Inspired by the support and influence of her older cousin, Andrea Genevieve has always felt a specific connection to heavy music.
“It’s just something that you feel. There’s just an excitement for those of us who are into it, you know? When you hear that, when you hear a good riff and you’re just like, “Oh, yeah. That’s good,” (laughs). For me, it’s what it comes down to.”
Based in Oakland, California, Genevieve now juggles being the guitarist of Heavy Rock band Psychic Hit and founder of Music Marketing platform Hesher Hustle—a combination that invites a conversation of health and healing to a genre historically known for its aggressive sounds and sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll mentality.
For Ep. 2 of In Development, presented by She Shreds and Marshall, we sat down with Genevieve to discuss the new age of Heavy Rock and get her recipe into her essential Heavy Rock ‘n’ Roll tone. Stay in touch with Psychic Hit and a new album coming out mid 2021.
Who: Andrea Genevieve
Location: Oakland, CA
Project: Psychic Hit, Hesher Hustle
Genres: Heavy Rock, Heavy Rock n Roll, NWOTHM (New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal)
1. Inspiration: A YouTube Video Playlist
2. Fender Stratocaster Player Series
I generally use Fender strats. I played a [Gibson] Les Paul for years, then I switched back to a strat because a Stratocaster was the first electric guitar that I ever had and just like comfort wise, I really love the way that strats feel.
3. Pickups: Seymour Duncan Hot Rails
I wanted to have their [Fender Stratocaster] single coil pickup, but more like a humbucker feel to my guitar. So I did a lot of research, a lot of experimenting with pickups and [the Hot Rails] were the pickups that I really, really liked ’cause they give me that sort of punchy, like in your face rock tone that I really, really like.
I usually play through the bridge. I like the aggressiveness of the Hot Rails but on certain songs when I need to pull it back a little, I’ll use my mid or neck position. Having that tonal variety with the Hot, Vintage, and Cool Rails respectively is ideal for what I do.
4. Pedals: Joyo JF-01 Vintage Overdrive, Catalinbread Naga Viper, MXR Phase 90, MXR Micro Flanger, TC Electronics Hall of Fame II.
As far as my pedal set up: I primarily use overdrives, a treble booster for my solos and then different things to kind of color it. Certain songs I’ll use a phaser. I always have a little bit of reverb obviously at the end and, yeah, just different things like a flanger and a chorus pedal for just different colors on songs. but usually I’m primarily just using an overdrive and then a treble booster for my solos.
Joyo JF-01 Vintage Overdrive (essentially a Tube Screamer clone), Catalinbread Naga Viper (treble booster for solos). For color, I’ll sometimes use my MXR Phase 90 or MXR Micro Flanger. For reverb, I use TC Electronics Hall of Fame II.
If I’m using the amp settings, I’ll really crank up the gain pretty high. If I’m using my overdrive, I leave it set to mid and then use my overdrive and tweak it. As far as the EQing, I usually have my bass setting a little bit right of the dial of mid, and mid is usually right at mid. Treble’s usually a little bit right as well. I’m somebody who really likes a very straightforward setup on my amp. I like more classic kinds of amps in that way that don’t have too many options. I feel like for me, I get better tone out of having less variables, less dials to have to mess around with.
In the 16th century, the vihuela was the first six-course guitar-shaped instrument to closely resemble—in shape, sound, and string courses—our modern day guitar. Since then, standard tuning has evolved into the most commonly used guitar tuning in the world, in which string pitches are defined as E-A-D-G-B-E.
Why IS standard tuning so commonly used? To make a long story short, thousands of years ago someone with a lot of patience experimented through trial and error to find that the E-A-D-G-B-E tuning—comprised of a series of perfect fourths with a single major third (Example: If you start on E then, counting up the alphabet, A is the fourth and then from G, B would be the third)—single-handedly allowed for more diversity when considering ability to play chords and scales with physical ease and comfort (there is much more theory surrounding this but we won’t get into that right now). All you need to know is that the “standard” chord shapes and scales revolve around this tuning, which is why tuning your guitar this way is usually one of the first things you’re taught.
What we don’t immediately learn—and might not even consider—is that there are endless ways to tune a guitar. These tunings are called “Alternate Tunings”, referring to a different arrangement of notes in your open strings.
How can these tunings be helpful and useful? Venturing into the open tuning world is like re-learning guitar, which can be incredibly palpable to creative experimentation. Depending on your tuning, you can play full chords with just one finger that slides up and down the neck. If you’re a beginner, this is a great way to explore different sounds while your fingers get used to the strings and your hands get used to the neck. For more experienced players, this allows you to explore beyond the chord shapes and scales that you’re used to. If you’re stuck in a rut, just start experimenting with your tuning knobs until you create something that sounds good to your ears! Let’s check out a few alternate tunings commonly used by other musicians:
Drop D: D-A-D-G-B-D
Ani Difranco- “Letting The Telephone Ring”
The only difference between Drop D tuning and Standard tuning is that the low E string (sixth string) is tuned one whole-step lower than E, making it an incredibly popular and easy to learn alternate tuning. Because you can play a power chord with one finger on the fourth, fifth, and sixth strings while maintaining that low D bass sound, this tuning is popular among heavy metal music; however, Ani Difranco was also known to experiment with this tuning, among many others. Check out Difranco’s “Letting The Telephone Ring” and listen to how the low D string adds some depth to her fingerpicking guitar melodies.
Open G: D-G-D-G-B-D
Open tunings form a full chord when all six strings are strummed. Because of this, open tunings are common among lap steel players and fingerpicking tunes. You can easily play barre chords with one finger and play a mean slide solo as well. Joni Mitchell is another player who is known for her extensive use of alternate tunings—over 60 to be exact. “The Circle Game” is a great example of simple playing that sounds more technical than it is.
For the aspiring lap steel players, try out the C6th open tuning (E-C-A-G-E-C), commonly used among Hawaiian lap steel players—where the lap steel originated!
Modal Tuning / BYOT (Build Your Own Tuning)
Low C: C-G-D-G-A-D
Modal tunings are weird ones. They are defined as tunings that do not produce major or minor chords, or any chords that are variations of them, but personally I think they are assigned to made-up tunings that aren’t used very often. When asked about alternate tunings, Kaki King has mentioned using the low C tuning at least once on every record she’s made. Like Ani Difranco and Joni Mitchell, Kaki King heavily relies on countless tunings, making it nearly impossible to make out which ones are used for what songs. Another band who’s famous for tuning experimentation is Sonic Youth—usually making up their own tunings and ways of playing.
The downside of alternate tuning is getting your guitar used to extreme shifting of tones. At the beginning you might expect to break a few strings if you’re tuning too low or too high for what the string gauge can handle. A good rule of thumb is to not tune 1 ½ steps higher or two steps lower than the standard tuning pitch.
Update: Congratulations to Savannah Clarke for winning the Fender X H.E.R Signature guitar!
In 2017, She Shreds organized the first 1RiffADay, a month-long daily challenge in which we invite readers to participate by playing their instrument for 31 days in a row. Last year we had such an amazing turnout, and it warmed our hearts to see you all come together to form a supportive creative community through this challenge. With #1RAD, we hope to inspire creativity, build community, eliminate self doubt, and, of course, get you shredding!
Literally everyone and anyone! But here are a few objectives:
This year we’re doing things a little differently, and asking those who really want to see and feel a difference in their playing to commit to themselves, and invest in the community.
For 31 days, we encourage our readers to commit to playing their instrument for at least five minutes every day, sharing their process by posting a video on Instagram, and tagging @sheshreds_media and #1RAD. Throughout the month, She Shreds provides direct support through challenges, riffs from our HQ, video submissions, lessons, open mics and more to keep you inspired. Check out our winner and finalists from last year, and a couple of our favorite posts below:
For the month of January, we challenge you to spend at least five minutes with your guitar, bass, or any other instrument of choice every single day for 31 days, from January 1st to February 1st. Post the video to your IG grid or story and hashtag #1RAD.
Ernie Ball Accessory Pack
Each of the 10 finalists completing the 31 day challenge will receive an Ernie Ball accessory pack including:
In 2017, Geoff Edgars published a requiem for the guitar in the Washington Post with “The Slow, Secret Death of the Electric Guitar.” According to the piece, electric guitar sales had dropped significantly during the previous decade, from about 1.5 million annually to just over 1 million, and the biggest names in the business were either bankrupt, in debt, or making major budget cuts. However, the following year Fender’s market research showed that the market was evolving: the new generation’s motivation had shifted, with a focus on emotional benefits, and 50 percent of all beginner and aspirational players identified as women—with 19 percent as Black and 25 percent as Latinx. This critical progression of both motive and player offered the industry a seemingly clear cut way to resurrect the guitar: by taking the demands of women—especially those of women of color—more seriously, and offering more visibility.
And yet, many music industry leaders and media outlets seem to prefer to bury the guitar alive—or wait for a catastrophic pandemic—rather than include us in the conversation.
Earlier this month, the New York Times published, “Guitars Are Back, Baby!,” which reflects on 2020’s record-breaking increase of guitar sales due to the pandemic. The piece includes quotes from some of the industry’’s leading companies, demographic statistics, the influence of the guitar hero, and a few slight nods to the role of women. However, this piece fails us in the same ways previous writing about the relevance of guitar has: the visual portrayal and influence of BIPOC women are nowhere to be found and, more often than not, images of women rely on sexualized and feminine depictions.
The inherent problem lies in who’s doing the writing (older white men), who they are writing for (certainly not us, who make up half the market), who is invited into the conversation (older men), and who is being visually represented (cis white men and women). These same regurgitated voices and images preserve an antiquated guitar industry and culture, and in turn, these pieces speak exclusively to an older, white demographic. Apparently we, a community of diverse players from many different backgrounds and ages, are not included.
Mainstream media, as we mentioned in “Changing Tides: The Evolution of Women in Music Media,” shapes our understanding of who truly embodies and belongs in guitar and music culture. Imagine how these guitar death/rebirth pieces might read if they were written by a woman of color guitarist—the choices in language, representation, and dialogue would be drastically different, and more representative of players as a whole.
In an attempt to fill some of the gaps left by the New York Times piece, we aim to answer the following questions: Why are mainstream publications repeatedly failing to document our experiences and stories? What parts of the guitar and its culture are we saying goodbye to? Who are we welcoming and how is that shifting our understanding of guitar culture, education, and community?
The role of the guitar hero is almost always speculated upon in these articles. This archaic and masculine model (or overtly sexualized when women are depicted) perpetuated by these writers has long been dead in many of our communities. In general, the term refers to a guitar player’s specific individual ability to inspire through technical ability, and someone who fits this definition, yet very rarely mentioned, is H.E.R.
With an amazing combination of inspiration variations, H.E.R. plays with a technical presentation that leans toward melodic and ear-heavy training, as discussed in our cover interview for She Shreds Issue 20. Just last week, she became the first Black woman to release a Fender Signature Guitar, and yet the mainstream is still choosing to almost exclusively showcase Taylor Swift—as if women who play guitar should exclusively stick to acoustic, singer-songwriter music.
In 2020, the mainstream media must prioritize the representation and influence of communities outside of the white cis mold in order to keep up with trends and, ultimately, to showcase the reality of the culture, which is why H.E.R.’s signature guitar is a massive milestone. There is plenty of mainstream visibility for women and women of color guitarists right now (H.E.R., St. Vincent, Willow Smith, Brittany Howard, Yola, and the increased popularity of pop stars and their all-women bands, like Beyonce and Lizzo) but when guitar is discussed at an industry level, we’re still seeing the same old faces and hearing the same dull voices.
On the other hand, the guitar hero is no longer our sole source of inspiration. The ability to immediately connect via social media has strengthened our desire to learn and our ability to create community through guitar and music. On the ground level, we must recognize that community over individuality is of utmost importance for change—something that the mainstream and older generations seem to have a hard time grasping. To inspire outside of the mainstream understanding of guitar heros, we need to broaden our definition of what inspires us. And in order to include an intersectionality of women players, we need to look outside of ourselves to create and find inspiration through each other.
The death of the 20th century guitar hero seems to be at the hands of technological advances, resulting in a shift toward community-based inspiration and learning. “Maybe the issue isn’t too few guitar heroes, but too many of them,” writes Alex Williams in the New York Times article. “As any 30-minute foray through cover-song videos on YouTube will attest, there are approximately 1,000,000,007 much-better-than-average guitarists out there, many of whom are in their teens or early 20s. A great many of them are tearing through Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen or Jimmy Page licks. And a great many of them positively shred.” But Williams overlooked two crucial changes in the culture: first, that being “a good guitar player” no longer only means playing like the aforementioned men (for many, it’s to have the ability to express feeling and communicate); and second, that there is strength in community—modern players seek inspiration through representation.
In Fender’s 2018 market research, the company found that 72 percent of respondents picked up the guitar to learn something new and better their lives (players don’t necessarily want to become rock stars anymore), 61 percent of guitar players want to learn how to play for themselves, and 42 percent viewed guitar as part of their identity. While the 20th century beginner guitarist may have needed a hero to inspire progress and stardom, players today can learn more easily than ever through technological advances which equipt just about everyone with the right tools. But oftentimes, because of the overwhelming options and stimulation, there might be a lack of emotional, cultural, or personal connection, and the process might not be as meaningful or engaging. Watching a player show off their soloing speed is no longer as fulfilling as the right combination of chords, personality, and kindredship.
The shift toward community-based learning and inspiration is even more apparent in 2020, with stay-at-home orders and more time on our hands. While Williams credits the resurrection of the guitar to the pandemic, he fails to consider the recent trends that have greatly contributed as well—many of which are led by women and women of color. Musicians are hitting IG Live for more intimate performances, often accompanied by a minimal set up including an electric or acoustic guitar. One example has been Girls with Guitars, a weekly Instagram live performance and conversation series hosted by H.E.R. that gave viewers a glimpse into her technique, and even helped the rise of other participating guitarists including Cat Burns, who has recently become the face of TikTok UK. There’s also Pickup Music, a monthly membership artist-taught guitar education community built on showcasing the talents of a young Instagram community; In Session, a free six-day digital camp for women and nonbinary music producers of color from all levels and backgrounds; the influx of TikTok performances; Tiny Desk Home Concerts; and the many weekly IG live performances that we’ve flocked to in the absence of live music, such as Victoria Boyd of Infinity Song.
“The guitar will always evolve with popular music,” says Sam Blakelock, founder of Pickup Music. “The problem is the way the guitar is often taught is stuck in the 1980s. Many online guitar courses are still dominated by old white men teaching classic rock. This doesn’t speak to young players and isn’t representative of the new community of guitarists.”
Pickup Music is just one example of how social media has changed the landscape of guitar education, by breaking out of the mold with a modern and inclusive guitar-based community with reflective teachers of all ages, genders, and race. “Bringing people together who are interested in similar styles of guitar and who are at the same stage of their learning journey is the key to reaching new levels as a player,” says Blakelock.
Fender’s recent revival, as stated in the New York Time article, is accounted for by the following: in 2020, nearly 20 percent of beginner guitarists were under 24, 70 percent were under 45, and 45 percent identified as women.
“We’ve broken so many records,” Andy Mooney, chief executive of Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, told the New York Times. “It will be the biggest year of sales volume in Fender history, record days of double-digit growth, e-commerce sales and beginner gear sales. I never would have thought we would be where we are today if you asked me back in March.”
This information, combined with Fender’s 2018 research that showed 19 percent of beginner’s identified as Black and 25 percent as Latinx (and what we can only imagine has increased since, with role models like H.E.R. and Willow breaking further into the mainstream) should act as a glaring indicator as to who the mainstream media should be passing the mic to. Any mainstream publication that addresses the death/rebirth of the guitar and fails to include the voices of women and younger generations is damaging not only to those voices, but to the sustainability of the industry at large. If mainstream media shapes the general population’s understanding of guitar and music culture, and mainstream media is not accurately representing that culture, then perhaps the guitar’s demise has just as much to do with the media’s negligence as it does with consumers.
Grasping onto a culture that simply doesn’t hold a future for the music industry anymore is detrimental on many levels. And as a result, if the question remains, “Is the guitar dying?” then the answer is yes: let the guitar, as the media has forced us to perceive it, fissile out. It’s time to let those who are being left out of the narrative—the major contributors to the guitar’s resurrection, thus lining the pockets of these major music companies—to lead the conversation, and to be recognized and uplifted for the imperative role they play in saving the industry.
The recording artist who made the Blues a national sensation in 1920—albeit the only woman on this list who is not a guitarist—Mamie Smith deserves every inch of recognition when discussing pioneers in music. Read more about her contributions here.
In 1920, Okeh Records recorded Mamie Smith singing a rendition of Perry Bradford’s “Crazy Blues,” making it the first blues song recorded by a woman. The song was an overnight sensation among Black working-class consumers, and resulted in record companies finally considering the tastes of Black consumers and producing the music of Black women musicians. Smith was known as the “First Lady of the Blues” and “Crazy Blues” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1994.
Elizabeth Cotten was a self-taught left-handed blues and folk musician whose signature alternating bass style (playing the bass lines with her fingers and the melody with her thumbs) came to be known as “Cotten picking” and continues to influence musicians today. Her most recognized song, “Freight Train,” was written in 1904 when she was just 11 years old. Cotten didn’t record or receive recognition until the folk revival of the 1960s, when she was in her 60s. In 1985, just two years before her death, she won the Grammy Award in the Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording category for Elizabeth Cotten Live!
Invented and pioneered the sounds of Rock ‘n’ Roll as we know it today.
The queer godmother of rock ‘n’ roll came into the spotlight in 1938 with her rollicking song “Rock Me.” Over the next two decades, she crossed between gospel, blues, and early R&B; religious and secular music; and notably, black and white audiences during the days of segregation. Her most famous song, “Strange Things Happening Every Day,” has been cited as the first rock ‘n’ roll record, and Tharpe heavily influenced early generations of rock musicians, such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Bob Dylan. She was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.
Aside from having two R&B chart toppers—Mickey & Sylvia with “Love Is Strange” (1957) and solo record “Pillow Talk” (1973)—Robinson was also the founder and CEO of the hip hop label Sugar Hill Records. She was the driving force behind the two groundbreaking hip-hop singles, “Rapper’s Delight” (1979) by the Sugarhill Gang, and “The Message” (1982) by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, resulting in the nickname “The Mother of Hip Hop.” In 2000, Robinson received a Pioneer Award for her career in singing and as the founder of Sugarhill Records at the 11th Annual Rhythm and Blues Awards Gala.
Toured nationally and worked alongside acts such as BB King, Ray Charles, and James Brown. She was one of the first women to be recognized as a lead blues guitarist. Read our 2016 interview with Beverly Watkins.
Beverly “Guitar” Watkins was an internationally-known blues guitarist who started her career in 1960 as a rhythm guitar player with local radio host turned platinum-selling blues musician Piano Red. As the only woman in the band, Watkins was a 20th-century pioneer in blues guitar, touring the world and opening for acts like James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Ray Charles. Despite her striking talent and innovative style, Watkins wouldn’t be recognized autonomously until 1999, when she teamed up with Music Maker Relief Foundation to launch her solo debut, Back in Business. She went on to receive multiple awards, including a European Grammy for her 2007 release, Don’t Mess With Miss Watkins.
