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women who rock :: Blog

Women Who Rock With Style

Tuesday, December 6: 2 p.m.
Posted by Dr. Mary Davis
Lady Gaga's Grammy Awards performance outfit from 2010

Women who rock know how to rock a look. From Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey to Janelle Monáe and Lady Gaga, the ladies who have made the music that moves us have used fashion – clothes, makeup, hairdos, hats, jewels, boots, shoes – to help express themselves. Their art goes beyond song and sound. They create entire worlds of style that connect us to their musical messages, draw us into fantasies that run the gamut from elegant to edgy, push us to understand how the spectacle of self-presentation can communicate ideas and emotions in ways that transcend words or melody. Today, the idea of rock style is a given: We’ve grown accustomed to seeing singers on the cover of Vogue, we buy the clothes and makeup promoted by stars from Madonna (featured in Versace ads) to Rihanna (a spokesmodel for Revlon); we can even dress ourselves head to toe in clothes created by rockers, such as Gwen Stefani’s L.A.M.B. label or Beyoncé’s House of Deréon. 

It’s easy to boil rock style, in all its guises, down to two ideas: glamour and rebellion. But, as the Women Who Rock exhibit illustrates, the story is ...


continue Categories: Hall of Fame, Inductee, Exhibit, Event

Joan Jett's First Ride

Tuesday, November 29: 12 p.m.
Joan Jett's first car: 1983 Jaguar XJ-S H.E. now on display at the Rock Hall

All I could think when we got a call from Joan Jett’s management offering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum Jett’s first car was “Where are we going to put it?” 

Finding room for the various vehicles in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s collection – from Johnny Cash’s tour bus to Janis Joplin’s 1965 Porsche 356C Cabriolet – can be a challenge. With a bit of elbow grease and the help of sturdy car dollies, we were able to make room for the big black cat: Joan Jett’s 1983 Jaguar XJ-S H.E. It’s perfect that this was Jett’s first vehicle, as it's long, lean and mean, and – according to Jaguar literature of the day – the fastest production automatic car with a top speed of 155 mph.

Jett purchased the Jaguar before she had a driver’s license and drove it off the lot with only a learner’s permit. She was recording at Kingdom Sound Studio in Syosset, New York, where I Love Rock N' Roll (1981) and Album (1983) were recorded, the day she took possession of the car. Between recording sessions, she took her new ...


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A Bright Rhythm Nation

Monday, November 28: 5 p.m.
Posted by Kathryn Metz
Learning at “Women Who Rock: Songwriting and Point of View”

The handwritten lyrics to Janet Jackson’s 1989 song “Rhythm Nation” are currently on display in the Museum’s Women Who Rock exhibit: With music by our side/to break the color lines/let’s work together/to improve our way of life/Join voices in protest/to social injustice. The song exhorts social change in the face of injustice, using music – and by extension, rhythm – as a unifying tool. It’s the perfect platform to talk about song structure (verse, chorus, bridge, etc.) More important, “Rhythm Nation” provides a unique point of view from which to draw conclusions about its author and her era.

We use the chart-topping hit as an example of songwriting in our Rockin’ the Schools class based on women songwriters, “Women Who Rock: Songwriting and Point of View.” We developed the class curriculum (one of three Women Who Rock–based courses) with a strong English–language arts focus in conjunction with the Women Who Rock exhibit. This gives students the opportunity to really explore ELA concepts while learning about the importance of women songwriters from Tin Pan Alley to Top 40 radio. Male and female middle school and high school students appreciate the dedicated listening ...


continue Categories: Inductee, Exhibit, Education

Today in Rock: Wanda Jackson is Born

Thursday, October 20: 9 a.m.
Wanda Jackson

The rockabilly field of the 1950s wasn’t exactly crowded with female performers, but Wanda Jackson didn’t let that stop her from making her mark. Born on October 20, 1937, she emerged from a small town in Oklahoma to become the first Queen of Rockabilly. With encouragement from Elvis Presley, whom she met while on a package tour in 1955, Jackson moved from country music to rock and roll. "I was just doing straight country, and that's all I had ever planned on doing. [Elvis] started talking to me about his kind of music – we didn't really have a name for it at that point," said Jackson during a 2009 Hall of Fame series interview with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum Vice President of Education and Public Programs Lauren Onkey. "I said look, I love it of course, but you're a guy, you can sing it, and I just don't think I can do it. He just kept insisting that I could do it – he said, 'you got the voice.' He took me out to his home in Memphis, and we played records that afternoon. 

