strings, then on to the short but poignant ‘Feel My Sin‘. It isn’t obvious that there are only vocals in this song. Such is the musical beauty that is the blend of Bartholomew, Marian Call, and Kat Moore singing acapella.

The story then continues with just Bartholomew and her banjo in ‘Spoils‘ and a resigned acceptance as:

A Scarlet dame condemned to shame
Lived my life like another card game
Paying the price
For a life of vice
Spoils, roll the dice

It is a vivid account again, full of imagery.

Run Around Lucy‘ then lifts the spirits with a fiddle-driven, sing-along style before ‘Mountain Dove Song‘ and the closing ‘Last Confession‘ tell of the secrecy these women needed to have to be able to move on with their lives after sex work, and the precarious nature of life in Alaska, with death often not far off demonstrated by the beautiful outro to the song.

The stage show is sure to be highly emotional.


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Jonathan Aird

Absolutely agree – this is a bold folk “concept” album, which really brings all the careful research to vivid life. Should be on everyone’s shopping list.