Although never rightfully credited, Peggy Jones co-wrote many of Bo Diddley’s early songs credited for playing a key role in the transition of Blues to Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Peggy Jones, also known as Lady Bo, was an innovative and expressive guitarist who was an original part of Bo Diddley’s sound from 1957 to1962, becoming one of the first women rock guitarists in a highly visible rock band and dubbing her “Queen Mother of Guitar.” Also influential in her own songwriting and musical endeavors thereafter, Jones left Bo Diddley’s band in 1961 to focus on her work with R&B band the Jewels. She is known for her popularization of the guitar synthesizer, not typically heard in rhythm and blues music, and has remained a pioneering source of inspiration for hundreds of musicians to follow.
Left-handed guitarist, composer and performer of the popular #1 US Billboard R&B chart hit “You’ll Lose A Good Thing”
Known as the “Lefty Queen of R&B” for being one of the first left-handed woman guitarists to appear on television and radio, Barbara Lynn has been playing blues-infused soul since the 1960s. She’s had numerous billboard-charting hits, including “You’ll Lose a Good Thing” (1962) and “I’m a Good Woman” (1966), blazing the trail as a young woman fronting a band, playing an instrument, and writing her own songs. Since the 1960s, Lynn has toured with the likes of Smokey Robinson, Ike and Tina Turner, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and Gladys Knight. Aretha Franklin and the Rolling Stones, among others, have covered her songs, and artists including Moby and Lil Wayne have sampled her music.
In the first three Rolling Stone covers of 2020, more musicians were women of color (Lizzo, SZA, Megan Thee Stallion, Normani) than all of its covers combined from 2010 to 2015 (Rihanna, Whitney Houston, and Nicki Minaj).
This shift in representation hasn’t been swift so much as sudden: a whiplash undoing of mainstream publications presenting scattered gendered exceptionalism, packaged and sold under a slobbery male gaze as music journalism. Plenty of people have been calling it out (or mutely unsubscribing) for decades, but to little avail. However, over the last few years, a combination of capitalist survivalism and good old-fashioned public shame has jolted greasier-than-glossy magazines into accepting that short-term impulse buys for sexy covers can’t remedy the consequential reputation rot.
Plus, it wasn’t like the wrung-out “sex sells” strategy, with all its thin assumptions of who’s doing the buying and what they want, had actually been working. Over the course of a decade, Rolling Stone newsstand buys had slunk from 139k per issue in 2007 to 28k in 2017, surviving more on a few bouts of impressive political journalism than much else. In 2018, the new owner of Rolling Stone’s parent company announced that their goal for the publication was to be relevant to millennial consumers—a hell of an endeavor for a magazine that has been recycling Bob Dylan and The Beatles since its inaugural issue. Guitar World similarly changed its tune in 2016 when it announced an end to the annual bikini gear guide.
The corporate notion of appealing specifically to younger generations emerged in 1954, when Billboard announced that jukebox operators had been increasingly stocking R&B records to meet the demand of white teenagers who weren’t interested in the orchestral “popular music” that dealers had been pedaling in segregated shops. Fast forward more than 70 years and the business goal of remaining relevant to young buyers is increasingly intertwined with an expectation of respect for the web of identities musicians hold. While it’s unwise, if not difficult, to espouse an eagle-eye understanding of a phenomenon while living through it, it can feel at times like things are changing for the better.
However, change can be an elusive, slippery thing when touted imprecisely. Who are we including when we talk about how women are recognized, celebrated, or ignored? Who fits within that gendered category, and who do we consider entitled to recognition? Which voices count as “the media?” When we compare “right now” to “back then,” with which moment do we begin and how does our linear conception of time encompass the waxing and waning nature of progress?
This article is about how mainstream music publications have portrayed musicians who live outside of the cis male mold, because widespread visibility can have a powerful impact on our understanding of what is possible. As Oprah put it in a documentary about the Ed Sullivan Show’s impact: “You don’t understand what it’s like to be in a world where nobody looks like you. When I first saw Diana Ross looking glamorous and beautiful, it represented possibility and hope. It was life changing.” Achieving visibility and respect that fully reflects the contributions of a person or group to our culture is part of a systemic cycle of awareness, acceptance, and appreciation. Maddeningly, these cycles wax and wane without regard to the unity of our intersecting identities, which is why so few of the musicians discussed in this article are openly trans or nonbinary. To discuss how certain musicians have been talked about over the course of history is to be limited to those names that were uttered loudest to begin with. It is paramount, then, to distinguish between an analysis of what was and an analysis of what we have found. This is the latter.
And it started with Mamie Smith.
Rock created the music publications we read today, R&B created rock, blues created R&B, and Mamie Smith made the blues a national sensation. In the summer of 1920, a small label called Okeh Records recorded Smith singing a rendition of Perry Bradford’s “Crazy Blues.” The record was an overnight sensation among Black working-class consumers, catalyzing a series of reactions by the record industry that would change popular culture forever. As Angela Davis pointed out in her book, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism, Smith’s success simultaneously led record companies to finally consider the tastes of Black consumers (while pigeonholing them into segregated buyer categories) and producing the music of Black women musicians. As blindly rooted in profit as these corporate labels’ reactions were, the ultimate impact was that rock ‘n’ roll and some of our biggest music icons’ signature sounds originated in Black communities—often Black women musicians, specifically. Because of Mamie Smith’s success, the country’s biggest record labels rushed to sign Black women musicians such as Ma Rainey, Memphis Minnie, Ethel Waters, Gladys Bentley, and Bessie Smith (no relation to Mamie Smith), who a teenaged Billie Holiday listened to before moving to Harlem and singing in the nightclub where Benny Goodman discovered her. The rest is history—or as Frank Sinatra put it in a 1958 interview with Ebony, “Lady Day [Billie Holiday] is unquestionably the most important influence on American popular singing in the last twenty years.” Little could he know that, as was finally acknowledged in 2000 by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Holiday’s genealogy of sound extends to today.
At a time when white women’s orchestral pop music still held up marriage and heteronormative domesticity, these early blues recordings were the first instances of women singing to a national audience about independence, fluid sexuality, domestic violence, and working class struggle—phenomena that have often been mistakenly treated as inceptive when they later re-emerged in everything from the sexual revolution colliding with second-wave feminism to Madonna to the #MeToo movement.
The Second World War came and went, and temporary openings for women in factories (such as Gibson’s Kalamazoo Gals) as well as the mainstream music business along with it. When the war ended, government propaganda of women’s equality did too, leading to a spike in pop music as a vessel for messages of feminine domesticity. When the war ended in 1945—seven years after she packed an audience at New York’s Carnegie Hall—Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Strange Things Happening Every Day” made history as the first gospel song to cross over into popular appeal, while Doris Day’s “Sentimental Journey” topped the charts, marking the beginning of Day’s career as an “armed forces sweetheart.”
Sure, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was so popular that she played to a massive stadium 14 years before The Beatles’ Shea Stadium concert (popularly cited as the first such performance), but Variety’s white male writers couldn’t resist framing their kudos as being about a person “of considerable heft” whose music was “even for sophisticates.” The same drivel applied to Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, whose 1953 charts-topper “Hound Dog” rocked the musical landscape at #1 for seven straight weeks while she was subjected to vile physical comparisons and blatant respectability politics. Elvis may have idolized Tharpe, but he played right into the hands of industry executives looking to put a white man’s face on Tharpe’s and Thornton’s sound. Worse than Presley’s co-opted success was the white-washing of rock ‘n’ roll history it triggered. The British Invasion, as rock critic Kandia Crazy Horse would later point out, finished what Elvis had started. By 1970, Tharpe was described by one publication as “so rhythmically exciting that when she accompanies herself on guitar she might be a blacked-up Elvis in drag.”
Considering how the 1960s birthed second-wave feminism, it’s impressive how dude-centric the emergence of modern rock journalism was. In fact, if there’s a moment from which you can directly trace the peak crudeness of mainstream music magazines, the mid-1960s might be your best bet. While the 1980s took the objectification of women to appalling heights, it was the 1960s emergence of the modern rock critic as well as gonzo journalism—which prided itself on making dumpster fires of professional ethics—and the left’s rejection of sexual mores that provided a rebranding opportunity for deeply entrenched misogyny in the music industry.
Even Rolling Stone had its exceptions, though, as any vessel of exceptionalism must. A few months before the magazine published its first issue in 1967, Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” hit #1 on Billboard’s charts. Taking a break from its worship of Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon, the second issue of Rolling Stone dedicated a full page to the Queen of Soul. “Let her do her things, after all, she’s the one with the talent,” the piece advised Franklin’s new producer before launching into a song-by-song analysis of Aretha Arrives (1967, Atlantic Records). The next year, the young music outlet published an eerie echo of Billboard’s 1923 acknowledgment of Bessie Smith’s triumphs: “In this day when groups and infrequent solo male artists dominate the music, the public interest and the charts, Aretha Franklin’s incredible commercial success is extraordinarily noteworthy.” Whether it was in Rolling Stone or The New York Times, Franklin got credit—and even though she made history when she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, the mainstream media’s serious treatment of her talent was revolutionary 20 years prior too.
However, journalists still found ways to gender their coverage of Franklin, erase the women who came before her, or both. In 1968, The New York Times published one of their earliest articles about Franklin: “Establishing an identity through asserting the basic female emotions does not sound like a very original or interesting development for a pop singer—yet it is, in fact, almost without precedent in Miss Franklin’s tradition,” claimed white male writer Albert Goldman. “The old-timers like Bessie Smith or Ma Rainey (or Mahalia Jackson today) were massive matriarchs,” Goldman lazily stereotyped before turning to the woman-as-victim cliche of “the Billie Holidays or Dinah Washingtons [who] loved, suffered and learned resignation before they opened their mouths… Aretha’s woman may suffer, but her soul is whole and untrammeled by depression or abuse.”
In hindsight, the 1969 Woodstock and Harlem Cultural festivals served as a perfect transition into the 1970s. Joan Baez and Janis Joplin were notable exceptions to Woodstock’s celebration of men in music, while Nina Simone and Mahalia Jackson headlined the 300,000-strong Harlem Cultural Festival weeks prior. Choice exceptionalism prevailed in both the festival circuit and mainstream media coverage, but it was also an era of milestones: the Filipino-American rock trio Fanny made waves on the Billboard charts, inspiring The Runaways, fronted by Joan Jett; Sylvia Robinson recorded her chart-topping “Sylvia” before founding Sugar Hill Records and bringing hip hop into the mainstream with her production of the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”; and Suzi Quatro became the first woman to reach rock star status for her bass playing. Not surprisingly, the media’s response was mixed.
In a 1974 article published in the influential and permanently-dated music magazine Creem, writer Robert “Robot” Hull seemed stuck between masturbating through his own words and acknowledging Suzi Quatro’s talent: “Suzi Quatro is a real cutie, rootie tootie, not sweet hog honey like Linda Ronstadt but a tight roller derby queen with juice and enuf krassiness to rank her right up there with the Sweet and Slade,” he drooled. Fittingly, Hull would go on to become a major rock critic and eventual producer of CD series’ like “Sounds of the ’70s.” Rolling Stone’s own coverage of Quatro later that same year was mild in comparison, but still ensured that any recognition came through a lens of male gaze, with the bassist propped onto the empty pedestal of “glittering sex queen” in one line and taken down in the next as “a short, trim woman from Detroit who moved to England after nine unsuccessful years in the American music business.” The New York Times couldn’t resist following the fad, with white male critic John Rockwell choosing to focus his coverage on his opinion that “Quatro dresses in leather jumpsuits and tries to project an image simultaneously aggressive, indifferent and raunchilly sexy.” The newspaper’s coverage of Fanny was equally stupid. “Going to see an all-girl rock group, one has to bring a mixture of condescension and paranoia,” wrote Mike Jahn, admitting the band was good before launching into time-tested cliches: implying they couldn’t move their amps, praising them for not being “Joni Mitchell-type cute,” and making sure the reader knew that this rock group wasn’t just a “pop choir.” Even with androgyny sweeping the mainstream musical landscape (with an apparent absence of acknowledgment of aesthetic contributions by non-cis musicians like Jayne County) this uninspired combination of visibility and ignorance continued into the 1980s.
“Annie Lennox began her life as a man two years ago,” reads the intro of choice for Rolling Stone’s 1983 cover story of Eurythmics’ newfound fame. In an act of truly gymnastic erasure, the piece recited Lennox’s explanation for her switch to an androgynous style as an anti-harassment strategy before concluding that “sexual speculation” at her recent concert “suddenly seemed irrelevant in the presence of such triumphant talent.” Nevermind the implication that abuse is reserved for those who are inadequate or that the musical ingenuity of other powerhouses from the era like Whitney Houston didn’t stave off the collective gnashing of teeth by arena crowds or magazines alike (Rolling Stone would wait until 1993 to publish a proper feature of Houston, promoting its unremarkable interview with a bright red splash of “Whitney Houston Gets Nasty” across its cover and another “Whitney Houston Gets Down and Dirty” for its headline).
As hip hop exploded and rock and pop kept morphing into a mind-numbing multiplicity of genres, music journalism was slow to evolve. The New York Times covered the beloved Grammy-award winning Selena for the first and only time before her death in its 1994 stereotype-laden coverage of a Mexican Independence Day party in New York City, while Rolling Stone didn’t even manage to mention her until late into 1995. Both publications treated TLC the same, ignoring the group except to insult them, even as they broke international records with CrazySexyCool (1994, LaFace and Arista Records) and shook the world with their famous call-out of the greed of the music industry in a 1996 Grammys press conference.
In the same way that TLC fought back against their management, the 1990s also ushered in a new generation of independent music publications founded and run by women who were sick of the mainstream press. Carla DeSantis Black founded Rockrgrl in 1995, publishing interviews and articles about bands like Sleater-Kinney and Tegan and Sara long before bigger publications took notice. Even before then, beginning in 1985, Lori Twersky published the zine Bitch: The Women’s Rock Mag with a Bite, a title that would live on in the separate pop culture magazine Bitch, founded by Andi Zeisler and Lisa Jervis in 1996.
All three of those influential publications were founded in California, so it’s fitting that San Francisco became a hub for women music journalists in the 1990s before their migration to the East Coast’s biggest publications. Evelyn McDonnell became SF Weekly’s music editor in 1992 and moved on to take the same job at the Village Voice in 1996, but not before overseeing an intern named Sia Michel. Before becoming today’s deputy culture editor at The New York Times, Michel was the first woman editor-in-chief of Spin, where Caryn Ganz climbed the music journalism ladder, eventually becoming deputy editor at Rolling Stone and then pop music critic at The New York Times. Ganz has joined other rock critics like the inimitable Jessica Hopper (who, true story, penned her first piece of music journalism because of lousy coverage of Babes in Toyland) in using her influence to sing the praises of acts ranging from Haim to Lizzo to Chastity Belt. And when Rolling Stone started 2020 out on the right note, it was women—Brittany Spanos followed by Emma Carmichael—whose writing dominated the centerfold features.
Our understanding of time may be linear, but cultural trajectories rarely are. The volume and tone of the mainstream media’s recognition of our communities has been a similarly fickle thing. To take their words and hold them up to the light isn’t an act of independence so much as accountability. We’ve always been here, taking music to new places, and we always will be. Or, as Mamie Smith sang in the song that started it all, “There’s a change in the ocean / Change in the deep blue sea… I’ll tell you folks, there ain’t no change in me.”
Howdy howdy, I’m Glenn Van Dyke and you’re deep in the She Shreds Curriculum Essentials For Your Home Recording Studio. I’m here to do my darndest to answer all of your pressing questions on the matter. Buckle up, because we have quite a bit to go over!
I buy these little velcro thingies. You can get them at your local hardware store, they come in packs of more than you’ll need, and they’re really cheap. I attach them to all of my cables, including those I bring to shows. Once you wrap your cable, you can attach the velcro really easily to keep it nice and neat and from unraveling in your bag or wherever you store your cables. When I’m in the middle of recording, I’ll leave part of the cable wrapped—usually the part that’s closest to where I’m plugging it in—so that I don’t have a bunch of lines strewn everywhere. Another thing you can do is throw a very loose knot on top—and I emphasize loose—if you don’t have any velcro. You want it to be loose because you don’t want to kink any of the cables inside the rubber shield. It will look like a pretzel, and will keep it from unraveling.
There are a bunch of different plug-in companies: Waves offers bundles once in a while and there’s UAD, just to name a few. I would recommend following them on social media or subscribing to their newsletters—periodically they will do exclusive bundles throughout the year. Another really wonderful tool is a free subscription to Tape-Op, a creative-based engineering magazine. It has gear reviews, interviews with producers, and it’s geared towards a creative mind rather than super technical, although it does provide a lot of good technical info and recommendations.
It sounds like you might have too hot of a preamp on the mic. Are you running your mic through an amp before you record it? Just watch the volumes. If you’re ever holding a mic and pointing it at the source of where it’s coming out, whether it’s the speaker or an amp, you’re gonna get lots of feedback. So if you’re playing or recording live, make sure you position yourself so the mic grill isn’t towards the same source its sound is coming from.
I feel you. The creative brain and the engineering brain are [at odds]. It’s easy to get frustrated in the technical world to where you give up the inspiration to record what you have in your head. Keep your motivation, find what makes you happy and hold onto it. Try to make it as easy as possible: leave your setup up all the time, have a really easy routine that you get into—the more you do it, the easier it will be, and the less daunting it will seem.
This gal [Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 USB] has a little sister [Focusrite Scarlett Solo] with one input on her, and she goes for $110 on Reverb right now. If you set aside $5 everyday for a month, you’ll have enough money to buy the little sister and a cable to go with it.
I’m going to run you through a setup. So, we’ve got our interface with cables: a power cable and a USB cable…
Get yourself a power strip with many outlets. The higher the joule rating, the better it is for protecting against surges.
You can build a box around your amp using pillows and some cardboard to isolate it. That works if you’re trying to keep sound in or out. Just use what you have, and as you go, you’ll figure out what’s necessary to spend money on. You can take old pillows, blankets, or towels and build your own soundproofing.
It’s trial and error. Find a tutorial on YouTube or the internet—they exist for every DAW that’s around—and hold yourself to some sort of schedule in trying to learn it: give yourself exercises, pretend you’re in school. It doesn’t have to be super long; try dedicating 30 minutes a day to learning something new with your DAW. The more you practice, the smoother it will go.
I love buttons and knobs. It’s something that’s right there, you don’t have to dig through software to find the controls, but I do understand what you’re saying. Something that is helpful: if you look at a console or interface, there’s so many knobs per channel, but they all do the same thing. Once you learn one channel strip, all the rest are identical. If that’s something that really bothers you, they make interfaces that don’t have any knobs; they have a software that comes with it, and you go in the software and change the settings.
“You can go totally crazy with drum mic placement; you can put a ton of mics on the drums, which isn’t necessarily the best option all the time. I placed a three-mic set: on the kick, as an overhead, and on the snare.
I use this setup a lot. You can EQ it to sound really big, and you can even go as far as building another box around the kick drum to really isolate that sound.
Listen to the drum recording playback and see some tweaking here: https://www.dropbox.com/home/She%20Shreds%20Curriculum?preview=20200817_151822+(1).mp4]
Yes, you do. I hate to be the bearer of you have to spend some money, but you do. You can record with your computer mic, but I think you’ll quickly outgrow that and be unsatisfied with the results. You don’t need an interface if you want to stay analog and go straight to tape, but odds are eventually along the process you’re going to want to digitize somewhere.
