Women in music: performers and composers and song writers


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Women in music

Women in music

There have been very influential women performers and composers in the 20th and 21st century. Billie Holiday is still considered by many as the best blues singer of all time. Even though she passed away in 1959, recording technology was such that she left many recordings behind. Virtually every popular female singer lists Billie Holiday as an influence.

Also a Blues artist, Bonnie Rait was the first female singer and songwriter to make a mark as a guitarist. Deeply routed in the blues, Rait’s playing includes slide guitar which was first heard in the 1930s from artists from the deep South and the Mississippi delta. Also called “bottle neck” guitar, the player places a glass or metal slide on their third of fourth finger of the left hand and creates notes and phrases with a sliding effect.

In the rock-and-roll world, Pat Benatar (often called the “Queen of Rock”) was the first female artist to perform (sing) in the style of front men such as Mick Jagger (The Rolling Stones) or Roger Daltry (The Who). Rock music was long the domain for male performers until Benetar released “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” in 1980 and ushered in a stream of female rock singers.

Joan Baez, a peace activist in the 60s (today to a lesser degree) used her music to express the feelings and emotions of a generation. Baez was also a major part of the rebirth of folk music and her songs were often about the changes seen in the country at that time and the challenges and obstacles a women faced in seeking equal pay and recognition in the business world.

Founded in 1973 by Bernice Reagon, an acapella group of African-American singers called Sweet Honey in the Rock, still tours world wide for audiences of all kinds. They won Grammy in 1989 for Best Traditional Folk Recording for the song “Grey Goose.” Their style is rooted in gospel music, hymns, and spirituals.

In the world of classical music, guitarist Sharon Isbin, who studied with the great Andrés Segovia, and Rosalyn Tureck made her mark as a recording artist after graduating cum laude from Yale University. Vanessa Lann is one of the new breed of women composers who’s music is being widely accepted.

Fado, the romantic and bittersweet music of Portugal, is best represented by recording artist, Mariza. Fado has been kept alive in the clubs and stages of that country, most notably in Lisbon, the capital, since 1820. With it’s trademark guitar sound, it is instantly recognizable.

Other women who have made a distinct mark in music include: Odetta (folk music), Melissa Etheridge (rock), and Diana Krall (Jazz).

Some consider women’s music a separate genre noting that women often have a different perspective on life than men. This was first apparent in the suffragette movement for a woman’s right to vote and later on during the feminist movement of the 1970s.

Born from the frustration of concert promoters and radio stations refusing to feature two female musicians (in a row), an all-women tour of folk and popular music, dubbed “Lilith Fair,” toured the U.S. and Canada from 1997 to 1999. This highly-successful tour has helped woman artists find more acceptance from a traditionally male music industry.

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