"He made me promise that somewhere along ...


continue Categories: Hall of Fame, Inductee, Exhibit, Exclusive Interviews

The Fabulous Girl Groups

Wednesday, October 12: 12:08 p.m.
The Ronettes

"The Fabulous Girl Groups" is the third installment in a special series that highlights the evolution of women in music by placing their accomplishments, inspirations and influence in the context of the eras that shaped their sounds and messages. "America's Foremothers" introduced the series, and "Pioneers of Rock" was the second feature.

The roots of the girl-group era date back to 1956, the year when a vocal group called Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers lit up the charts with “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” Mary Wilson of the Supremes remembers that many girls around her neighborhood weren’t content just to listen to Frankie Lymon sing on their transistor radios – they wanted to be Frankie Lymon. Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes auditioned for her future producer and husband, Phil Spector, by singing “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” when they met in 1962.

The first real girl-group hit was the Bobbettes’ “Mr. Lee,” which reached Number Six in August 1957, just a month before nine African-American kids had to be escorted by the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army to desegregate their high school in Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1958, as Swedish diplomat Agda Rossel became ...


continue Categories: Inductee, Exhibit, Education, Foster Theatre, Rock and Roll Night School

America's Foremothers

Monday, September 12: 11 a.m.
Bessie Smith

"America's Foremothers" is the first installment in a special series that highlights the evolution of women in music by placing their accomplishments, inspirations and influence in the context of the eras that shaped their sounds and messages. 

Between 1920 and 1947, roughly the period covered in the “Foremothers” section of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s Women Who Rock exhibit, American women made great strides toward gaining equality while championing basic human rights. Female musicians responded to the liberation evolving around them, forming a collection of voices that melodically – and often defiantly – set the tone that inspired generations of women. Leading the charge were the “Foremothers”: Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mahalia Jackson and Mother Maybelle Carter.

Among the suffrage movement's greatest victories was the passing of the nineteenth amendment in 1920. The ensuing decades saw many more developments as women were elected to office, quite literally taking seats of power: state governor (Nellie Tayloe Ross of Wyoming, 1924) and senator (Hattie Wyatt Caraway of Arkansas, 1932); and the first female member of the President’s cabinet, Francis Perkins, was appointed Secretary of Labor in 1933. The Women’s Amateur ...


continue Categories: Hall of Fame, Inductee, Exhibit

She's Got the Power

Monday, August 1: 4:52 p.m.


Photo: Lauren Onkey, Laura Greenwich Weiner, Jean Thomas, Mikie Harris, Paul Schaffer, Susan Collins, and Seymour Stein

This past weekend our friends at the Ponderosa Stomp put together an amazing tribute to the girl groups as part of the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival.  The Saturday night concert featured a parade of great women singers, songwriters and producers who had taken over rock and roll in the early sixties – from Arlene Smith of the Chantels, who started it all with "Maybe," to Maxine Brown, Baby Washington, the Angels, La La Brooks, Lesley Gore and the Exciters.  Also on hand to perform the backing vocals were women including Mikie Harris and Jean Thomas, who sang on countless sessions in New York in the girl group era, and Toni Wine, a great singer, songwriter, and arranger.  And that's just a sample. The show closed with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Ronnie Spector delivering a thunderous performance of "Be My Baby," backed by the biggest and best army of backup singers ever assembled.

It was a soaring tribute to the era when women first broke into rock and roll. I was at Lincoln Center as part of the Rock ...


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The personal stories are always the best ones

Wednesday, July 13: 2:34 p.m.
Posted by Sarah Dougher

Guest blog courtesy of 2011 Summer Teacher Institute participant Sarah Dougher, educator at Portland State University and at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls in Portland.

One thing about exploring the history of women is that in order to tell these important stories, the personal is made public, and the personal often becomes political. Although this is an old saw, it sings a new tune when we are talking about the materials in the Women who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power exhibit. Upon seeing Wanda Jackson’s dress, a kind of shabby-looking red, white and blue number hanging next to her hand-decorated guitar, our tour guide mentioned that when the museum had asked Jackson for items to display, she didn’t have many dresses from the early period.  She explained that her mom made all her dresses by hand, and because they were poor, would often recycle elements, such as fringe and rhinestones, in dress after dress. 

What we saw displayed at the museum were elements that may have graced the famous dress that did not cover her shoulders when she first played at the Grand Ole Opry. She was forced by the host to wear a jacket on stage ...


continue Categories: Education
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