A mix is never done. You can tweak it until the cows home, but eventually you have to make a choice. Tweaking doesn’t make it better, it makes it different. Once you get to a point where it sounds good to you, play it on different speakers. As long as nothing stands out to you, then that’s the litmus test that a mix is done—and part of that is trusting your ears. That takes a little bit of time to trust yourself, as with everything. Try bouncing your mixes with others, have someone you know and respect listen to your mix and have them give you their opinion. Do that until you feel like you’ve absorbed enough, or have done it enough to where you trust yourself to decide when a mix is done.
I understand the conundrum of putting in all the time, money, investing, and recording but not really having a proper outlet for your music. You don’t have to—you don’t have to justify wanting to make art by having it be a professional game that you play. It can just be for you if you enjoy doing it. If you want people to hear it, there are lots of ways to get your music out there in a DIY manner: DistroKid puts your songs on all the platforms. If you enjoy it, do it.
While I do suggest investing in other microphones down the line, the compression in our phones is really incredible and works really well as drum overheads and mics in general. Eventually you’ll probably want to have a more varied sound as you get into recording. If it works for you forever and you’re just trying to make demos, have at it. If you’re recording all at the same time—three phones going at once—I’d say clap really loudly during recording and all of the phones should pick it up, that way you can hear the clap in all of the tracks and line them up. Give it some space before you start playing so when you export your files and bring them into your DAW, you’ll see that clap peak and can go ahead and line it up based on that. If you’re recording the tracks one at a time on the same phone, use a click track. It will make your life so much easier.
It’s totally daunting—there’s thousands of frequencies in the spectrum. A general rule of thumb is you want to carve out different frequency places for where instruments naturally live. So your kick drum is going to take up your lower area, but maybe it takes more of your subs than your bass, and your bass takes up more of your low mids, or vice versa. You don’t want tracks to compete within your mix. A good mix is a balanced mix, and I’d define balanced as everything having its own pocket in terms of frequencies—you hear it all, nothing’s vying for attention.
Another thought, in terms of bussing in your mixes (and for anyone who doesn’t know what busing is, think about it like a bus: you‘re putting your signal on a bus with a few other signals and you’re sending it to somewhere): you’re not going to be bussing something to the same EQ. I wouldn’t really do that, but maybe some people do and maybe you have some trick that you like, but generally when I’m sending a signal on a bus I’m sending it to a reverb or a delay. If you’re bussing signals to the same EQ you’re going to run into the problem of your tracks sitting on top of each other. You want to spend some time carving out EQs for each of your tracks.
You just have to jump off that cliff, my friend. If you didn’t set it up correctly, you’ll find out really quickly. I hope the brief tutorial above (Lack of knowledge to set up a rig) was helpful.
If you didn’t set everything up correctly, most of the time it’s something really simple and easy that you overlooked. I mentioned in “Chasing Sounds: A Microphone Tell-All” that a hot tip is to learn how to follow your signal’s path.
So, your signal is coming from a source—let’s say it’s coming from your guitar amp, there’s a mic in front of your guitar amp. The sound is going into the mic, coming into your interface, going into a track on your DAW, and then it’s coming out your speakers. Most of the time, there’s just something that didn’t get set up right within that flow. Sometimes you don’t have the right input or output selected. I would start with those really simple things, because oftentimes that’s what it is. Troubleshooting is never ideal, but learning how to follow your signal is the best way to keep your flow.
That is going to be your microphone selection, and your compressor. You’re probably going to want to compress your voice… it’s a really common thing that happens in mixing. You can try it out on a couple of plugins; find something that works for you. Invest in a good compressor and a good condenser microphone. Oh, and a room that isn’t super noisy. Condenser mics pick up a lot of stuff; make sure you’re in a space that isn’t super loud.
There’s an infinite amount of equipment in the world. I think I mentioned before, but I have a few favorite magazines: She Shreds, my local art and culture magazine, and Tape Op, a free subscription with really good gear reviews. I also wrote an article for the She Shreds Curriculum, “Essentials for your Home Recording Studio,” that was partnered with Reverb, who is also a really great resource. They have articles on their website that can help you make selections. Dive in!
Send it off to the pros! Conceptually, mastering is a series of compressors and EQ. But mastering engineers, in my mind, are wizards and you should let them do their wizardry. If you want to be a mastering engineer, I would suggest talking to one of these wizards if you can catch one. It’s a really cool process, but if you’re mixing your record I would just send it off. That’s what I do.
Feeling like you need a professional… that’s real. Sometimes you want someone else to work on your project, to give it a stamp of approval in a certain way. I totally understand that. But recording, it doesn’t have to be the end all be all. You could just mess around with your demo in your studio to get a feel for what you want down the line. It could also save you time for when you do go to a professional studio because you’ve already played around with tones and have a more direct idea of what you want.
One of my favorite mottos is KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Turn your WiFi off when on your computer; I’ve done that in crunch times and it’s really helpful.
Get yourself a condenser microphone. I highly suggest taking a gander at the She Shreds Curriculum article I wrote, “Chasing Sounds: A Microphone Tell-All,” and absorbing it. There’s definitely a lot of information in there; I hope it doesn’t overwhelm. It’s meant to be looked over multiple times to give you a better understanding of different types of microphones, what they do, and their practical applications.
It’s recording arts. It’s the same thing as writing a song or drawing a picture. You start with a line, or you start with a chord. You start with one input, you start with one microphone, you start with your voice memos. You start with whatever is comfortable for you at your own pace that doesn’t overwhelm you. You start with stuff that you can afford and move on up from there—or not. Maybe you decide you don’t want to be recording and you’d rather just play music. I think that ties into a lot of the concern of doing something fundamentally wrong. It’s tested out in experiment; there’s no right answer. You’re probably not going to electrocute yourself, just don’t open amps or mics if you don’t know what you’re doing. But if you’re just plugging in cables and pressing record, you can’t go wrong. You’ll figure it out as you go, and every mistake is a learning lesson. You might not get the sound you want, and you move the mic around. Or you try a different plugin in, you try a different effect. Have fun with it.
Today, Fender announced the release of the H.E.R. Signature Stratocaster, making the two-time Grammy Award-winning R&B singer-songwriter, guitarist and She Shreds Issue 20 cover artist the first Black woman musician to be honored with a Fender Artist Signature model.
H.E.R. has a longstanding relationship with Fender, playing Stratocasters both in the studio and in iconic live performances at the 2019 Grammys and this year’s Big Game Pepsi commercial: “Fender was the reason I began playing guitar. My father taught me how to play my first blues scale on a mini black-and-white Strat®, so it’s absolutely surreal I have partnered with Fender to design my own Signature Stratocaster®. As an artist, I find that my most personal thoughts make the most relatable music. By designing a Stratocaster® with a color, shape and sound that is one-hundred-percent my own, my hope is that other young women and players from all backgrounds feel inspired to pick up this guitar, tap into their thoughts and create amazing music.”
Created with tone, playability and appearance in mind, H.E.R.’s Signature Stratocaster features an alder body in traditional tonewood, finished in a striking new iridescent color, Chrome Glow. Other features include Fender Vintage Noiseless pickups, a “C” neck, and a custom neck plate engraved with H.E.R. artwork.
“We are honored that H.E.R. has chosen to work with Fender on her debut artist signature model,” said Evan Jones, CMO, Fender. “She is an incredible, Grammy Award-winning artist whose future in the music industry is bright, and we are proud of the authentic relationship we have built with H.E.R. over these last several years. As we look to the future of guitar, we believe it’s our responsibility to support the increasing diversity and adoption of the instrument across all genres, and it’s also our belief that investing in more signature projects and collaborations with more Black, Latinx and female artists is an important next step toward expanding the cultural relevance of guitar and the Fender brand.”
H.E.R. puts camaraderie with other women musicians at the forefront of her career—which is why making history as the first Black woman musician with a signature Fender model is both long overdue and a future-facing image for other BIPOC musicians. “For Mexican American women, for Black American women, we need more representation, we need more of us,” says H.E.R. in a cover interview for She Shreds Issue 20. “[We need] people who look like us on the front lines really representing, and not just another pretty face. Somebody who really plays, is really intelligent, and really represents something. I think that’s what we need: more people who have something to say. And I think we’re definitely getting to that point.”
This and much more in only the last two weeks.
This weekend, we reflected on finding Rebirth through Death and the moments that not only remind us of that, but also focus our collective consciousness. When we found ourselves feeling hopeless and anxious, asking, “What can we do? What do we do?” we realized that without connection to ourselves we lack the energy to take action, or even the vision towards action.
Music is a tool to connect with and understand the world around us. Whether you’re a listener or a creator, use music to connect to your truth and realize why the tools you already have within yourself are exactly what we, as a collective, need in order to fight what’s next.
Below is an exercise in regrounding yourself through your guitar, instrument, or listening to music and sounds in general. Hope it helps you all!
Length of time: 20 – 30 minutes
Find a comfortable, inspiring, and calming place to sit. Take 3–5 minutes to mentally or physically write out what you’re fearing. What is making you feel heavy at this moment? What is coming up when you think of the word “hopeless”?
Facing these emotions will begin the process of release, which will lead to a clearer vision of how you can move forward.
Close your eyes. Take five deep breaths and note of the beat and rhythm of your heart. Tap your foot along to it.
Take another 2–3 minutes to mentally or physically remember/write down three things you have overcome in your life. Think about how difficult and daunting those things felt in that moment. Reflect on where and how you found the courage and strength within yourself to overcome them. What did you have to let go of and what did you gain because of it?
Take another deep breath and be as present with your thoughts and breath as possible. Pick up your guitar or other instrument and let yourself play whatever comes to mind for 5–10 minutes. If you don’t play an instrument, find songs that make you feel good and curate a playlist for yourself and your friends.
As Jada Lorraine, organizer of In Session, recently wrote on her Instagram, “Summer is almost over, but camp is still IN SESSION.”
A free six-day digital camp for women and nonbinary music producers of color from all levels and backgrounds, In Session offers a space to explore production techniques, music history, industry education, and to foster a supportive community.
In Session kicks off this Sunday, September 13 with a orientation/mixer, followed by six days of workshops taught primarily by women and nonbinary producers of color. Each day will feature two sessions (morning and afternoon) taught by experienced producers, such as Black Music History & Tools for Freedom with Suzi Analog, Stepping Your Sample Game Up with Boston Chery, and Intro to Mixing and Mastering with PlayPlay. Also included are daily practice times and group feedback sessions, and participants will finish the program with at least one completed track.
Organized by Van Newman (Fiveboi), Sam Law, Jada Lorraine, Ariana Garland, Bailey Lawson, and Muñeca Diaz, In Session is offered to women and nonbinary music producers, and their mission states, “We don’t believe the problem is how to teach women and nonbinary people how to become producers. We are producers. We are already here. Our mission is to create powerful communities of women and nonbinary music producers, on a local and global scale.”
So if you’ve been looking for a group of other BIPOC producers to connect with, we highly suggest checking out In Session and getting the last licks of summer in through a fun, supportive, and enriching environment!
Kwassa kwassa (otherwise known as soukous) is a style of music born in the Congolese Basin, evolved from Congolese rumba, and deriving from Afro-Cuban influence—eventually inspiring many guitar styles we hear all over the world today, including Vampire Weekend’s “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.”
Since the inception of She Shreds, we’ve been exploring how music education plays a role in our understanding of how to play, who decides what that looks and sounds like, and the ways in which music education raises a certain culture in that generation of players. There is such a rich history to the development of contemporary guitar music, often used as a tool to voice resistance and resilience, and almost always (whether conscious or not) the foundation of that influence is African. And yet, I was only ever given the option to learn from The Beatles, ZZ Top, or Joan Jett when growing up It makes me wonder what we, as a culture, would be like if we normalized learning and teaching the sounds of African joy, resistance, and revolution. We’ve always known that if we want change of any kind—particularly as it pertains to decolonization—we need to change the process and practice of our education system that too often neglects the needs of women and BIPOC.
Learning about international styles of music and their origins through physical practice and dedication to their specific sounds is an amazing way to broaden our understanding of what “guitar music” sounds like. It’s also important to continue to find and give credit back to those who originally founded some of the sounds we love today. In this lesson, I’ll be teaching what I’ve learned so far from Diblo Dibala’s “Super K,” off his 1989 album, Super Soukous.
I used a Fender Mustang Player Series electric guitar >> through a Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner >> with a Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Reverb pedal >>> coming out of a 2020 Twin Reverb Fender amp. If you’re looking to get the same well-rounded tone with hints of surfy twang and wavy vibes, I would recommend a spring reverb and a mid-level EQ on your amp with an extra boost in the treble.
For the best results, you’ll need to get the following ready:
Metronome (any free metronome app will do)
Light to medium-weight guitar pick (for reference, I’m using a size .60 mm Dunlop pick))
Below is a backing track I created to practice with once you feel ready to take the song on at 135 BPM! If you’d rather follow along with the TAB only, feel free to download it here: Diblo Dibala TAB
Before you get started, let me fill you in on some easy but transformative tips that helped me to get to the 135 BPM speed that this tune requires.
To really get this song down without hurting yourself, it’s important to start at a slow BPM of around 70 and gradually work your way up to 135 BPM. This is where your patience and metronome will become your best friends.
The lighter the string gauge, the easier it may be to develop strength in your hammer on/offs and left-hand speed. I typically use .011 gauge strings, but for this lesson I switched to Fender’s nickel-plated steel strings (.010-.046 gauges). I’ve found that, perhaps due to my extremely thin and small fingers, .009 tend to slip off and .011 or thicker create more tension in the action than what I’m comfortable with for speed. Learn more about string options here.
I recommend experimenting with light to medium-weight picks. Typically I use a medium pick, but found that a lightweight pick allowed me to move through the notes faster. Learn more about picks here.
It can be hard for anyone to know where to start on a tune like this. What I found so essential to bringing this piece justice is not only getting up to the required speed, but listening to and understanding the feel. What helps me keep speed vs. feel balance is to break up the song into Parts, Phrases, and Riffs. In this case, I’m defining a phrase as a major character change within the whole segment of music we’re learning, and a riff as a packaged sequence of notes that builds the character within the phrase.
According to one of the very few transcriptions I found, this Diblo Dibala track has nine parts. This lesson will focus on part one. To further break it down:
1. Part one of this song features five phrases
2. Each phrase includes one to seven riffs
3. Start each phrase at 70 BPM or slower
4. Increase from there once you’ve played each phrase successfully five times.
At 135 BPM, all phrases and riffs played together will create part one and sound like this:
Virgo Season is the time of harvest. Even in 2020, seeds have been planted: reflection, patience, flexibility, and interconnection. We know now that our world is connected not only through fiberglass wires and photons, but through lived experiences and shared air. We are in this moment together, and we will only get out of this moment together.
Read through your Audioscopes for Cancer Season and take on an extra challenge with our audio tips.
This pain in your side won’t let up simply because it’s time to move forward. You’re going to have to learn to move with this loss; pull your heavy heart out of the ground and replant it into the open cavity in your chest, where the wind has whistled through and cleared away the embers. This path won’t get any easier, but you’ll get better at holding yourself through it. You were made in order to live through these moments of chaos—it’s in these fires that your truth rings true. Now is the time to listen to the chords that string through your belly, pushing you up to standing, pushing forward and true.
Audio Challenge: Use your recent loss or challenge as inspiration. Write a song about it, sing it loud—acknowledging pain is the first step to healing.
No one can tell you the way forward now. All the details are skewed in the shadow of the Full Moon announcing that now is the time where all things must change. You can take a few things along with you for the journey, the reminders of what home feels like so you can secure it again. But there will be no visiting the same pastures come next year—the crops will not grow in these changing winds. It’s time to make peace with what you know in your heart is true: you must leave this old place behind in order to find what rings true.
Audio Challenge: What chords and techniques do you rely on? Are they serving your growth, or stunting it? Consider writing a song on a new instrument—something new, unfamiliar—and see what comes to the surface.
Does securing a safe place to rest require a sacrifice? The price for comfort and stability needs to be balanced with the desires you know will not be put to rest, in this timeline or the next. The myth of cohesive global structure has been shattered by the blast of 2020 vision, but that doesn’t mean you’re not still holding on to the broken shards that are embedded so deep in your heart. Who’s to say finding home is uncalled for, or that there must be a time to lay down the dreamtime vision for a small fire, a warm bed, and a meal in the morning? Just this heart.
Audio Challenge: Evaluate the space in which you play your instrument or work on music. Are you comfortable there? Does it activate you? Is there anything that is no longer working for you? Create an environment that moves you.
You can capture the ray of photons shining through the newly opened door if you can muster up the courage to declare yourself ready for the challenge. Where once there were broken promises and a potent dream left askew on the floor, now there is a ray of light beckoning you through. But in order to take this next step down the path you thought was closed but has been newly offered, you must make sure you’re ready for the trials ahead. What you have asked for is no easy task, no light walk through the woods. There are dangers on all sides now, which you must trust you have the capacity to meet. Will you take it?
Audio Challenge: What new musical paths have you been avoiding? What new challenges have you been putting off? Pick one and begin to explore it.
This is not the time to take yourself to task. It may be true that there have been blunders made in the past, and it may also be true that certain structures are built on changing sands instead of set in stone. But the time at hand is not made for putting nose to grindstone, working through the frustrations of the day with heavy hands and focused heart. The reigns need to loosen a bit on the chariot that carries your vision from this field to the next. It’s enough that you’ve been here this far, and that you see what more there is to come. Take a shower. Wash off the dirt and ashes from the long night. There will be opportunity for flight tomorrow.
Audio Challenge: Be easy on yourself this month. Instead of forcing yourself to write the record, EP, or song, take time to explore other ways of enjoying music: listen to your favorite record, polish your guitar, look into a new genre to explore, read the autobiography of a musician you admire—nurture your musical soul.
There may be unidentified whispers in the backroom, the hint of a secret not yet exposed but ready to hit the surface, a betrayal lurking around the corner. This doesn’t mean anything is actually shifting, except your own perception of it. Watch out for phantom enemies keeping you up at night and ghostly patterns of long distant past. You are celebrating another year—not in strife and competition, but in recognition of how far you have come. When your blood starts to boil over misheard words and crossed wires, slow down. Take a breath. You’re simply being reminded of what you’re already letting go.
Audio Challenge: Make three columns on a piece of paper, and write out the following lists: all you’ve accomplished in the last year, all that you’d like to accomplish by this time next year, and all you must let go off to reach your goals.
Yes, it may feel like time to open the doors to new energetic connections and let the air flow through your sails, pushing you across the sea to a new destination. Unfortunately, the weather is not here to accommodate your plans, and the destination may be no farther than the ends of this abandoned hall. There must be another way to find new inspiration in this house full of plans that lay unfulfilled, littering the floor with your unmet desire. Think back to a song you heard wafting through the garden before this chapter started—you’ve already met someone who can end this dreary wait for a change in seasons.
Audio Challenge: Put aside your current goals for a moment and revisit what inspired you to play music in the first place.
You’ve been sowing the seeds that are needed for change in silence, knowing that by the end of the harvest you’ll find yourself in a different place. That time is here now, and so it’s time to carry through on the promises you made to yourself at the year’s onset. It doesn’t matter what fireballs may fly across the night sky now, what challenges still lay ahead. You must accept the time that you have been given for shifting, allowing the energy to carry you through to the next round.
