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"Breaking Through the Clouds"
The First Women's National Air Derby
a documentary by Filmmaker/Producer Heather Taylor

article by Nanette Malher, Soundtrack Composer & Webmaster for the Project

Visit the Official Website and Buy the DVD

In January of 2003, film producer Heather Taylor found BobbiTrout.com and emailed to find out if she might be able to speak to Bobbi in person concerning the documentary she was producing about the 1929 First Women's Air Derby. At the time, Bobbi was the last living contestant of the 20 women who had entered the race. Unfortunately, on the day that Heather called, Bobbi was in the hospital and it was not a good day for those of who knew and loved her. At the age of 97, surgeons had just discovered that cancer was wreaking havoc on her little body and nothing could be done. Bobbi was to be taken home to live out her last remaining weeks. She was a trooper. Nurses and doctors alike streamed into her hospital room to check on her and say their good-byes. They knew she was a living legend, and they could not get enough of her smile. Her optimism never failed. She told them, "Oh, I'm doing just fine. You go help someone who really needs you." Bobbi never made it home. She died while in the middle of a song. She was singing to the little bird she had hoped to see fly once more to her living room window.

Heather Taylor was devastated when I called to tell her that the last living contestant of the First Women's Air Race was no longer with us. Bobbi's insight and recollections would have been invaluable to her project. I encouraged her to keep going and pledged to help in any way possible, because the story needed to be told, and Bobbi would have wanted to help make it happen. That summer, Heather traveled to Nashville, TN and we met for the first time. I shared a box of original newspaper clippings from 1929 that Bobbi had sent to me about the race. Over the next seven years, Heather and I emailed and spoke on the phone on a regular basis as she continued to find and share the treasures she was unearthing about the race, and I did the same. Cheryl Baker, the Trustee of Bobbi's estate allowed Heather to have access to whatever photos we could provide. The splash photo on the homepage of the official website for Heather's project (www.breakingthroughtheclouds.com) was one that was in Bobbi's scrapbook. It shows the lineup of some of the women who were to take part in the race, including Bobbi, who stood next to Louise Thaden as they were laughing largely about something. (Louise won 1st place for the "heavy class" airplanes in that first race.)

Throughout the years, I watched Heather build her dream. In so many ways, as she learned more about these brave and daring women, she became like them as she followed her own path with tenacity and passion. She organized and worked with many people who contributed in huge ways — from film editors to the interviewees to the pilots who flew their own airplanes for the aerial recreations. Producing is not a task for faint of heart. She had to make tough decisions and hard choices within difficult time constraints while facing an ever-growing budget.

In 2007, Heather asked me to build the website that would help her promote the film. In the fall of 2008, she invited me on a trip to San Diego to help with research at the San Diego Air and Space Museum and to help on location as she worked with a film crew to get interviews of Bobbi's sister-in-law Hazel Trout (who was in her 90s at the time), Lou D'Elia of the Pancho Barnes Trust Estate, and Cheryl Baker. Throughout 2009, Heather interviewed pilots Elinor Smith, Patty Wagstaff, Julie Clark and many aviation historians, relatives of the contestants and aviation experts. The closer Heather was getting to the finish line with her film, the more excited she became. I couldn't wait to see the rough cuts at the beginning of 2010.

I was greatly honored when Heather asked if I'd be interested in creating an original soundtrack for her film. As a composer, a pilot and someone who knew and loved one of the contestants, I felt it was a privilege to be asked to provide such an integral part of the documentary. With each updated rough cut I received, the picture that had once been just a thought in a producer's head was coming into focus. The music had to support many emotions: the joy the women found in flying; the true respect and camaraderie in their friendships; the pain of defeat; the sadness of death; the elation of victory. I poured my heart and soul into every note of the ultimate 40+ pieces. The satisfaction in my work was hearing the joy in Heather's voice as I turned in each piece and, ultimately, in seeing her face light up during the events that led up to the premiere. On June 26, 2010, in the Hodson Auditorium at Hood College (Heather's alma mater) in Frederick, Maryland, almost 400 people, many of whom were pilots and/or Ninety-Nines, who had come in after the final moments of the 2010 Women's Air Race Classic, viewed the film for the first time. As the last scene came to a close, there wasn't a dry eye in the house and Heather received a standing ovation for her contribution to the history of aviation. She has invested everything into the project — mentally, physically, emotionally and financially. She worked doubly hard to make sure all information included was historically correct to the smallest detail. Bobbi would have been very proud to be featured so prominently in a documentary that contains so many historical facts about the race, because she was a stickler for getting things right.

"Breaking Through the Clouds" is now the authority on the history of the 1929 First Women's Air Derby. I hope you'll consider purchasing the DVD. Even if you are not a pilot, or know nothing about aviation, the vintage footage is incredible, and the story is so very inspiring. It is a work that will forever preserve a huge part of the history of the First Women's Air Race of 1929, and the women who broke through the clouds — those who paved the way for so many future generations of women to find their own dreams.

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