Women's music  

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"Disco was an extended conversation between black women female divas and gay men. Straight men were welcome to join the party, but only if they learned the lingo. Some did, but for many, this new demand aroused a kind of "castration anxiety," as Alice Echols put it in a 1994 essay. Disco symbolized a world where straight men were not only expected to engender the female orgasm, but to incorporate it. --"The Last Days of Gay Disco, Peter Braunstein, June 30, 1998

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

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).



In the late 1960s and early 1970s there were few "positive women's images within popular music" and a "lack of opportunities for female performers" (Garofalo 1992:243; Mosbacher 2002). At the time, major record labels had only signed a few women's bands including Fanny, Birtha, The Deadly Nightshade, Goldie and the Gingerbreads and the band that they evolved into, Isis (Garofalo 1992:243). The lack of inclusion of women in the mainstream made it necessary for women to create a separate space for women to create music. Lesbian and feminist separatism was then used as a "tactic which focused women's energy and would give an enormous boost to the growth and development of women's music" (Garafalo 1992:244).

Out of the separatist movement came the first distributed examples of music created specifically for lesbians or feminists. In 1972, Maxine Feldman, who had been an "out" openly gay performer since 1964, recorded the first lesbian record, "Angry Atthis," (Atthis was lover of the poet Sappho) a single with lyrics specific to her feelings and experiences as a lesbian. In 1973, Alix Dobkin, flautist Kay Gardner, and bassist Patches Attom created the group Lavender Jane, and recorded an album entitled Lavender Jane Loves Women. In the same year the feminist all women band The Chicago Liberation Rock Band recorded Mountain Movin' Day. These early recordings were successful despite the lack of traditional distribution and promotion. They were sold through mail order and in a few lesbian-feminist bookstores, like Lambda Rising in Washington, D.C., and were promoted by word of mouth (Garafalo 1992, Mosbacher 2002).

Record labels, distributors, and publications

Olivia Records, the first women's music record label, was created in 1973 by a collective including artist Meg Christian. Starting with a single that was successfully sold by mail order, Olivia was able to release Meg Christian's I Know You Know and Cris Williamson's The Changer and the Changed. The Changer and the Changed was "one of the all-time best selling albums on any independent label" (Garafalo 1992:245) at that time, and was also the first LP to be entirely produced by women (Koskoff, 1989:208). "Changer" is the all-time best-selling album to come out of the women's music genre.

Several other independent labels were created by artists such as Kay Gardner with the record label Wise Woman/Urana, Margie Adam with the record label Pleiades, Ani DiFranco with the record label Righteous Babe Records, and Holly Near with the record label Redwood Records in 1972. Redwood records expanded the scope of women's music recordings to include women of color by recording Sweet Honey in the Rock, an a cappella group of African-American singers founded by Bernice Reagon in 1978 (Garafaolo 1992, Koskoff 1989, Carson et al 2004). As these record labels grew so did the music genres represented, and the ethnic and social diversity of the artists expanded. Several other labels were also formed by artists; Berkeley Women's Music Collective, Woody Simmons, and Teresa Trull were distributed by Olivia through their network.

With the growth of independent record labels and increasing demand for women's music, an organized system for distribution and promotion became necessary. Goldenrod Music was formed in 1975 to distribute for Olivia records, and later expanded distribution to include other labels. Ladyslipper, a non-profit organization formed in 1976 to promote and distribute women's music. Olivia's informal network formed WILD (Women's Independent Labels Distributors) formed in 1977 to distribute music into different regions of the United States. The organization had two purposes - to formally network and educate distributors on sales and business issues, and to bargain with Olivia while Olivia's financial pressures in turn pressured the distributors. In 1978, a national booking company, Roadwork Inc. was formed to promote women artists (Koskoff 1989, Garafalo 1992, Mosbacher 2002).

Between 1984-1994, "HOT WIRE: The Journal of Women's Music and Culture" was created and published in Chicago by a large group of volunteers. It was founded by Toni Armstrong Jr., Ann Morris, Michele Gautreaux, and Yvonne Zipter. The publication focused exclusively on lesbian feminist musicians, festivals, venues, and various topics pertaining to writing, theater, dance, comedy, and the arts. "HOT WIRE" came out three times/year and each 64-page issue included a soundsheet with at least four songs by lesbian and/or feminist artists. It had international distribution and a website is in the works to provide downloadable articles from all of the back issues. Former editor Toni Armstrong Jr. has continued to be involved in women's music as a performer, concert producer, and currently edits the "Long Time Friends" e-newsletter "for veterans of the women's music industry."

Women's music festivals

The first women's music festival occurred in 1973 at Sacramento State University. From 1973-1976 many other festivals were organized including the first National Women's Music Festival at Champaign-Urbana, Illinois in 1974. The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival was created in 1976, and has become the largest festival in the United States (Morris 1999:28). Newer festivals include Lilith Fair which toured from 1997-1999; the Women's International Music Festival created in 2004 near Akron Ohio, and the Los Angeles Women's Music Festival, which kicked off in 2007 with over 2500 attendees, and which will return in 2009. Festival sizes vary; at WIMFEST in 2004 there were 320 attendees and in 2005 they saw double that number. WIMFEST will return in 2008. Many other festivals have been created throughout the United States and Canada since the mid-1970s and vary in size from a few hundred to thousands of attendees.

Though the festivals are centered on music, they support many other facets of lesbian and feminist culture. Designed to provide a safe space for women's music and culture, many festivals are held on college campuses or in remote rural locations. Many festivals offer workshops on topics concerning the lesbian and feminist community, offer activities such as arts, crafts, fitness classes, and athletic events, and serve to provide opportunities for women to take advantage of resources they often cannot find in mainstream culture. Bonnie Morris describes in her book Eden Built by Eves, how festivals serve women throughout the stages of their lives. Festivals support a safe space for coming of age rituals for young women, adult romance and commitment ceremonies, the expression of alternative perspectives on motherhood, and the expression of grief and loss (Morris 1999). Currently, festivals continue to thrive in the United States and other countries.

Lilith Fair

Notable artists

See also

female hip hop, women artists

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Women's music" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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