Audio Challenge: Make a list of the plans you had set for yourself in 2020. Write out a list of alternative ways to accomplish them if this year has put a wrench in your journey.
Yes, starting out in that new direction will be wise in this moment, as any opportunity to reach out and bring back some of that glow into your heart is immeasurably valuable. There are many ways to lose your way down the hidden valleys and plateaus of this time you have here to explore, but the one most difficult to come back from is losing the connection between your heart and your offering. Don’t let this be a time where you take an easy path in order to guarantee a future you know will not manifest. Take space. Allow the vibratory frequency of your unique vision to sing your heart open once again.
Audio Challenge: Think back to what made you gravitate toward music in the first place. Try to bring more of that into your life—both within music and your day-to-day.
It’s time to collect yourself now. The decisions have been made, the calls are done, and all there is to do is sit with the path you have put yourself on and see it all the way through. There are wide open fields of potential to contemplate, and many pieces of the puzzle that have fallen into place to create an unexpected picture that is, nonetheless, complete. You may need to quiet down the background noise and the endless sticky notes in order to find it. But it’s there—that feeling that you may just be finding home.
Audio Challenge: Lean into this moment, despite whether it was what you expected or not—the unexpected is often what brings you closer to the truth.
There is something burning in the back of your chest that’s been held back so long it’s about to smolder through your ribs and burn through. If you don’t reach in there and pull out the fire bit by bit, truth by truth, word by word, then you’ll undoubtedly find yourself in a pit before the month is through. There may have been a time when bottling it up worked, a tried and true strategy for those who pay mind to what needs to be said (or not said) at any given appointed time. But 2020 will not give you that free license to play silent when you can feel the scream form in your throat. Say it. Before it takes you.
Audio Challenge: Set your truth free—whether through song, the written word, or plainly saying it outloud. Speak your truth.
There is a single horse driving this race between you and your feelings of personal safety on this secluded beach at the midnight hour, when the dawn promises new challenges and this night isn’t long enough to resolve the ones that have already spun out: trust. Can you trust the direction this path is going? Or are you looking back over your shoulder, wondering where the lights have gone? It’s time to put the soles of your feet firmly on the ground and remember what gave you the strength to begin this journey in the first place—it wasn’t fear and it wasn’t doubt. It was trust.
Audio Challenge: What does trust mean to you? Do you trust those within your musical circle? And more importantly—do you trust yourself, and the path you’ve paved?
Even during the most trying of times, the struggle is not simply made in order to test the soul or suss out the strength of our backbones—it’s also a necessary process in order to usher in the new. The sweet songs of sorrow sung into the moonlight give way to praise for the morning rays of the rising sun. The new day is coming, its seeds already planted into the deepest folds of your sweet, soft heart. The courage of the Leo sun lies not in ignoring the dangers of what is to come, but in recognizing your own power to overcome them.
Read through your Audioscopes for Cancer Season and take on an extra challenge with our audio tips.
Because there is no promised land at the end of this rainbow’s curve, because you don’t know if the sun will rise tomorrow, because it’s not certain whether your life today will be the one that stays or the one that was just a phase—reach out. Reach deep. Reach down into that belly pit and keep pushing through until you find the soft soil of that land buried inside of you. It is from this place that we need to hear your vision. It is from this place that you will be reborn.
Audioscopes Challenge: Reach deep into yourself, through the fear and insecurities, and make a list of all the musical endeavors you’ve ignored. Pick one and work on it this week.
If you build from the ground up, setting each stone down with clear intention and focused vision on what will become, then there will be no thunderstorm, no clap of light, no earth-shaking tragedy or rivers of circumstance that can rattle this foundation from its core. You know what it is that you are building, and you know who it is that you are building it for. There really isn’t any time but here and right now to get started. Go.
Audioscopes Challenge: Set a timer for five minutes and write out every single music goal you’d like to accomplish in your lifetime. Then organize the goals under reasonable timelines: three months, a year, three years, a lifetime. Write out the steps needed to achieve each goal, set deadlines, and begin.
Just because there is a storm raging outside these windows does not mean you have to give in to the cold, dead promise of night. This is your time for divining the next steps on your path; tomorrow, when the sun rises, you will have ample opportunity for flight. Don’t mistake the long pause between breath in and breath out as a cause for concern. This is just the Earth breathing around you. Sync in.
Audioscopes Challenge: Consider meditating and focusing on the breath for at least 15 minutes before working on your next song or figuring out a new piece of gear.
No, you are not standing on the precipice alone. You may only be able to hear the siren’s shriek curdling up your bones, reminding you of what has been lost, but just because the alarm keeps ringing doesn’t mean there’s more difficulty ahead. Let your heart rest now. Take a deep breath in, feeling the pull of your chords at the fingertips. There are others here, reminding you that were you to open your eyes, you’d realize you are here together. All you have to do is trust.
Audioscopes Challenge: Look into the music of your ancestors. Were they musicians? What kind of music did they listen to and/or play? Use what you find in your own creations.
Is this body a temple, a playground, a work site, or a cubicle? Did it perform the necessary movements and rituals to keep your energy balanced and clear? Do you feel your energy pulsing down from spinal cord to fingertips, your power doubled by its nimble form? There is only one who can play harmonies here, only one who can hold the tone of this moment and sustain it long enough for you to hear it. Pay attention now, she is speaking—not an enemy, not a tool, not another reason to find discrepancies between vision and manifestation of light.
Audioscopes Challenge: Consider creating a before and after ritual to your music process (finger or vocal exercises to warm up, deep breathing, a quick yoga session). If you already have a ritual, make any necessary adjustments that might be needed as you continue to tune into your body.
This is the last month of wandering through unknown cave passages, bumping up against the walls, listening for echoes to guide you. The sun is rising just outside the lip of the entrance, beams glaring down passages like strips of neon light showing the way out. Even now you can look up and notice the difference between midnight and twilight, the way the light changes when dawn is on the approach. You will have another tomorrow. You will have a new cycle burgeoning from this fall. The question now is: what will you bring to it?
Audioscopes Challenge: The next time you face writer’s block, do not give up—push through it. Take a 10 minute break and listen to music that excites you, read poetry that inspires you, and then pick up your instrument and see what comes out.
No situation is hopeless if those who are caught in the battle between circumstance and might keep a clear vision of the future they are manifesting and a resolve to see it burst through. You may have witnessed the end of an era, but does this mean you’ll bury the new one too? Will you lose sight of your gifts in the moment’s chaos, or will you hold tight to what you know is true, sound, centered, and resounding? It is up to you to feed this fire during the storm. It is up to you to feed the light.
Audioscopes Challenge: Think back to the way you approached music before live gigs were halted by the pandemic: What brought you joy? What gifts do you possess? Are your goals the same as they were before? Do not use the answers to harp on the ways you might be limited today, but rather how you can apply them during this new era.
Love comes back and swings full way right into your chest, lighting up the areas that have been sleeping on the present, waiting for a brighter day to let the rays catch. But you cannot keep holding your breath, waiting for a better time to say what must be said, waiting for fair weather in order to make the journey. This is the new seasonal shift; this is the climate that will unfold. Your time to move is now—make your way across that bridge from circumstance to chance.
Audioscopes Challenge: Consider talking through the next steps of your music with a trusted loved one, no matter how underdeveloped or lofty they may seem.
Does a condor look down at the ground below and question the plumes of air that keep its feathers in flight? Do not question the strength of your wings to keep you going when you’ve already decided the path you’re on. Now is the time to push through the butterflies in your belly and trust that you have aligned divine providence with vivid intention, cleared the pathway for travel, and caught that column of air that will carry you through. You’ve done this a hundred times, in a thousand different weather variations. Now is no different. You will carry this through.
Audioscopes Challenge: Make a list of your musical strengths and create affirmations for each one. Consider how your strengths can be used even more to further your goals. Say the affirmations outloud to yourself every time you practice or perform.
The only thing guaranteed on this journey is that you will face exactly what it is that you need to see in order to lose the ignorance that acts like a shield between you and who you are to become. The confrontation with the abyss of chance may seem too troublesome to have meaning, but it is in these moments, when the hair on the back of your neck rises, that the self you are becoming is revealed. Don’t stall the inevitable. You have no chance against this foe some have called destiny and others chance. You can face it.
Audioscopes Challenge: Lean into the moments that take you by surprise, the ones that may feel confrontational to who you thought you were. Stay present and see what is revealed about you and your music going forward.
Who you commit your time to reveals as much about your journey as it does their ability to change it. Their merit becomes your merit, their karma becomes your karma, their difficulties become your difficulties, their gifts become your gifts. Will you enter into this next phase willingly, arms at the ready, hands intertwined? Do you know what you are taking on? Remember: no one can choose this for you, no one can separate this once it is done.
Audioscopes Challenge: Consider the musicians and bandmates you associate yourself with. Is it a mutually beneficial relationship? Do you receive as much as you give, and vice versa? Are they supporting the full and whole you?
The only way to ensure order in the small slice of the world that is under your purview is to enact it yourself. Through the careful and diligent application of set rules and boundaries, protective measures and routine, you will set the wheels in motion that will deliver the results you seek. Not by chance or divine providence, but by sheer determination matched with commitment to your single goal: clarity. To see through the eye of the storm you need the grounding to stand on. Set yourself up.
Audioscopes Challenge: Map out the foundation of your creative process, including your goals, routine, intentions, and limits and boundaries.
TAKE A MOMENT TO REFLECT ON THIS: There was a time when the teen survivors of the predatory and abusive culture of Burger Records felt the warmth of a new day. They were accepted into a rock ‘n’ roll subculture that was separate from the world that often disapproved of them and offered little more than mainstream disappointments. They felt welcomed and visible, like they were truly a part of something, spending much of their time and money at Burger Records’ shop and shows—and this enthusiasm for a better world was used against them by the very adults they thought they could trust.
If you are far removed from your teen years, or from being immersed in a subculture, I ask you to scour the deepest corners of your memory to remember those first moments of feeling invigorated by a community that existed on the fringe and seemingly welcomed you as you were. The need for acceptance cracked wide open during our teenage years, a time when we were the most vulnerable in both our bodies and identities, learning how to navigate ourselves amidst traumatic incidents in our homes, high schools, and spaces with others who we looked up to. Discovering a music community that professed a progressive DIY culture in a world that demands conformity was often our one great hope. We stumbled toward the horizon, despite everything, and let a new rising sun welcome us in—another world shone possible in a boundless night…
When I was a scrappy teenager on Long Island, I leaned heavily into punk music. I learned how to play guitar at 13 in a town three miles shy of an official borough, ostracized by my classmates for being a lanky punk freak, longing for the days I could move to the city and meet people just like me. In 2000, I came across the ostensibly radical Long Island DIY punk scene, in which touring bands like Against Me! would drive east from their shows in New York City to play in our suburban basements, and local punk bands of young white men would use the mic to shout about feminism and change. In fact, our DIY scene was even written about in Newsday, and in 2001 a few friends even made a documentary about it—it was as if the sun burned only for us.
For a time, the Long Island DIY punk scene felt righteous, but the harm that befell women was consistently denied by the men in power. Our feelings of being unsafe were met with apathy—or even worse, laughter. When we called out big shit men with band clout for sexism or sexual assault, we were screamed at for being irrational liars. We were made to feel damaged and ungrateful, and we stayed steeped in its toxicity because it was all we had access to and all that we knew.
Eventually we left for college or the city, started our own bands, and created our own spaces that centered the voices of women within the larger Brooklyn music scene and beyond. The multiverse of social media had yet to exist, so addressing acts of assault by men in powerful bands often stayed local or had to be spread by word-of-mouth through the circuit of similar scenes throughout the country. (Let this question sink in: Did a single man who was accused of assault in this early 2000s music scene ever face any real accountability? I can’t say for certain, but my gut says absolutely not.)
Back then, in terms of punk and rock ‘n’ roll in New York, this scene was all that we had. There wasn’t yet a variety of independent DIY music scenes to subscribe to as there is today, and it felt so rare to be around young men who acted so radicalized, which made their failures and our silenced voices unbearable. Today, with the commodification of DIY music and radical ideologies, we’re seeing more spaces that cater to progressive politics and identities, and the men involved are essentially handed the tools to act as allies, and yet they are still failing us.
I am enraged, my insides set ablaze, when I think about how 20 years after my own initial experiences, women are still being harmed in these spaces—but even more so, how teenage girls are still being harmed by full-grown men. The accused affiliated with Burger Records presented a space for teens to congregate and engage with their favorite music and musicians, but behind closed doors they were like predators from a real life Brothers Grimm tale: the label used appealing rock music, merch that catered to a younger crowd, and all-ages shows to attract teens. They baited young hopefuls with a good time, often offering underaged girls drugs and alcohol before taking advantage of them.
The predatory and abusive treatment of women in alternative music spaces is not new, but the means by which we handle these situations certainly are. Today we are equipped with social media, which allows for survivors’ stories to be transmitted across the world, creating platforms for their voices and communities of support. We’re seeing this through Instagram pages like Lured by Burger Records, dedicated to sharing the stories of and supporting survivors of sexual predation by those involved with Burger Records; submissions_4la_musicians, offering space for LA survivors assaulted by musicians to have their voices heard and a resource for accessible therapy; and Clean Streets, which exists for survivors of the music industry at large to share their stories.
Women display immeasurable resilience in coming forward with their stories, and yet there is always backlash against the truth. Insidious comments that rally around the evils of “cancel culture” have been left on the social media pages of accused men associated with Burger Records, and let me make one thing clear: vocalizing our stories of sexual assault and predation is not a culture. It is one of the first steps toward healing from trauma and it is a response to rape culture, a sociological concept in which rape is normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality that terrorizes the bodies and minds of women, nonbinary, and trans people.
On the flip side, it’s never been easier for men to self-educate/address toxic masculinity and systemic sexism/misogyny through the resources afforded them via social media and the internet. And yet, no matter how many articles they read or political stances they claim in their own lives and/or music, some men absolutely refuse to put their words into practice or take accountability for their actions. Such detrimental behavior either traumatizes young women from later participation in music, or further activates them to seek out other communities or start their own.
My hope is that the women coming forward about their own trauma caused by Burger Records will experience the latter, and here is my emboldened offering: Twenty years later, most of the problematic yet highly esteemed men who were musicians and gatekeepers in the DIY scene of my youth are now completely irrelevant; the women, however, are now at the center of this industry. We are musicians gaining international attention, acclaimed music writers, and activists who are forever working towards change. We are a community that will last a lifetime.
Today Burger Records announced that they would be folding the company, despite recent claims of a rebrand. This follows a slew of statements from affiliated artists—including Alice Bag and Bleached—cutting ties with the label. All of Burger Records’ social media accounts have been deactivated, they plan on removing all of their music from streaming platforms, and all of their artists own the rights to their own music and are free to reissue their records. The band Sloppy Jane has started a Google Doc of labels, managers, and lawyers who have offered to help women musicians once signed to Burger Records, and Lured by Burger Records continues to uphold the voices of the survivors.
It’s bewildering to see my own experience still reflected, all of these years later, through the women coming forward against Burger Records and through so many others. It’s a trauma that we share with all the women who existed before us, and those who will exist after. I wish I could say things have gotten better, but we literally just heard accounts of grown men grooming teenagers who simply wanted to play music, go to shows, and feel connected to others.
So, what does a true reckoning within the music industry look like? That’s a question I do not have a complete answer for. But what I do know is that these independent music scenes and entities—no matter what they preach—replicate miniature versions of the whole spectrum of systemic injustice in our country. While holding these men accountable is a critical action toward change, the toxic foundation on which our entire existence is built upon (i.e. capitalism) must be dismantled, and we’re seeing this work being carried out internationally through the Black Lives Matter and abolitionist movements. Within the music industry, organizations like Calling All Crows and those that promote bystander intervention are working towards supporting the safety of women, nonbinary, and trans people. Independent labels like Get Better Records, a queer/trans/artist-owned and operated label based in Los Angeles/Philadelphia/Brooklyn, work tirelessly under a heartening and radical no-music-industry-bullshit approach. And there are plenty of resources available to those dealing with sexual and predatory trauma right now, which Lured by Burger Records has begun to compile.
We’re embracing the momentum mobilized by the many generations and music scenes that came before us. Despite how dark the days may feel, it’s promising to see how social media and the internet have offered new avenues for women to hold space for each other and to come together in ways that I didn’t have access to as a teenager—we are certainly not alone. So I ask you to keep on stumbling toward the horizon, scream straight into it, and see what light shines back—you have decades worth of women here to support you.
Where do I begin? So much has changed since I made the decision to close this chapter of She Shreds. In that time I have found myself in between feelings of grief and relief, and trying to find answers to questions that I’m now realizing, at this very moment, have stayed consistent throughout the last eight years:
How do I properly acknowledge and support the transformation and the collective understanding through community that this manifestation has grown into? How do I respectfully honor the thousands of girls, women, non-binary, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and male-identifying allies who have found inspiration and evolution alongside these pages? What purpose do we, as the collective voice represented in this space, serve to the world around us, and how does the world around us affect and navigate our collective voice?
Like all of our previous releases, this issue shaped itself in a lot of ways. Long before COVID-19, our intention for the “Death and Rebirth” theme was to leave behind what was no longer serving us as a community, and to identify and introduce routines to strengthen our goals over the next decade. However, little did we know that we’d be producing this issue in a space between those two words: the death of World A and the rebirth of World B.
We are experiencing a historic moment in time, when the entire world is currently shedding layers of what life used to be and living in a daily unknown of what’s to come. Alongside a global pandemic, we’re also witnessing a climate crisis, the continuous murders of innocent Black men and women by police, and horrific cases of brutality against women around the world.
As crushing as that might be, it is significant to why we’re all here in the first place: justice. In 2012, the She Shreds community banded together to demand justice in visibility and to be acknowledged and treated as the musicians that we are. In 2016 that demand was reframed to include justice in representation and equality, and to hold the industry accountable not just for their acceptance, but for the unapologetic inclusion of who we are, what we look like, and how we sound.
Today, as we face social upheaval in 2020, I believe that we’re all fighting for justice in truth: the death of cycles that harm us, and the rebirth of our practices—not as something that we eventually lose and forget, but as daily commitments through our actions.
In my eight years of living in and researching communities of guitarists who have been underserved and underrepresented, both historically and contemporarily, I’ve come to three conclusions that I feel are important to document:
What I have found during my time spent raising awareness for her is that it’s only a stepping stone in the journey of unifying us. Moving forward, our mission as She Shreds Media is to provide the tools and resources that guide musicians through unexplored musical and cultural landscapes. Our vision is to continuously refine, redefine, and reimagine the possibilities of how music connects us, thus ensuring an inclusive and accessible global music community 100 percent of the time.
From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank all of our magazine subscribers, readers, sponsors, contributors, artists, bands, and everyone else who put a piece of themselves into this mission. Because of you, we did exactly what we intended to do with this publication: distribute awareness, redefine shredding, and reimagine the world of guitar.
We are thrilled to announce She Shreds Magazine #20: The Death and Rebirth Issue (read more about this in Fabi Reyna’s Editor’s Letter). Our final issue features two exclusive cover artists, H.E.R. and Willow; featured artists Buffy Sainte-Marie, Laura Lee (Khruangbin), Yola, and Margo Price; articles “The Evolution of Women Musicians in Mainstream Coverage” and “La Doña and the Unity of Her San Francisco Community”; a yearbook spread of the last eight years of She Shreds, and much more.
