Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Celebration Of A Lost Genre

One of the cultural by-products of the feminist movement in the 1970's was the emergence of what came to be known as women's music.
Women's music (or womyn's music, wimmin's music) is the music by women, for women, and about women (Garofalo 1992:242). The genre emerged as a musical expression of the second-wave feminist movement (Peraino 2001:693) as well as the labor, civil rights, and peace movements (Mosbacher 2002). The movement was started by lesbians such as Cris Williamson, Meg Christian and Margie Adam, African-American women activists such as Bernice Johnson Reagon and her group Sweet Honey in the Rock, and peace activist Holly Near (Mosbacher 2002). Women's music also refers to the wider industry of women's music that goes beyond the performing artists to include studio musicians, producers, sound engineers, technicians, cover artists, distributors, promoters, and festival organizers who are also women (Garofalo 1992:242).
I remember listening to Sweet Honey in the Rock and Holly Near a lot as a kid. While a lot of media attention swirled around Australian Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman", that was a watered down, poppy version of the much more radical ideas in women's music. Here is one of Near's more famous songs, "Gentle, Angry People", a title that kind of proves the point that the vocal ideas were not quite ready for prime time.

Personally, I thought the whole Lilith Fair thing in the 1990's could have been the seedbed for this same kind of thing. Except, watching a documentary on it, it is clear the professional rivalries, differences in musical styles, and audiences created more friction. The audience for Sarah MacLachlan . . .

. . . is far different from the audience for Liz Phair (just a warning, some might find this offensive).

Interestingly, the whole thing was about ready to fall apart until The Indigo Girls arrived on the scene, bringing a sense of joy and solidarity to their offstage time. The widening of possibilities present in the diversity of the performers at Lilith Fair showed, in some respects, the success of women's music, but also the dangers that women's music tried to overcome - buying in to capitalist notions of competition, of swagger and toughness rather than seeing all the differences as a source of strength.

So, here's to that half-forgotten genre that reminded women that their voices were important, their words had power, that they could achieve much together as women.

So, some random stuff that might even contain a woman singer or two.

La Villa Strangiato - Rush, Live in Rio
Time Crunch - Jordan Rudess
Ballad of Big - Genesis
Blue Monday - Dr. John
Masquerade (Live) - Steve Howe
Controversy - Prince
Sweet Dreams - Yes
Violin Concerto in D, Movement 1 - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Radiant Hearts - Black Mountaint
Did I Happen to Mention - Julia Fordham

See, I managed to get a woman in there!

Virtual Tin Cup

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