Today through the month of July we will be donating 100% of digital sales to organizations chosen by She Shreds, H.E.R., and Willow:
– Give A Beat a 501(c3) organization reducing the harmful effects of incarceration through music production, DJing, and education programs, chosen by She Shreds.
– Rock The Vote, a 501(c)3 organization building the political power of young people, chosen by H.E.R.
– #TOGETHERFUND, x Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation, a global fundraising campaign to support organizations engaged in critical Racial Justice work and COVID-19 Relief efforts chosen by Willow Smith.
Important note: Accessibility is crucial to us. If you are a Black, Indigenous, Person of Color and cannot access this content due to financial circumstances please email us at [email protected]
A special thank you to our Issue #20 sponsors: Fender, Martin, Mint Records, Red Panda Lab, Sam Ash, Walrus Audio, Reverb.com, Yousician, Father/Daughter Records, Sennheiser, EarthQuaker Devices, and TunaTone. We literally would not be able to produce this issue without their support.
Grammy Award winning musician and guitarist H.E.R. (Having Everything Revealed) speaks about doubting ourselves as musicians, staying connected to our passions, the importance of camaraderie, and her Instagram series, Girls With Guitars.
For the last issue of She Shreds Magazine, we invited Willow to discuss her journey as a guitarist, her connection with music as a healing and transformative power, and creating space for Black and brown women guitarists.
From performing in the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene, to being blacklisted by the Johnson and Nixon administrations, to advocating for and educating about Indigenous voices, Buffy Sainte-Marie speaks about her 60+ year career with Katherine Paul (Black Belt Eagle Scout).
The bassist of the Houston three-piece Khruangbin, who released their fourth studio album, Mordechai, in June, discusses intuitive technique, the band’s international influences, and what she’s discovered about herself through performance.
The English singer-songwriter, whose 2019 debut, Walk Through Fire, received four Grammy nominations, opens up to She Shreds about how you can reinvent yourself after making it through the flames.
The Nashville-based singer-songwriter discusses her growth as an artist, progressive shifts in country music, and her latest album, That’s How Rumors Get Started.
Cecilia Cassandra Peña-Govea, who performs as La Doña, practices her art through the lens of collective survival. From playing all over San Francisco with her family, to teaching music in public schools, to organizing with her city during a global crisis, La Doña believes in the power of collaboration and community.
From the major impact of early Blues women musicians on the record industry and its inclusion of Black voices in the 1920s, to the atrocious gonzo journalism in major glossies of the 1970s, to the women music editors making a difference at major publications today, we dive into how women musicians have been written about over the past century and the shifts in representation.
Cancer is the sign of home, hearth, and happiness through interconnection with family and kin. For too many of us, the right to flourish in ancestral lands and recognize lineage and kinship has been stolen by those who decided that their personal profit was manifested by their own god, decreed by the color of their skin, and destined by hierarchical belief systems that privilege greed over grace. Now the ocean tides are rising, breaking through every blockage and barrier between reclamation and recompense, opening the channels for what has been stolen to be paid back tenfold.
But we, the beings made of carbon and heart, must prepare for the long ride down the rivers of circumstance in order to find the head, the source from which all direction flows. Rest is necessary, as is taking up the spear for battle. This will not be a battle won and lost in a night—this will be the initiation bell of a lifetime spent reckoning with the futures that have been lost. Read through your Audioscopes for Cancer Season and take on an extra challenge with the free, downloadable audio bytes created by Takiaya from Divide and Dissolve.
These bonds are not meant to be broken. Even if the body fades, the touch is lost, the bright light of recognition is tarnished by the heavy burden of memory, this cord that connects your belly to their belly, your mind to their mind, your heart to their heart, remains unfettered: not in use, but not broken. Like an open telephone line at the end of a tin can for you to scream your heart into. Even as you wish to rise above the circumstance of contrary patterns mired in pugnacious thoughts, so too will you find, when you look behind you, each one of them dragging along, trailing behind like cans on a car, announcing, “Just married!” You, and your inherited patterns, as one.
Audio Challenge: Which patterns in your music writing are serving you? Which ones aren’t? Listen to the Aries audio byte on repeat, and see what it tells you about your patterns.
This may be a time of harvest, when all the seeds you’ve planted spring up through the hardwood floor and manifest the gilded future you’ve been eyeing through your one-way mirror, foretelling the future at your door. The promised land unfolds before you, but already there is a small voice creaking beneath the planks of the floor, reminding you that today you have plenty, but tomorrow you may have none at all. What does it matter, the seesaw of circumstance, the roll of the die across the green felt of material reality that blankets the dance of microcosm universes manifesting at your door? Without a reason, there’s hardly a matter. Find it.
Audio Challenge: What is your reason for creating music? Try to recreate the Taurus audio byte with your own instruments and gear, and meditate on the reasons music calls to you.
All the spells in the world won’t do the good that is promised when you lay your desires at the foot of a loved one’s door. The altar is set, the spells cast, the crystals collected, and the guitar tuned—but there will be no time for a performance now, not if you haven’t spent a moment looking past the bridge of your own nose. There is someone here who needs your help, and you have the energy to spend. Funnel that fickle talent into the manifest future, created by mutual ascendance merged with love. You will do better now, as long as you don’t worry so much about where you are headed; look instead at where we are headed, together.
Audio Challenge: Consider the noise heard throughout the Gemini audio byte, then write a song that incorporates noise and/or feedback into its foundation. Let it act as the voice of another—what is it saying?
There are certain lines of resonance you are born into that will never lose their power, and then there are certain lines of connection that you take on willingly and invest in, doubling their energetic influence in your realm. Those chosen connections have the power to renovate or destroy, transform or abandon, make right or wrong any moment of short time you share on this blue sphere deep in the sea of ocean black. You do not need to consecrate all connections, but there is little energy in this field for placating those you know cannot hold on to the end of the rope as you swing ever higher into the stratosphere. Choose wisely.
Audio Challenge: Which connections are furthering your music? Which are holding you back? Use the Cancer audio byte as a guide to write a farewell song to those you might need to release.
If you let yourself be guided not by the fear in the pit of your belly but by the spirits of your conscious past, then your willful actions will be blessed with resonance, tuned with emotional license, and pointed directly forward to the future. You will find your way out of this pit of self-denial and self-doubt, your conviction slicing through the myriad of voices like a gilded sword, finding that one chord that rings true. But actions born in trust come not from the mind that is fixated on a future goal, but from a heart that knows whatever reality must unfold in front of you will deliver you to the next harbor, from which your sails will be set free and your mind at ease. Listen.
Audio Challenge: Record a soundscape that uses space and bursts, like the Leo audio byte. Let the space be your conscious past and the bursts be the one chord that rings true for you right now.
These empty rooms you can claim as your own are filled with the glittering reminders of certain moments that have passed you by, leaving memories of the futures that could have been in their wake, gilded frames on the wall showing the places you’ve wished you’d been. But not today. This time the moon rises over your desire for a change, lighting a channel that will give you free rein. You’ll do well to take a boat and set out on it. This is the time to finally test the strength of your convictions against the tides. You know the way: seen half in twilight and half in dreamtime, but always sure. Follow it.
Audio Challenge: Write your truth in a riff or vocals over the Virgo audio byte. Follow your gut, and don’t let your need for order get in the way of your voice.
If the floorboards have been set down right, if the rooms are filled with love, if the people you’ve invited in can hold you down, and if there is ample room to grow, then this shall be a time when the moon shines through the windows and finds you ready to take flight. But if the ground feels shaky below you, if it feels like there are unknown motivations behind closed doors, if the wind cannot whistle through the windows, then the structure will creak and complain under the pressure of your weight as you try to take off—giving way instead of holding you up.
Audio Challenge: Open the windows, call in your muses, and stomp away on the effects pedals you’ve been neglecting. Regain your balance, let the ground support you, and use the tempo of the Libra audio byte as your guide.
There will always be new slights to tally, new messages of grief and glory to record, new enemies to counter, and old enemies to keep the score. We could spend a lifetime, you and I, righting every wrong in every corner of this vast earth. But we’d miss the reason for the rhyme, we’d lose the opportunity of time spent climbing up this mountain, pushing the boulder of our own ignorance up its slopes, reaching the top in order to take in the majesty that exists beyond this limited view.
Audio Challenge: Listen to the buildup and breakdown of the Scorpio audio byte. Write a lead that feels challenging to you, and play it over and over again. Don’t let mistakes trip you up—accept them and move on.
Yes, it feels like you’ve been losing for years now: the bag that held your hope, the armor that kept your heart warm, the hearth that lit your belly brightly, the network that held you close. But in this moment of chance and circumstance, there is magic hidden in each article you lose. Not in the past, piled up like gems that will never reach your hands, but in your pockets, restoring the energy you’d sent out to its rightful owner. Take this moment to feel it sink deeply into the crevice of your chest; you have been given more than you have lost, if you know how to recognize it.
Audio Challenge: Create an ambient song that depicts all that you’ve lost, and all that you’ve gained from those losses. Use the Sagittarius audio byte for inspiration.
It’s difficult to find a way through this pile of rocks weighing down on your chest, keeping you pinned to the floor, preventing you from finding little channels of air in a sea of pressure. But there is someone, right now, just outside these caves, trying to channel you out. This may be a task for two: one calling out into the dead of night, the other locating your voice beneath the rubble. But they won’t find you—not unless you make the call.
Audio Challenge: Who is it that you’d like to let into your inner sanctum of music writing? Think about why and how, and then reach out to them.
There are channels to dig, seeds to plant, forests to clear, and rivers to enchant. The long list of The Work that needs to be done continues to grow, with every opportunity capitalized on, and every threat identified and strategized around for possible danger. But there is always more to add to the list. Every stone unturned offers a new possibility that must be assessed, every seed planted represents more work to be done to ensure its bloom. But behind it all—the endless tasks to be performed, the manifold care that must be taken at every turn—there is a bright moon dipping up over the horizon, just long enough to whisper of something more.
Audio Challenge: Write a to-do list of everything you need to do with music right now, and put it in order from high to low priority. If it seems like all work and no play, be sure to add fun rewards and activities after two or three to-dos are accomplished, like experimenting with sound or treating yourself to new or used gear.
They are growing back now, these fields of resonance that you have carefully cultivated into fruition after the sudden loss. As the gate to the garden swings open and you’re finally able to step back into the love and comfort of those you hold dear, you recognize a new field—now emptied, ready to be seeded with the vision you have cultivated during these months of twilight, dreaming through the windows towards a horizon you know exists just beyond these doors. Don’t lose sight of it now, as the sun rises and your daily motions come back doubled because of the time spent away. You can step out beyond the confines of what you know, if you trust your vision to guide you through.
Audio Challenge: Create a course of action for the next steps of your music. The world has changed in some ways, and yet is completely the same in others—take that into consideration as you move forward, be easy with yourself.
Last week, in response to the protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd, Fuller took to Facebook to criticize looters. His comments were not only tone deaf—ironic, coming from a company that prides itself on guitar tone—but also extremely offensive on multiple levels, including his prioritization of buildings over Black lives. When Fuller received an email from a concerned and righteously angry customer, he responded with hostility and threats:
View this post on Instagram
Fuller posted an apology shortly after, and has since deleted the comments and apology, both of which have been screen grabbed and widely distributed. Musicians have taken to social media to ask guitar retailers to cut ties with Fulltone, resulting in Guitar Center’s decision, and to ask other gear companies what they are currently doing to support Black lives.
While Fuller’s apology and Guitar Center’s decision is a start, it’s certainly not enough. We posted on a screenshot of Fuller’s comments on our Instagram, and our readers came through to express their frustration with the lack of consideration and support of Black lives from not just Fulltone, but other gear companies as well. And we, along with our readers, demand action. A simple social media post or hashtag will no longer suffice in an industry that has built its entire empire on the backs of the Black community, and we plan to hold the music industry accountable in any way that we can.
Community, within the context of Latinx identity, has been a powerful tool. It offers dialogue, social change, and most importantly, visibility. It’s a beautiful space where marginalized bodies can come together and create the most powerful connection. Community has been the reason why I personally have felt empowered to move forward in many of my endeavors—it is at the forefront of all the work I do. From creating Diana Diaz, an ethical clothing line that uses its platform to create space for POC, queer, and immigrant folks to running Solidarity For Sanctuary, an organization that uses music and the arts to stand in solidarity with the immigrant community; it has always been vital to understand that without community, change in any form is nearly impossible to obtain.
For all marginalized communities, the idea of coming together in safe spaces has been an important part of unifying and feeling empowered when we live in a society that often erases us from their narrative. This visibility has been most evident within the music scene, which has seen an uprise of emerging POC and queer artists. Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen an insurgence of these artists taking over media outlets and music festivals that previously had been predominantly white men. To occupy spaces that were not meant for us was a beautiful feeling felt within all of us, and it was mostly felt when we would go to shows and celebrate together.
Music has historically been an important tool used within many social movements, creating voice, empowerment, and resistance for many oppressed communities. With our worlds being turned upside down overnight it has become apparent that music, now more than ever, is imperative in reinforcing community.
We’ve been taking our time thinking about this turn, and contemplating what would be the best way to move forward for us—the musicians and fans. We wanted to create something that would not only offer longevity, but entails a complete package of live concert elements. We wanted to ensure that the feeling and importance of community is not lost solely because we do not have a physical space to gather at currently.
The Alone At Last series aims to work with as many musicians and artists as possible to provide safe spaces where we as POC, queer, and marginalized folk can continue to work and create beautiful and important experiences. It’s a platform that has the intent to connect us, and allow all of us to grow together.
Alone At Last: a performance series capturing intimacy through isolation.
To ensure we continue with our mission to create community, our new series takes the essential voice brought forth by musicians and pairs them with creatives, such as directors and photographers, to create a visionary performance that captures the essence of a live show. The purpose of this series is not only to provide fans with an intimate experience, but to create a high quality experience that promotes a digital economy for music industry workers across varying mediums and fields.
How have you been building, nurturing, and caring for yourself and/or your community despite the restrictions and barriers of everyday life since quarantine?
San Cha: Even with the lockdowns, I allow so much space for my ideas and dreams as well as allowing a lot of space for rest. Sometimes the restrictions and barriers are like riddles and challenges to me that I need to solve and they actually serve as a source of new inspiration. I’m no stranger to making things happen with very little, I’ve definitely created with so much less. Eating more of my own and my partners cooking, makes me feel so much more in tune with myself and makes my house feel more like a home. I’ve been talking to my mother and aunts in Mexico a lot more, and calling my friends as soon as I think of them.
Shiny Kid: I’ve been more gentle with myself and working towards releasing the need to feel busy, productive, and in control. I’ve been able to develop small rituals to perform throughout my day that allow me to feel fully present and integrated with my inner/outer worlds. I’ve been cooking and sharing recipes with friends, doing a daily tarot pull and meditation, learning to revive my pre-quarantine perm with oils and curl pins, and having weekly virtual hang sessions with my family. I’ve found this time very inspiring and have been prioritizing my art practice over everything, and that’s actually made me feel more grounded. I’ve been more open to collaborations and impromptu creating with others; it’s been really revitalizing to create without a fixed idea of what the project will evolve into.
What do some of those restrictions look like? What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced when trying to fulfill your job and/or share your art?
San Cha: I cannot have regular band rehearsals or record in groups, and that’s made me the most sad. I’ve had to rely on myself more for social media performances and dust off my guitar playing skills and find arrangements that are still interesting and fun to play by myself. I do find it more challenging to record and put out my own new music and organize myself enough to finish those projects.
Shiny Kid: The biggest restriction working in the realm of filmmaking is that production requires multiple people to work together in a shared space, and right now we are unable to gather in large groups. A lot of magick happens on set or on location when shooting a project, no matter the genre. Now, we need to rethink this model of filmmaking and find new ways of creating. It’s both scary and exciting, but usually good things come from the mixture of those two feelings. Personally, I’ve been rethinking the essence of filmmaking and how there are so many ways to approach it. I’ve been experimenting with some of my own personal films, but as for larger projects I continue to develop my ideas by writing and creating mood boards.
What were some of the in-person elements from either a live show or working with a team that you’ve been missing and hoping to bring to this project?
San Cha: I miss touching people, I miss not being worried if I’m passing a virus on to someone or the other way around. I also miss the loud music and the loud reactions from the audience, and them singing with me. I miss dancing around on a stage and losing my breath. In this project I was happy to showcase the intimate internal passion, the details in the looks, and to display the magic with a very focused intention.
Shiny Kid: Working with a crew to develop an idea and execute it in production is crucial to my practice. I approached this project as a way to experiment with ‘remote directing’ and providing my collaborators with the information and resources they needed to create the aesthetic we had in mind. I usually shoot a lot of my own work myself, but it was so wonderful collaborating with Prisk [Rios] as a DP [Director of Photography]. She really showed how thoughtful, creative, and capable she is in creating the images we sought to capture. By providing a framework for production and keeping our ‘set’ in line with how a normal set would run, we were able to get through our entire shot list and then some.
What did you expect from this process? How did it surprise you and how did it challenge you?
San Cha: I expected this to be a more intense and involved process. It was a little scary and challenging to trust the process, while not having Caitlin to physically direct and oversee, but we quickly overcame that challenge. Thankfully Caitlin communicated very clearly through email and FaceTime/Zoom calls. Having my partner (Prisk Rios) film me, and my drag mother (OLIMA) dress me, makes for a very intimate and uninhibited performance.
Shiny Kid: First of all, I was thrilled when asked to collaborate with San Cha on this project as we had all these plans to shoot a music video before quarantine. I was able to channel the creative energy I had while developing ideas for the music video into this performance piece. San Cha and I are both huge fans of telenovelas, and our goal was to bring that level of drama to this project. I wanted to create a concert experience for the viewer with dramatic lighting, costumes, engaging performances, and visuals. We tested our setups a few times before deciding on a lighting scheme and costume, which really helped us get in the right space for the performance.
The challenging aspect for me was letting go of control over every facet of production. I had a few creative suggestions for the camera work, but overall I trusted Prisk’s creative eye. I am so used to doing a lot of these things myself, but I’ve been slowly working on relinquishing control and allowing others to support me in my projects (and in life). This was a great way of testing myself, and I ended up falling in love with every frame we shot.
We had a few hiccups with staying virtually connected the entire time (Zoom, FaceTime), but we made it work. I was behind my laptop screen and Prisk set her phone up so I could see San Cha performing as we recorded. We moved seamlessly through each set up, with mini breaks in between for battery charging and snacks. In total it was five hours to shoot, but it really flew by. I was amazed at how much we did with so little!
The editing and color process came very natural to me—I love getting sucked into a performance and getting lost in the edit. I wanted it to feel dreamy and dramatic, supernatural and surreal, and I think with the combination of lighting, camera movement, and San Cha’s stage presence and voice, we created an at-home concert experience for all to enjoy during this time of isolation.
In February 2019, we published “50 Historic Black Women Guitarists and Bassists You Needs to Know” to showcase the influences that Black and Afro-identifying women musicians have had on music history. Since then, we’ve been consistently updating this list because we should constantly be celebrating the innovation, resilience, and talent of Black music communities.
For this particular list, we choose to focus on Black women guitarists and bassists whose careers started prior to 1999 to specifically showcase the legends—many of whom have unfortunately been overlooked, dismissed, or forgotten—who should be recognized as pillars of music history.
This list is not to be brushed off as just another list. Rather, it should be treated as a step taken towards exposing the truth. It’s for all of us who can’t count the names of Black women guitarists on one hand. It’s for the young Black girls aspiring to be musicians but seldom see a history that represents them. It’s to learn about our past and evolve into our future—and without Black history, we cannot accurately do so.
Below are 100 women—some of which you’ve heard about countless times, such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Elizabeth Cotten, and Barbara Lynn. Others were found in liner notes, vintage photos without names, and obscure websites deep within the internet. With your help, we hope this list can continue to grow. If you have names, videos, or pictures, please leave them in the comments below. And if you feel so inclined, please share this article and help distribute the names and lives of these incredible women.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915 – 1973) is often referred to as the “original soul sister” and “the mother of rock and roll” for too many good reasons to display at once. Among others, Tharpe was among the very first recording guitarists to incorporate heavy distortion on her tracks. Not only did Tharpe influence many recognizable names such as Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton, but her unique style and ability to merge genres gave her an instrumental role in pushing music forward. In 1945, Tharpe’s single, “Strange Things Happening Every Day,” was the first gospel song to cross into popular music, reaching #2 on the Billboard charts.
Even before Sister Rosetta Tharpe, it was guitarist/bassist/vocalist Memphis Minnie (1897 – 1973), born Lizzie Douglas, who picked up the torch to keep African American popular music raw and relevant between the 1920s and 1950s. Although more recognized for her impeccable voice, Memphis Minnie’s music helped shape the sound of modern pop music. Below are her best known tracks influenced by her original songs:
Memphis Minnie: 1929 “When the Levee Breaks”
Made famous by: Led Zeppelin
Memphis Minnie: 1930 “Bumble Bee” Made famous by: Muddy Waters
Memphis Minnie: “What’s the Matter with the Mill”
Made famous by: Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys
In 2016, She Shreds had the honor of speaking with blues guitar picking queen Beverly “Guitar” Watkins (1939 – 2019), who began her career as the guitarist for Piano Red in 1959. Despite a long and self-described extremely difficult musical path, Watkins desired nothing more than to continue playing, writing, and performing.
She Shreds: Who introduced you to the blues?
Beverly Watkins: Well, it was born in me, from my ancestors. I had a granddaddy who was a banjo player. And then I had four aunties, called the Hayes Sisters—Aunt B., Aunt Ruth, Aunt Nell, and Aunt Margaret. They had a group back in them days and they would go to different churches down in Commerce and they would dress alike. Aunt B. played guitar, Aunt Ruth and Aunt Nell sang, and Aunt Margaret played piano. And my daddy, Lonnie Watkins, played the harmonica.
Peggy Jones (1940 – 2015), later known as Lady Bo, was an innovative and expressive guitarist. She was an original part of Bo Diddley’s sound from 1957 to 1962 and influential in her own songwriting and musical endeavors thereafter. Jones always displayed an enthusiastic willingness to experiment with guitars, effects, and sounds. Her enthusiasm for new guitar technologies helped balance out Diddley’s reliance on the cigar box guitar that made him famous, and allowed the band to evolve sonically over the course of time. Though she typically favored Gibson guitars, Lady Bo also played more experimental instruments such as the Roland guitar synthesizer and used their unique sounds in ways not often heard in rhythm and blues guitar.
Jessie Mae Hemphill (1923 – 2016) was truly a great example of the “one woman band,” often performing live with a guitar and tambourine at once. Although guitar was Hemphill’s instrument of choice since age 7, she was also a skilled drummer and percussionist. Hemphill, whose mother, father, and three sisters were all musicians, would go on to be internationally recognized for her unique talent and technique.
Born in Manhattan, Carline Ray (1925 – 2013) was an award-winning guitarist/bassist/pianist/singer who studied at Juilliard and earned her Master’s in composition. In 1946, Ray joined The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the “all girl jazz band” known best for being the first and arguably most important all-women contribution to the big band era. Her seven decade career spanned a variety of genres, often switching from various instruments. According to her daughter, Catherine Russell, Ray “always made a point of saying she wasn’t a female musician, she was a musician who happened to be female.” We couldn’t stand by her statement more.
Odetta Holmes aka “Odetta” (1930 – 2008) is often referred to as “The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement” for her immense capability to reflect the passion and emotion of her community through works of jazz, folk, blues and beyond. As a result, she influenced some of the greatest names of the folk revival movement: Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin all site Odetta as a major influence on their decision to sing and write they way they did. According to Time magazine, Rosa Parks was her #1 fan, and Martin Luther King Jr. called her “the queen of American folk music.” Bob Dylan was quoted saying, “The first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta… I went out and traded my electric guitar and amplifier for an acoustical guitar.” Baez mentions that “Odetta was a goddess. Her passion moved me. I learned everything she sang.”
An image of these unknown women was taken by Roger da Silva for a series of photos taken between 1953 – 1969 meant to present a historical portrait of Senegal. As far as we know, the names and whereabouts of these women are unknown. The exhibit was featured and presented by XARITUFOTO—a nonprofit in Dakar with a mission to preserve African art as well as The Intensive Art Magazine (IAM)—”one of the first publications that focused exclusively on female African art, fashion, and design.”
Sylvia Vanderpool aka Sylvia Robinson is considered “The Mother of Hip-Hop” for being a record producer, record label executive, and founder/CEO of Sugar Hill Records—the label that produced hip hop’s very first top 40 single, “Rappers Delight,” by Sugarhill Gang. However, before becoming the mother of hip hop, Robinson obtained her production, writing, and managing skills as the guitarist and co-writer in Mickey and Sylvia, the duo who sold over 1 million records for their single “Love Is Strange” in 1957. But it doesn’t end there. In 1972, after being rejected by numerous outlets, Robinson recorded her debut solo album on her own, “Pillow Talk,” which became #1 on the R&B chart and crossing over to #3 on Billboard’s Top Hot 100.
Check out our 2019 article, “Sylvia Robinson’s Legacy as ‘The Mother of Hip Hop‘” for more information about the influence of Sylvia Robinson.
Born Etta Lucille Reid (1913 – 2016), Etta Baker was a playing legend of the Piedmont blues for 90 years. Picking up her first guitar at the age of three, Baker’s father Boone Reid taught her how to play a six-string guitar, 12-string guitar, and five-string banjo. Her discography spans from 1956 – 2015, and even while birthing and raising nine kids, Baker was known to never once give up playing the Piedmont Blues.
Algia Mae Hinton (1929 – 2018) was born in Johnston County, North Carolina and learned to play the guitar at nine years old. She was taught by her mother, who was an expert guitarist and singer, often seen performing at community gatherings. Her father was a dancer and taught her buck dancing and two step. Hinton was best recognized for her ability to merge buck dancing and Piedmont fingerpicking, often playing behind her head (as shown above) as she danced—a true pro. (Video Credit: Dust To Digital)
Norma Jean Wofford aka The Duchess (1938 – 2005) was the second guitarist in Bo Diddley’s band between 1962 and 1966. With her Gretsch Jupiter Thunderbird, she performed back up vocals, danced, and played rhythm guitar alongside Bo Diddley until calling it quits in 1966 to pursue raising a family.
Elizabeth Cotten (1893 – 1987) is the true definition of innovation. Born in in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Cotten began teaching herself to play banjo at the age of eight. As a teenager and domestic worker, Cotten saved up $3.75 for a Sears guitar and began teaching herself to play left-handed. What resulted was her very own signature technique: she would take the right-handed guitar and turn it upside down, playing the bass lines with her fingers and the melody with her thumb—a technique known now as “Cotten Picking.” Her most recognized song is “Freight Train.”
While there’s not very much information on Linda Martell (born Thelma Bynem in 1941), she was an American Country singer and guitarist. She became the first African American woman to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, but soon thereafter abandoned her career to raise a family.
Little information floats around the internet about Cora Fluker. Born in Livingston, Alabama around 1920, she grew up sharecropping with her family and was nearly beaten to death after trying to run away at the age of nine. It seems that shortly thereafter, Fluker’s life took a shift into a deep dedication to preaching. As a young girl, she built her own guitar and began writing and singing songs in the church. Fluker performed in churches and at the occasional festival until her death. You can now hear some of her songs on Spotify.
You might know Lauryn Hill from the Fugees and her award-winning solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill—but do you know what Lauryn Hill does live? She composes, she conducts her band, she sings and raps, and she plays an extremely fierce nylon guitar all at the same time.
“Born 25 September 1910, Como, Mississippi, USA, d. 22 October 1968, Senatobia, Mississippi, USA. The daughter of Sid Hemphill, Rosa Lee Hill grew up in a musical family, playing a broad repertoire for both whites and blacks. Her recordings are confined to blues, which she sang ‘from my mouth, and not from the heart’, feeling them to be incompatible with her religious faith. Her blues are typical of Panola County, where she spent her whole life: accompanied by a droning guitar, her songs have an inward-looking, brooding feel, comparable to those of Mississippi Fred McDowell. Hill and her husband were sharecroppers and lived in dire poverty, particularly towards the end of their lives, when their house burned down and they had to move into a tumbledown shack.” (Caption Cred: allmusic.com)
Joan Armatrading was born in Basseterre, Saint Kitts Britain on December 9th, 1950. Her recording career spans 40 years and she began as a self taught guitarist at the age of 14. At 15, after dropping out of school to support her family, she lost her first job after taking her guitar to work and playing it during tea breaks. She would later become a world-renowned singer songwriter/guitarist nominated for three Grammy Awards, 2 Brit Awards, and receive an Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contemporary Song Collection.
For more information, check out our 2020 feature, “The Righteousness of Joan Armatrading.”
Born Barbara Lynn Ozen in Beaumont, Texas on January 16, 1942, Lynn is known as the “Lefty Queen of R&B” for being a lefty guitarist and expert R&B composer. She first began playing the piano as a youngster before switching to guitar. Still a teenager, Lynn began performing at local clubs after winning many high school talent shows, and soon was recognized by singer Joe Barry. Shortly after, Lynn headed to New Orleans to cut her first 12-song LP, comprised of 10 original songs (unusual for an African American woman at the time), including the most well known of them all, “You’ll Lose A Good Thing.” She toured with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Al Green, Carla Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, and B.B. King, and was covered by the Rolling Stones and Ottis Redding. In the 1970s, Lynn retired to take care of her family after not being satisfied with how she was represented by her label, Atlantic Records. Twenty years later, she began writing and touring, and continues to do so to this day.
One of the many images that speak to the prominence of Black women instrumentalists unsung. PS: That Silvertone guitar though.
Gail Anne Dorsey is a longtime musician best known for her work as the bassist for David Bowie between 1995 until his death in 2016, as well as her songwriting, bass, and touring work with Tears for Fears from 1993 to 1996. Dorsey’s career is long and packed, but it all started with a guitar at the age of nine. Although she picked up the bass at 14, she didn’t consider herself a bassist until the age of 20, which then became her main instrument as a solo and session player. Among many other accomplishments, Dorsey has recorded, performed, and written with the likes of Lenny Kravitz, Bryan Ferry, Boy George, the Indigo Girls, Gwen Stefani, Charlie Watts, Seal, Gang of Four, and many more.
Stella Bass was a member of the horn rock band IsIs, named after the Egyptian Goddess. (Horn rock was a genre that developed in the late 1960s fusing jazz, improve, funk, rock and blues.) IsIs was the fifth all-women band to sign to a major label, and one of the few (if not only) signed to a major label at the time with an openly gay woman. It’s tough to find info on Stella herself and the career she led before and after the band; however, IsIs was a legendary band for their time—opening for the likes of Kiss, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and The Beach Boys.
Taken during the Civil Rights Movement .
Born in Louisa County, Virginia (1908 – 1990), Flora Molton was a gospel singing slide guitarist who made a name for herself busking on the corner of 7th Street NW and F Street NW streets in Washington, DC. Due to being born partially blind, she was often unable to find employment and therefore continued busking, performing at local venues and even toured Europe until just a few months before her death at 82 years old. Morton wrote what she called “spiritual and truth music,” and according to a plaque dedicated to her in Louisa County, she picked up the slide guitar by seeing it played with a knife at a community party—a technique she adopted herself later on.
Willa Mae Buckner (1922 – 2000) is truly one of the most fascinating stories we’ve encountered yet. Born in Augusta, Georgia, Buckner was a fearless woman who taught herself piano at age 21 and picked up the guitar at 35. She was known for many different lives: she knew seven languages, traveled with her own circus/snake show, was a guitar slinging burlesque dancer, and “settled down” by owning 28 snakes at the end of her life. From an interview in Living Blues Magazine, April 1993: “I sang just regular kind of blues that they were singing out there. I used to do risqué, dirty songs. I started playing piano when I was 21, then I switched over to guitar when I was about 35. There was three of us. We used to get together with our instruments. One of us played Hawaiian guitar, the other one played straight.”
“Precious Bryant was born on January 4, 1942, in Talbot County, the third of nine children, and was a country blues singer and finger style guitarist of the Piedmont Tradition. As a young girl she sang with her sisters in their Baptist church. Her family was musical, and she learned to play guitar at a very early age, becoming proficient by age nine. Her father then taught her to play bottleneck guitar, and eventually her uncle and mentor, blues musician George Henry Bussey, presented her with an instrument of her own, a Silvertone from Sears and Roebuck. Bryant dropped out of high school in the eleventh grade and in 1965 got married. She soon began performing whenever possible, accepting tips in her guitar. Bryant’s repertoire evolved from traditional songs to include original arrangements and compositions.” (Caption Credit: Terminus Records)
Marylin Scott/Mary Deloach had two stage names: the former for her gospel church recordings, and the latter for her R&B arrangements—the two genres generally steering clear for one another in the 1950s. Although composing under similar genres and gaining similar notoriety as Sister Rosetta Tharpe at the time, little is known about Marylin Scott besides having a recording career between 1943 – 1953, in which she recorded guitars and vocals in blues and gospel style.
Born in Houston, Texas Barbara Jordan (1936 – 1996) was an incredible leader of the Civil Rights Movement, a politician, and an educator who enjoyed playing guitar as a hobby. Despite facing segregation laws and attitudes in all facets of her career, Jordan maintained the first in many categories, including being the first Black politician elected to the Texas Senate since 1883, and the first Black Southern woman elected to the US House of Representatives—the first woman in her own right to represent Texas in the House.
Sister O.M. Terrell, born Ola Mae Terrell (1911 – 2006), was an Atlanta native who experienced a salvation experience at age 11 while attending a Holiness Movement tent revival. By the Great Depression, she had become a blues-minded street musician who used her talents to evangelize passers-by, singing original compositions such as “God’s Little Birds.”
Tracy Chapman is one of the most recognizable voices of contemporary folk pop, with hits so memorable that her lyrics remain in the lexicon of anyone who lived through the late 1980s and 1990s. At a time when hair metal and synth-pop dominated the airwaves, Chapman brought the minimalist traditions of the singer-songwriter to the Bush era, offering an unfiltered and sobering social critique that resonated around the world. Chapman is often credited with having revived the singer-songwriter style in mainstream music all together, paving the way for a long string of folk singers who gained mainstream success throughout the 1990s.
Signed to Elektra Records in 1987, her self-titled debut album in 1988 sold over 20 million records worldwide. A long time anti-apartheid activist, she was invited to perform her hit “Fast Car” at Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday tribute, which raised money for children’s’ causes and for South Africa’s Anti-Apartheid Movement. In addition to multi-platinum record sales, Grammy Awards, and her history of social activism, Chapman’s mainstream visibility as a queer woman of color in the 1980s and 1990s can not be overlooked as a significant legacy. From all of us to Tracy—THANK YOU!!
Bea Booze (1912 – 1986), often referred to as “Wee Bea Booze,” was an R&B and jazz singer popular in the 1940s for her interpretation of Ma Rainey’s song “See See Rider Blues,” which went to number one in 1943 on the US Billboard R&B Chart. Immersed in the rich musical culture of Harlem, she channeled the influences of singers such as Lil Green while recording for Decca Records. “See See Rider Blues” has continued to take on a life of its own, becoming a staple of blues performers such as Ella Fitzgerald, LaVern Baker, and Lead Belly, eventually picked up by many white performers such as Peggy Lee, Elvis, Janis Joplin, Bruce Springsteen, and the Grateful Dead.
Both a young legend and an active contemporary artist, Meshell Ndegeocello’s debut album, Plantation Lullabies, was released in 1993 and is credited with helping ignite the neo-soul movement of the 1990s. A bassist, songwriter, and rapper, her career has featured collaborations and recordings with Chaka Khan, Herbie Hancock, Madonna, John Mellencamp, The Rolling Stones, Basement Jaxx, Alanis Morrissette, Zap Mama, and Ibeyi, to name a few. Part of Ndegeocello’s legacy is her reverence to other former legends, having recorded a full album in tribute to Nina Simone in 2012, as well as having created a theatrical production in homage to James Baldwin’s book, The Fire Next Time. The musical, Can I Get a Witness? The Gospel of James Baldwin, debuted in 2016 and featured fellow guitarist and #43 on this list, Toshi Reagon.
Felicia Collins is best known as the lead guitarist for the house band on Late Night With David Letterman, known as the CBS Orchestra. Also a vocalist and percussionist, she has toured and recorded since the 1980s with artists such as Nile Rodgers, Al Jarreau, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Vonda Shepard, George Clinton, P-Funk, and the Thompson Twins. In 2018, Collins performed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, appearing onstage with Brittany Howard, Questlove, and Paul Shaffer. Previously, she had provided guitar for Marie and Rosetta, a theatrical production about the lives of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and gospel singer Marie Knight.
Deborah Coleman (1956 – 2018) was a lead blues guitarist and singer-songwriter born in Virginia. Raised in a musical family, she picked up the guitar at age eight and went on to play in various rock and R&B bands when she was 15. In 1993, Coleman took first place at the Charleston Blues Festival’s National Amateur Talent Search. As a result, she was able to record her debut album, Talkin’ A Stand, which was released in 1994 with New Moon Records in North Carolina.
Charity Alberta Bailey (1904 – 1978) was a singer, educator, TV host, and pioneer in the field of children’s music. She wrote songbooks arranged on guitar and piano, and developed curriculums that used classical music and folk music from around the world to teach music to children. Bailey studied at Julliard and Dalcroze before becoming Director of Music at the Little Red School House in New York City.
The Thornton Sisters appeared on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour twice during the 1950s. Their dad enrolled the sisters into music lessons and soon after, they became regular performers on college campuses, often performing as the the backup instrumental group for R&B concerts. These performances were also a way for the family to save for medical school tuition for their daughters. The Thornton Sisters sound transitioned from jazz to R&B as the times changed.
Joyce Rooks played guitar and vocals in rock band The Dinettes from 1979 – 1980. Right before, in 1978, she had been in the band The Cockpits (seen above), which eventually morphed into The Dinettes and had a few member changes.
Serifatu Oladunni Oduguwa, also known by her stagenames Queen Oladunni Decency and Mummy Juju, was one of the most popular musicians of the Yoruba jùjú genre (Nigerian popular music from traditional Yoruba percussion). Queen Oladunni Decency fronted the Unity Orchestra as a singer and guitarist.
Formed in 1979 in LA by producer/drummer Bernadette Cooper, Klymaxx was a R&B/Pop band whose members included Cheryl Cooley (guitar), Lynn Malsby (keyboard), Lorena Porter Shelby (vocals/bass), Joyce “Fenderella” Irby (vocals/bass), and Robbin Grider (guitar/synthesizers) in Klymaxx Their 1984 album, Meeting In the Ladies Room, went platinum in the United States.
Sarah McLawler (1926 – 2017) formed an all-women instrumental group, Sarah McLawler & The Syncoettes, in Chicago in the 1940s right before the rock ‘n’ roll era took off. The Syncoettes were a four piece, with McLawler (piano), Lula Roberts (saxophone), Hetty Roberts (drums), and Vi Wilson (bass). They became the house band for Chicago’s Club Savoy for a short time and released a handful of records during the 1950s.
The International Sweethearts of Rhythm was one of the first racially integrated all-women swing bands that gained popularity during the WWII era. The group toured extensively throughout the states and abroad with the USO, performing on the Armed Forces radio and playing top venues across the country. The Jim Crow laws, racism, and sexism made traveling dangerous and difficult for the band to be taken seriously as musicians. Carline Ray was a guitarist in the group and can be seen in the above video.
Janice-Marie Johnson was a founding member and the bassist/vocalist of the recording act A Taste of Honey, formed in 1971. The group’s main genre was disco with a few songs that were chart toppers in both R&B and pop, including “Boogie Oogie Oogie.” Johnson picked up the bass while she was in college and played shows with A Taste of Honey all along Southern California and on military bases. The group won a Grammy in 1978 for Best New Artist.
Toshi Reagon has been active as a folk, blues, R&B, country, gospel, rock, and funk musician since 1978. As a queer artist and activist, Reagan was raised by musician parents who were social activists during the civil rights movement and part of The Freedom Singers group. She has performed and shared stages with the likes of Lenny Kravitz, Elvis Costello, and Ani DiFranco. Reagon’s most recent musical endeavor was Parable of the Sower: The Opera, adapted from Octavia E. Butler’s post-apocalyptic novel of the same name.
PMS (Pre-Metal Syndrome) was the first all-Black female metal band formed in the early 1990s by guitarist Suzanne Thomas. PMS defied what it means to be a Black woman performing heavy metal music in a scene that is often dominated by heteronormative, white cis males. PMS is featured in Laina Dawes 2012 book, What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal.
Considered the Queen of Ndebele (a language spoken by 1.6 million people in South Africa) music, and a national icon, Nothembi Mkhwebane is widely considered to have brought the Ndebele language to the world stage. A prolific multi-instrumentalist, Mkhwebane composes on guitar and traditional instruments, and her songs often feature uplifting hand claps, intricate guitar riffs, and music shakers.
Recommended listening: Zimani Balibalele (1998)
Hailing from South Africa, Tu Nokwe taught herself to play guitar as a young woman. She eventually landed a spot at the Manhattan School of Music and went on to perform around the world. Nokwe’s work has detectable funk and pop influences, but her adept guitar playing and soprano voice create a style that is uniquely her own.
Recommended listening: “African Child” (1999)
Born in Houston, TX, Victoria Spivey (1906 – 1976) was an American blues singer and songwriter whose career began in the family string band and later got into show business and Vaudeville theater. In 1951, Spivey decided to retire from show business, but just about a decade later, in 1962, she formed her own record company, Spivey Records, upon which she returned to recording and performing music.
Queen Sylvia Embry (1941 – 1992) was born in Arkansas. As a kid, she was trained on piano by her grandmother. By the time she was 19, Embry moved to Memphis, followed by Chicago, to pursue music. In Chicago she fell in love with the bass and started working with Lefty Dizz. She soon became known as one of Chicago’s leading blues bassists. By 1983, Queen Sylvia went out on her own and released her debut solo record, Midnight (Evidence).
Melba Jewell (1934 – date unknown) and her sibling Pat formed the Fabulous PJs and released one album together while residing in Guelph, Ontario. The Jewell’s were one of many families local to the area that used their musical talents to combat racism and to empower the Black youth of the time.
Las Chicas Del Can was the first all-women merengue group from the Dominican Republic with a rotating cast of Dominican and Afro-Dominican singers and musicians throughout their career. Founded in 1981, they performed a number of hits throughout the 1980s, and a great number of their singles and albums achieved gold and/or platinum status. Las Chicas Del Can toured around the world and Europe, including Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Puerto Rico, the United States, Holland, and more.
Tracy Wormworth began her career as the bassist for new wave band the Waitresses until their breakup in 1984. She went on to record and tour with the B52s, starting around 1990, and officially became a band member in 2017. Wormworth was once part of the house band on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, and she’s toured with Cyndi Lauper, Sting, Joan Osborne, and more.
Hailing from the South Bronx, ESG was formed by the Scroggins sisters in 1978. The iconic no-wave funk band wrote the most sampled song of all time, “UFO,” which has been referenced by everyone from Grime Mob, to Wu Tang Clan, to indie rockers Liars. Deborah and Renee Scroggins both played bass in different iterations of the band—starting out on vocals, Renee took over bass duties when Deborah left the band in 1987. Renee still performs as ESG, with her daughter Nicole and son Nicholas.
Read our feature with Renee Scroggins, “40 Years of Dancing: In Conversation with Renee Scroggins of ESG.”
“Here name is Rhonda and she is funky.” – Prince
Canadian bassist Rhonda Smith worked with Prince for almost a decade, having been introduced to him by world famous drummer Sheila E, whom Smith met while at a music convention in Germany. She’s also performed with Chaka Khan, Beyonce, Erykah Badu, Patti Labelle, Little Richard, George Clinton, and many more. In 2000, Smith released, Intellipop, marking her first album as a soloist, followed by RS2 in 2006.
Debra Killings has offered her vocals and bass playing to some of the most iconic artists of the 1990s, including TLC, Monica, and OutKast. In 2003, the Atlanta-born bassist released her debut solo album, a gospel LP entitled Surrender. She has also played bass for BET’s “Black Girls Rock” all-star band.
Originally from Newport, RI, Leslie Langston played bass in two of Tanya Donelly’s 1990s alternative rock bands, Throwing Muses and Belly. Langston’s driving bass and incredible tone was an asset in enhancing the shifting tempos of Donelly’s writing, adding an additional layer of spasmodic catchiness.
British guitarist and bass player Debbie Smith was in a variety of British rock bands in the 1990s, including Echobelly, Nightnurse, Snowpony, Bows, Ye Nuns, and SPC ECO. Today, she performs as a DJ and plays guitar with the bands Blindness and The London Dirthole Company.
Raised and trained in Philadelphia and New York, bassist Starr Cullars was the only woman musician in George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic. She was introduced to George Clinton by Prince, whom she had auditioned for, and toured with P-Funk for many years. She was also featured as a TV celebrity on VH1’s “Rock N Roll Fantasy Camp 2” and was called the “Queen of Rock” by Paul Stanley (of Kiss) and Mark Hudson (producer). Today, Cullars performs with her own groups, including the hard rock band The SCC.
Jazz guitarist Monnette Sudler started playing when she was just 15 years old. Born in 1952 and raised in Philadelphia, she started taking lessons at the Wharton Center, and eventually went on to study at Berklee School of Music in the 1970s and at Temple University in the 1980s. Early in her career, she performed with Sounds of Liberation, a group who used their music to help spark social activism, with a tremendous impact on the African American and jazz community in Philadelphia. From 1977 through 2009, Sudler recorded eight jazz albums and has performed with a variety of musicians.
Known for her folk and Afro-Celtic songs, guitarist Laura Love did not find the path to a musical career easy. Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, her mother’s mental health took a devastating toll on her childhood, and her jazz musician father, Preston Love, was not present for much of her youth. Love began performing at 16 years, singing for prisoners at the Nebraska State Penitentiary. She eventually relocated to Seattle, WA, where she was a member of the 1980s rock groups Boom Boom G.I. and Venus Envy. She has released 12 albums since 1990, and in 2004 she published her memoir, You Ain’t Got No Easter Clothes, with an accompanying album of the same name.
R&B singer-songwriter India.Arie has won four Grammy Awards out of 23 nominations to date, including Best R&B Album in 2003 for Voyage to India. Since 2001, she’s released seven studio albums, and has written soulful, political-driven songs such as 2006’s “I Am Not My Hair” and 2016’s “Breathe,” which was inspired by Black Lives Matter and Eric Garner’s last words.
Blues guitarist and vocalist Valerie Turner is an incredible player and resource of Piedmont blues, a style characterized by fingerpicking with an alternating thumb bass string rhythmic pattern that supports a syncopated melody while the treble strings are generally picked with the fore-finger. Musicians such as Elizabeth Cotten, Memphis Minnie, and Etta Baker are known for playing in this style, and Turner and her husband often play as a duo called Piedmont Blūz. She has released two albums, authored and edited the book, Piedmont Style Country Blues Guitar Basics, and was inducted into the New York Blues Hall of Fame (along with her husband and their duo, each separately) in 2018.
New Yorker and jazz bassist Kim Clarke is most notably known for touring with the late Joe Henderson Quartet throughout Europe in 1986. She toured with numerous groups across the world over the years, playing both acoustic and electric bass. Clarke has also worked as an educator, bringing the history of dance and jazz to numerous schools in the New York area, as well as collaborating on a jazz study program (with pianist Bertha Hope through the Jazz Foundation of America) geared to mentor Bronx high school girls.
Fun fact: In 1963, Clarke’s mother brought her to the March on Washington, where she watched Martin Luther King deliver his “I Have A Dream” speech.
Few details about the life of Geeshie Wiley (1908 – 1950) can be confirmed, but the country blues singer and guitarist has left a legacy regardless. Writer John Jeremiah Sullivan published a New York Times feature about Wiley and her recording partner Elvie Thomas, collecting facts about the two women from musicologist and folklorist Mack McCormick. Wiley recorded six known songs during her life, all released on Paramount Records during 1930-1931, and the song “Last Kind Words” has been covered by numerous artists.
As mentioned above, Elvie “L.V.” Thomas (1891-1979) is often noted as Geeshie Wiley’s recording partner, but the Texas blues guitarist also wrote some of those initial songs. In 1930, she recorded two songs issued by Paramount Records, “Motherless Child Blues” and “Over to My House,” on which Wiley played second guitar. The two recorded the duet “Pick Poor Robin Clean” for Paramount in 1931, and Thomas also backed Wiley on guitar for three other tracks from these sessions, including “Last Kind Words,” “Skinny Leg Blues,” and “Eagles on a Half.” In her later years, Thomas sang in Mount Pleasant Baptist Church choir in a suburb outside of Houston.
Sippie Wallace grew up in a music family, and she followed her brothers around, moving from Houston to New Orleans to Chicago, where she eventually signed a contract with Okeh Records in 1923. For about 40 years, Wallace quit recording and performed as a singer and organist with the Leland Baptist Church in Detroit, until she was coaxed to make a comeback in 1966, resulting in the recording of two albums, Women Be Wise and Sing the Blues. These recordings inspired Bonnie Raitt to take up singing and playing the blues in the late 1960s, and even recorded covers of Wallace’s “Women Be Wise” and “I’m Mighty Tight Woman” on her self-titled debut album in 1971. The two women toured and recorded together in the 1970s and 1980s, and Wallace continued to record on her own as well. She was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1982 and was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.
Born in 1924, educator and children’s musician Ella Jenkins has been dubbed as the “The First Lady of the Children’s Folk Song.” She got her start in the 1950s while working as a YMCA program director for teens, performing international folk and traditional songs that she learned through her neighborhood in Chicago, as well as songs she had written. For the last 50 years, Jenkins has toured her songs for school assemblies across the United States with a focus on passing on cultural knowledge, released over 60 albums for children (including 1995’s Multicultural Children’s Songs, the most popular Smithsonian Folkways release), appeared on numerous children’s television programs, and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004.
Nigerian guitarist Victoria Iruemi was a highlife pioneer. She left her training as a seamstress to pursue mastering the guitar in the 1950s, and eventually joined one of the most popular bands in Lagos, the Cool Cats, started by Victor Olaiya in 1954. During one of their shows, Iruemi was noticed by the proprietor of the Lagos Roadhouse Hotel, who invited her to front the nine-piece Roadhouse Dance Band, making her Nigeria’s first woman bandleader. Despite having faced harsh criticism as a woman and disappearing from music in the 1960s, Iruemi inspired other Nigerian women to pick up instruments and form all-women bands.
Gloria Bell was the bassist of Myrtle Young and her Rays of Rhythm, an all-women band started and led by Myrtle Young on saxophone, Hetty Smith on drums, Regina Albright on piano, and Willene Barton on tenor saxophone. The band originated in the early 1950s, and was the precursor to the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the first integrated all-women’s band in the United States.
Born in Harlem, Lucille Dixon (1923 – 2004) was a jazz double bassist who started her studies in high school, performing with the All City High School Orchestra and the National Youth Administration Orchestra. She studied at Brooklyn College, as well as with Frederick Zimmerman of the New York Philharmonic, and went on to perform in the International Sweethearts of Rhythm and the Earl Hines jazz band. In 1946, she started the Lucille Dixon Orchestra, which performed until 1960. In 1964, Dixon joined a group of other Black musicians to form the Symphony of the New World, the first racially integrated orchestra in the United States.
In 1964, Detroit jazz bassist Marion Hayden began playing when she was just 12 years old. She has been involved in countless ensembles throughout her career, including Straight Ahead and the all-female group Venus, performing and recording with jazz legends, and releasing her own work, including her solo album Visions. She is currently on the faculty in Michigan’s Department of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisational Studies.
Shanta Nurullah brings together the sitar, the Indian classical instrument, with jazz. She founded Sitarsys, a Spiritual Jazz ensemble, in addition to co-founding Sojourner and Samana, playing with Nicole Mitchell, Dee Alexander, and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). She also plays bass, piano, and many other instruments, as well as being an award-winning storyteller. Last year, She Shreds chatted with Nurullah on what drew her to the sitar and the connection she’s grown with the instrument.
While Edna M. Smith (1924 – date unknown) was a phenomenal bassist, performing primarily in the 1940s and 1950s with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the Vi Burnside Orchestra, and the Edna Smith Trio, her major contribution to music was that of an educator. During the 1950s and 1960s, Smith studied at the Manhattan School of Music and Teachers College at Columbia University in New York City. She went on to teach in the public school system, and from 1961 to 1967 she lived in Africa and worked as a lecturer at the University of Nigeria. She contributed to numerous articles, journals, and TV and radio programs on the subject of African and Afro-American Music.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Violet “Vi” Wilson was a bassist, pianist, vocalist, and (wait for it) master barber. She played briefly with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm and Frances Grey’s Queens of Swing, as well as other important women’s groups that came through LA. From 1976 to 1977 she sang with Interdenomination Choir, who toured Israel, Jordan, and more. In 1996, Wilson spoke with music professor and author D. Antoinette Handy, sharing that, “Women musicians should be given more credit for the contribution they have given to the music world.”
Laura Ella Dukes (1907 – 1992), sometimes referred to as Little Laura Dukes (due to her height of 4’7”) was an American blues singer and mandolin, banjo, and ukulele player in Memphis, Tennessee from the 1920s to the 1980s. From the late 1950s, Dukes mainly performed in Dixieland groups, and in 1972 she recorded tracks that were first released on the Italian albums, Blues Oggi and Tennessee Blues Vol.1. She continued to perform in clubs in Memphis in the 1980s.
Born in Somerville, Tennessee, Van Zula Carter Hunt (1901 – 1995) was a guitarist who made a name for herself in the 1910s. She moved to Memphis, where she traveled with numerous groups, including Barnum and Bailey’s and her own group Madame Hunt’s Traveling Show. She played with local blues artists, including Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie, recorded a number of songs, and played with the Beale Street Jug Band.
Manou N’Guessan Gallo is a West African bassist, born on the Ivory Coast in 1972. Her playing style incorporates the rich heritage of her origin, the Djiboi tribe, and her musical career led her to the legendary world music band Zap Mama. In 2009, Gallo won the MAMA Award (MTV Africa) as the “best artist,” and in 2013 Forbes Africa named her the only women among the “Top 10 Best African Bassists.” Her latest album, Afro Groove Queen, released in 2018, was produced by Booty Collins.
In 1963, at just nine years old, Louisville-based Faith Pillow (1954 – 2003) was given her first guitar by her mother. The jazz guitarist and singer spent some time performing in her hometown, but in the early 1970s she moved to Cincinnati to join Dee Felice’s jazz quartet, with whom she toured the United States and Caribbean. In the late 1970s, Pillow moved to Chicago to begin her songwriter career, and in 1981 she released her debut self-titled album. She eventually left Chicago, settling in Los Angeles and then Amsterdam, and released three additional albums: Sanity (1995), and Run in the Sunshine (1996), and Amsterdam (2001).
Darlene Moreno is best known for being the only woman guitarist to perform with the “Maestro of Love” Barry White. She began touring and recording with the Grammy-winning musician in 1995, joining the Love Unlimited Orchestra for over seven years. She went on to work with other notable musicians including Gerald Albright, who she performed with for six years. In 2015, Moreno suffered a traumatic head injury, and little information about her recovery and career has been publicized since.
Born in Jackson, Mississippi in 1955, jazz musician Cassandra Wilson’s love for music stemmed from her parents—her mother was a retired elementary school teacher who loved Motown, and her father a jazz bassist. She was a founder of M-Base, a collective of Black Brooklyn musicians in the 1980s, who focused on new sounds, improvisation, and creative expression. Since 1987, Wilson has released 19 solo albums and won numerous awards, including a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance (1997, New Moon Daughter), Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album (2009, Loverly), and BET Soul Train Award for Best Traditional Jazz Album (2001, Silver Pony).
Yvette Marie Stevens, better known by her stage name Chaka Khan, is a 10-time Grammy Award-winner who performs under multiple genres, but is best known as the “Queen of Funk.” In the early 1970s, Khan started out her career as lead vocalist of Rufus, but eventually went on to pursue her solo career, releasing 12 albums starting with Chaka in 1978. She’s been nominated for induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame twice, has performed with some of the most celebrated musicians, and in 2019 she released, Hello Happiness, her first album of original music in 12 years.
There’s very little information about and no recordings or photos of Nigerian guitarist Maggie Aghomo, who performed with the all-women band the Originators. She was a pioneer of highlife, and also performed rumba and pop music. The Originators were a result of the dream of Victoria Iruemi (#65 on this list), who hoped to inspire Nigerian women to pick up instruments so that she could lead an all-women band. While Iruemi never had the chance to perform in a band of all women, she did inspire Aghomo and many more to do such.
Active since 1993, Divinity Roxx is best known for her work with Beyoncé from 2006 to 2011. She is a bassist, composer, and so much more. With Beyoncé, Roxx has done some incredible things on bass and as musical director, including appearing in two Beyoncé videos (“Irreplaceable” and “Green Light”), performing at The White House for President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, and performing on the Grammy’s and other awards and television shows. She’s recorded three solo albums: 2003’s Ain’t No Other Way, 2012’s The Roxx Boxx Experience, and 2016’s Impossible.
Madina N’Diaye is known for being the first Malian woman to perform with the kora on stage. One of the most symbolic instruments in the Malian musical heritage, traditionally reserved for men, the kora is a 21-string plucked harp made from a gourd. N’Diaye began her professional career with the instrument in 1990, helped by the world’s greatest kora player, Toumani Diabaté. N’Diaya went on to perform with African-influenced French band, Lo’Jo, and then formed her own group in 2000. Despite losing her eyesight in 2002, N’Diaye persevered: She went on to tour France and Europe, and released her first solo album in 2004, followed by Bimogow in 2011.
Rosemary Wahu Kagwi, known by her stage name Wahu, is a Kenyan singer-songwriter. Born in Nairobi in 1980 and originally a fashion model, actress, and entrepreneur, Wahu began performing with the guitar in late 1999. Her first single, “Niangalie, was released in 2000, and she went on to become the inaugural recipient of the MTV Africa Music Awards 2008 for Best Female Artist category, and has won a plethora of other music awards in her career.
Born in 1964 in Gause, Texas, blues and folk musician Ruthie Foster began her career in gospel. She went on to study music and audio engineering, followed by joining the Navy and singing for the Navy band, Pride, which solidified her love for performing. After leaving the service, Foster signed a contract with Atlantic Records and moved to New York City to pursue a career as a professional musician. Since 1997, Foster has released 10 albums and received numerous awards and nominations, including three Grammy nominations for Best Blues Album.
Coot Grant (1893 – 1970) was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and was a blues vocalist and guitarist from the 1910s through the early 1930s. She is most well-known for her duo with her second husband, Wesley Wilson. The couple wrote over 400 songs during their career, performed and recorded with Louis Armstrong, and wrote the two songs made famous by Bessie Smith, “Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer” and “Take Me for a Buggy Ride.”
While there’s very little information available about Eileen Chance, she was best known for her bass playing with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Vi Burnside’s all-women orchestra, and Tiny Davis’s Hell-Divers. In a 1953 issue of Jet Magazine, it was mentioned that Chance was “excited about returning to Trinidad to marry a rich plantation owner she met when the band played there recently.” However, a 1962 issue states that Chance embarked on a six-month tour of Sweden with an unnamed all-woman jazz group.
Josie Bush was born in Florence, Mississippi. She learned how to play guitar from an uncle known as “Red” and she married Willie Brown, one of the pioneer musicians of the Delta blues genre and an influence on Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. However, it’s been claimed by musicologist David Evans that Bush was probably just as good as her husband, and that she even taught her husband many songs.
Born as Elenore Kingston (1909 – 1995), the singer-songwriter and bassist went under a number of aliases, including Lenore King, Lenore Kinsey, Lola King, Susan King, Susan Lenore King, Nora Lee Lucie, and Nora Lee King Lucie. She recorded with Mary Lou Williams in the 1940s, and her 1950s and 1960s records were accompanied by her husband, guitarist Lawrence Lucie. King owned her own music publishing company, Kinlu Music, and in the early 1960s she and her husband started Toy Records. In the 1980s, the couple started a cable channel from their home in Manhattan that taught viewers how to play guitar, and they toured Europe and America with The Harlem Blues & Jazz Band.
Mother of notable composer and pianist Scott Joplin (often called the “King of Ragtime”), Florence G. Joplin (1841 – 1881) was a singer and banjo player. After her husband, Giles, left Joplin for another woman and, in turn, to care for her six children on her own in Texarkana, Arkansas, she struggled to support her family through domestic work. However, it was noted by biographer Susan Curtis that Joplin’s support and introductory music education for Scott was a large reason for the couples separation and Scott’s success.
Most known for directing the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Anna Mae Winburn (1913 – 1999) was a jazz vocalist, bandleader, and guitarist. Born in Port Royal, Tennessee, she moved with her family to Kokomo, Indiana, where she performed in various clubs under the name Anita Door. She then moved to Nebraska, where she played guitar for a variety of bands led by Red Perkins. Winburn was the leader of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm from 1941 through 1949.
Yvonne Plummer (1919 – 2013) was born in Brighton, England, and started her musical career with the bagpipes. Arriving in the United States in 1935, Plummer worked at Piney Woods, an African American boarding school in Mississippi where the International Sweethearts of Rhythm was formed, from 1939 to 1942, occasionally performing on saxophone and guitar with the Swinging Rays of Rhythm.
Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Olivia Porter (1880 – 1980) learned how to play bass in 1917 after she moved to New York City to join her older sister, May, to pursue a career as a musician. By the late 1920s, Porter has started her own band, the Jazz Mines, and went on to establish the Negro Women’s Orchestral and Civic Association.
Born in The Gambia of West Africa, Sona Jobarteh is carrying on her family’s musical legacy that dates back 700 years. She was born into one of the five principal Griot families from West Africa, and is the first woman kora player to come from a Griot family as, traditionally, the kora is passed down from father to son. Jobarteh gave her first performance when she was only four years old at London’s Jazz Cafe.
Read our 2018 feature on Jobarteh here.
The often unrecognized sister of jazz bassist George “Pops” Foster, Elizabeth Foster performed on mandolin, violin, and bass with The Foster Trio, a late-nineteenth-century family band that performed quadrilles, polkas, and rags in Donaldsonville, Louisiana.
A major performer in the Harlem Renaissance, Adelaide Louise Hall (1901 – 1993) was born in Brooklyn and relocated to London in 1938. She pioneered scat singing, is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s first jazz singers, and was the first female vocalist to sing and record with Duke Ellington. Hall entered the Guinness Book of World Records in 2003 as the world’s most enduring recording artist having released material over eight consecutive decades. She played guitar and ukulele, and performed at the 1933 World Fair in Chicago, where she was referred to as “the darling girl with the guitar and the mellifluent voice” by the Pittsburgh Courier.
Blues singer and guitarist Esther Mae Scott (1893 – 1979) was never recognized as widely as her contemporaries, including Gertrude “Ma” Rainey and Bessie Smith. She learned how to play guitar at eight years old, and left home at 14 to join the vaudeville group W.S. Wolcott’s Rabbit Foot Minstrels. Scott eventually gave up music to become a maid, but revived her performing career when she moved to Washington, DC in 1958. She performed at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and released her only album, Mama Ain’t Nobody’s Fool at 78 years old in 1971, which included the backup vocals of the not-yet-famous Emmylou Harris.
Mattie Delaney (1905 – date unknown) was a Delta blues singer and guitarist active during the 1930s. Aside from her two sole recordings on Vocalion Records, “Down the Big Road Blues” (covered by Lucinda Williams) and “Tallahatchie River Blues,” there’s very few confirmed facts about Delaney’s life.
Often billed as the “Sanctified Singer with Guitar,” there is little information available about the Mississippi-born Mother McCollum, aside from her six known blues/gospel recordings from the 1930s: “Jesus is My Air-O-Plane,” “Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!” “You Can’t Hide,” “Oh Lord I’m Your Child,” “When I Take My Vacation in Heaven,” and “I Want to See Him.”
Born in San Francisco in 1955, guitarist Gail Muldrow started her career by performing on Sly Stone’s 1975 album, High On You. She performed with Graham Central Station for two years and is featured on the 1977 album Now Do U Wanta Dance. Muldrow also played with Prince, Chaka Kahn, and more. In 2003 Gail finally released her debut album, Cleen Spirit, followed by four additional solo albums through 2007.
LuLu Jackson was a blues singer and guitarist in the 1920s. She recorded a few songs for Vocalion Records in 1928, including “Careless Love Blues,” and “You’re Going to Leave the Old Home, Jim!”
Barbara Roy is a vocalist/guitarist/songwriter who is known most prominently for founding the 1970s disco supergroup Ecstasy, Passion and Pain. She started her career performing with niece Brenda Gaskins under the name Barbara and Brenda in the 1960s, and went on to play guitar with Inez and Charlie Foxx. In 1973, Ecstasy, Passion and Pain was formed, releasing a string of hit singles including “Ask Me,” which was written by Roy. After the group disbanded, Roy signed as a solo act to RCA records, releasing the chart-topping, “Gotta See You Tonight.”
Most well known as “SharBaby,” blues guitarist Sharon Newport first learned to play when she was 12 years old, inspired by her gospel-singing father. At 14, she joined her first touring band, Checkmates Part 2, and went on to form her own band, The Soul Sensations, a year later. In the early 2000s, she formed SharBaby and the Rhythm Blues Band in Alabama, releasing four albums and touring across the US and Europe. In 2012, Newport was awarded a “Master of Blues” certificate with the Blues Hall of Fame, and she currently works with the Alabama Blues Project, a non-profit effort to preserve blues through interactive programming and education.
Very little information can be found on Bernice Rothchild; however, we’ve found that she played upright bass in Vi Burnside’s All-Stars and the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. We believe she is shown in the top right of the photo above.
Born in Havana in 1835, Doña María Martínez was a singer and guitarist most prominently known in Spain, France, and the United Kingdom. She studied music at the Madrid Royal Conservatory, paying her way by teaching guitar lessons. She went on to impress Queen Isabella II of Spain, and in the 1850s performed to prestigious audiences in Paris and London, including Her Majesty’s Theatre. Believed to be one of the first Black musicians who performed for wealthy white crowds in Europe and the UK in the 19th-century, very little has been written about Martínez. She was often compared to that of white contemporaries Jenny Lind and Maria Malibran, resulting in the nickname, “The Black Malibran.”
Emma Daniels was a singer and guitarist most well known for Two Gospel Keys, her 1940s gospel duo with Mother Sally Jones on vocals and tambourine. They recorded few songs, including “I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore” and “You’ve Got To Move.”
Born and raised in Queens, New York, Lizz Chisholm (also known by her solo moniker, Double Z) is a vocalist, bass player, and multi-instrumentalist who has toured with Grand Master, Melle Mel and the Furious Five, and Run DMC. She is one of the first women bass players to perform in hip-hop, and has dubbed herself as “the very first live hip-hop bass player… EVER!” She’s written music for TV and film, and has performed with the funk group The Jack Sass Band for over 30 years.
Kat Dyson has performed with some of the most profound legends in music history, including Prince, Cyndi Lauper, Sheila E, Big Mama Thornton, Odetta, and plenty more. She is best known for her work with Prince as a guitarist/vocalist in the New Power Generation and is featured on albums Emancipation, The Truth, and Newpower Soul. Before joining Prince, Dyson was a contributing guitarist and vocalist on Cyndi Lauper’s multi-platinum greatest hits album, 12 Deadly Cyns, along with Sisters of Avalon, At Last and The Body Acoustic, and she continues to perform with Lauper today.
Evi-Edna Ogholi is often credited as Nigeria’s first woman reggae musician who permanently changed the genre’s landscape, but her story is widely unknown. Ogholi is a master guitarist who is known for singing in her Isoko dialect, and from 1987 through 1990 Ogholi released six albums (three of which went platinum), wrote one of Nigeria’s most famous songs to date, “Happy Birthday,” and permanently changed the landscape of Nigerian reggae.
Learn more about Evi-Edna Ogholi in our 2020 feature, “The Unsung History of Evi-Edna Ogholi, Nigeria’s Queen of Reggae.”
Gaye Adebalola is many things: activist, teacher, photographer, and accomplished blues guitarist. Musically, she is best known for founding Saffire-The Uppity Blues Women, a three-woman blues ensemble active from 1987 to 2009 that won a Blues Music Award (best original song) for “Middle Aged Blues Boogie,” written by Adegbalola. She went on to work as a solo artist, releasing her 1999 debut solo album, Bitter Sweet Blues, followed by three more studio albums, including 2019’s The Griot. In 2018, she won the Kristin Lems’ “Social Change Through Music” Award at the National Women’s Music Festival. Outside of music, from 1966 to 1970, she was involved in New York’s Black Power Movement, and in 2011 she was named an OUTstanding Virginian by Equality Virginia for her LGBTQA+ activism. As of 2020, she continues to serve as Vice President and works on the Political Action Committee of her local NAACP chapter.
Mary Cutrufello has been a mainstay in the Americana scene for over 30 years. Bouncing from city to city—Connecticut to Houston to St. Paul—she fuses heartland rock with Texas twang. She’s performed on The Tonight Show and Austin City Limits, toured in all 50 states and several European countries, and has released five studio albums, including 2014’s Telecaster-driven, Faithless World.
In her own words, Paula Larke can be described most accurately as a “story-teller / gatherer.” A dramatist, writer, educator, and musician for over 25 years, Larke has performed nationally, presenting chants, songs, and spirituals from Tuskegee, Alabama; the Georgia Sea Islands; the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains; and the Piedmont Plateau region of North Carolina. She has also worked on and off Broadway, founded Voices in the Treetops, and has been described as “a modern-day djali (village chronicler in West Africa), carrying the personal stories of ordinary people to the altar of life for benediction and forgiveness.”
Bassist and vocalist Oneida James-Rebeccu has toured the world and performed with the likes of Lenny Kravitz and Joe Cocker. Today, she continues performing her own music with the Oneida James Band, and teaches at the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, focusing primarily on the many aspects of groove. In 2005, she wrote the bass guitar instruction book, Groove Mastery: the Bassist’s Guide to Groove.
Acclaimed singer-songwriter, jazz musician, and activist Pamela Means received her first guitar at 14, just after her mother died of cancer. Music became her main means of expression, and remains so today. Fronting many varied outfits (solo, Pamela Means and the Reparations, Pamela Means Jazz Project), she has released 10 albums to dates and has shared stages with Pete Seeger, Neil Young, Joan Baez, Violent Femmes, and more. Ani Difranco once said to Means, “You’ve got such a deep, deep groove, I can’t get out. And, I wouldn’t want to.”
One half of the duo Dean and Jean with Welton Young, Brenda Lee Jones (later known as Brenda Melson) was a singer, songwriter, and guitarist/bassist. The band was active from 1958 to 1966, and while little is known about Jones after Dean and Jean, it has been noted that she recorded a solo album, Try Jesus (Morada) in 1983.
Best known as the guitarist for legendary R&B outfit Klymaxx, Cheryl Cooley began learning guitar at the age of 11. She studied music composition, orchestration, and arrangements at her Los Angeles high school, earned a college degree in commercial music, and in 1979 she joined Klymaxx.
Dallas blues guitarist Cookie McGee started playing guitar at 5 years old, learning from her blues legend neighbor and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Freddie King. She started her career as a backup musician and bandleader, but frustrations with the music industry and personal obligations kept her in and out of music. In the 1990s she made a comeback, releasing the albums Right Place (JSP Records, 1998) and One Way Ticket (Wolf Records, 2010).
Felice Rosser is a singer, songwriter, bassist, actress, and writer born in Detroit and currently living in New York. In the past, she has played in the all-women reggae band Sistren, as well as with artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Ari Up of the Slits. She currently leads the band Faith.
After the departure of Carlita Dorhan, Hazel Payne joined disco-soul group A Taste of Honey on guitar in 1979. The group became a duo in 1980, featuring Payne and Janice-Marie Johnson, but Payne left the group in 1983 and became an international stage actress. The duo reunited in 2004 for the first time in 20 years.
As a teenager, Joyce Irby could be found performing bass outside concerts on the loading dock, which is where George Clinton found her and resulted in her signing on with his P-Funk crew as “Fenderella.” She went on to sign a record deal with Motown in 1989, followed by joining Klymaxx as the original lead singer and bass player on three of Klymaxx’s four biggest records. She went on to found Diva One Productions, with which she signed and published a number of up-and-coming artists, including scoring a top 5 Billboard hit as a co-writer with the Fat Joe/Chris Brown song, “Another Round,” in 2012.
Born and raised in New York City, KJ Denhert is an acclaimed singer-songwriter who has been performing for over 40 years. She toured the world with Connecticut-based all-women band Fire, founded Mother Cyclone Records (through which she released her debut solo album), and started the music collective The NY Unit. She earned seven Independent Music Awards, and has maintained a 20-year residency at Manhattan’s 55 Bar.
Accomplished songwriter, composer, choral conductor, and educator Melanie DeMore has traveled the world with her music. She was a founding member of the Grammy-nominated vocal ensemble Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir, and has shared the stage with Gloria Steinem, Odetta, Pete Seeger, Ani DiFranco, and more. She released her debut solo album, Share My Song, in 1993 and In the Mother House in 2012. She has also developed a number of vocal and educational music workshops for children and adults.
Rev. Rabia has been performing for over 30 years. Born in the Bay Area, she learned how to play guitar at the age 14. She performed as a singer-songwriter as well as a backup singer with Afrobeat band Bole Bantu, but it wasn’t until she met mentors Robert Lowery and Virgil Thrasher that she found her musical direction. She has since performed at several festivals in California, toured southern Italy with Sonny Rhodes, opened for the late J.J. Cale, and released three albums—2000s Never Too Late (with Thrasher), 2015’s Future Blues, and 2020’s Ol’ Guitar.
Guitarist Shelley Doty may best be known for founding the popular West Coast band Jambay, but she’s gone on to do plenty more since they disbanded in 1996. She currently fronts her band Shelley Doty X-tet, and also often performs solo acoustic these days. She has played and recorded with Bonfire Madigan (Kill Rock Stars), and was featured in the March 2008 issue of the renowned Guitar Player Magazine.
Acoustic folk blues guitarist, banjo player, and historian Veronika Jackson was inspired by artists such as Odetta, Dolly Parton, and Joan Baez as a child growing up in St. Petersburg, Florida. She grew up to create her own unique sound, combining R&B, acoustic folk, and Piedmont-style guitar picking. She released her debut album, Hat Check, in 2000, and her most recent album, The Woman I Am, in 2019. As a folk blues historian, she teaches workshops that focus on the early 1900’s – 1960 and uses her live performance to illustrate the roots and history of African American folk blues.
Daughter of Tom Winslow, folk singer and former member of Pete Seeger’s band, Thomasina Winslow was born with music in her veins—as a toddler she was a music prodigy, and sang back-up on her two of her father’s album as well as performed with her family band, The Winslows. The blues and gospel singer-songwriter went on to perform solo, as well as with numerous bands, and released the solo album, RETURN, in 2020. She is the owner of Winslow Productions and teaches music and performing arts in upstate New York.
Musically, Leni Ashmore Sorenson is best known for her involvement in the all-women folk band The Womenfolk, in which she played guitar. Active from 1963 to 1966, The Womenfolk started in Los Angeles, and during their five years recorded five albums for RCA Victor and toured North American and the UK. More recently, their hit song, “Little Boxes” was featured in the HBO show Weeds. These days, Sorenson is a historian and homesteader.
Suzanne “Minnie” Thomas (1955 – 2011) founded and joined some of the most pivotal music outfits that transformed the music industry for Black women. In the 1990s, she founded PMS (Pre-Metal Syndrome, and #44 on this list), the first all-Black women metal band. In 1996, she joined the all-women dance duo A Taste of Honey, after founder Janice-Marie Johnson reformed the group after her split with co-founder Hazel Payne. Thomas also fronted her own band, Suzanne and the Blues Church, who released The Cost of Love in 2011.
Very little is known about the life of Betty Lomax. She performed on guitar with the Negro Women’s Orchestral and Civic Association (founded by Olivia Sophie L’ange Porter Shipp, #92 on this list) in New York City during the late 1920s and early 1930s.
Blues guitarist and vocalist Pat Wilder has spent the past 30 years performing in a series of funk, rock, and blues bands around the Bay Area, including with Bobbie Webb, Billy Dunn, Curtis Lawson, Zakiya Hooker, Luther Tucker, and more. In 2015 she released the album, Alive.