Late in the 1960s and early 1970s, women performers dotted the landscape. However, most of them were mainstream artists like Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, Joan Baez, Janis Ian, Diana Ross and others. They were mostly rockers, folk musicians or soul performers and were able to attract label representation, along with throngs of diehard fans.
However, there was an untapped and unrecognized group of talented musicians, songwriters and performers who became the voice of the feminist movement, lesbian and lesbian separatists communities. Many were folk music artists as well.
In 1969, Maxine Feldman brought what some believe is the first out lesbian song and performance, “Angry Atthis,” to the new genre of “womyn’s” or “wimmin’s” or women’s music. Following her was Alix Dobkin (considered the matriarch of the movement), Kay Gardner and Patches Attom who performed as Lavendar Jane. Their iconic, full-length album, “Lavendar Jane Loves Women,” became the inaugural foray for the movement. Others followed.
Distribution was challenging and mostly relied on word-of-mouth promotion. Lambda Rising in Washington, D.C., added women’s music to its catalog offering.
In 1973, Olivia Records became the premiere women’s music label. A consortium of artists created it. They brought Meg Christian (a graduate of the University of North Carolina) and Cris Williamson to the scene. Tret Fure, who had been on the music scene already, found working in sound engineering interesting and became one of the first women to do so at Olivia. In later years, Williamson and Fure collaborated and released three CDs in the 1990s. Additionally, Gardner, Margie Adam, Holly Near and a host of others started their own labels.
Then in 1976, Ladyslipper was formed as a non-profit organization in Durham, N.C., and began to distribute women’s music. It has published the comprehensive “Catalog and Resource Guide of Music by Women” in print. And, it added its ever-expanding “Music Online Catalog & Resource Guide.” It contains around 15,000 listings of past and present artists and titles. Additionally, it serves as a small independent label for emerging musicians and artists.
Again, others followed so that the genre was available to those who thirsted for its focused, lesbian and feminist offerings.
During this era, an outcropping of women’s music festivals began. Today, one epic extravaganza, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, will host its annual event this August. It remains the highlight of musical aficionados who want to experience an all-woman event, held in Hart, Mich. Every detail is managed and attended to by women. Childcare is made available to attendees’ families. To this date, almost every major lesbian artist has played the stages there. (Local deceased activist Billie (Stickle) Rose and her partner Samis Rose often took the trek to the festival showcasing their jewelry creations.)
Alicia Bridges, who brought “I Love the Nightlife (Disco Round),” to the club scene and “Billboard Hot 100,” hailed from Lawndale, N.C. In 1978 she became a Grammy nominee for her “Nightlife” hit. The tune went on to be featured in motion picture films. Bridges has considered herself more of a rock and R&B performer. She currently lives in Columbia, S.C.
In today’s world, there is a blending of communities and many of the lesbian artists no longer rely on targeted labels. The Indigo Girls (Amy Ray and Emily Saliers), k.d. lang, Melissa Etheridge, Tegan and Sara and more, dot the landscape and appear on a variety of platforms from local clubs to television and theatre.
This very abbreviated history of the women’s music movement could not begin to tell the entire story behind its rich and eventful past. Too many amazing, talented, gifted and exceptional women not only recorded their musical offerings, there were also a cornucopia of dedicated engineers, producers, promoters, graphic artists, vocal coaches, to name a few, that helped to round out the genre. Through their trailblazing efforts, the ability to reach global audiences has never been more prolific as it is today.
Reality TV shows such as “The Voice” and “American Idol” have introduced a number of lesbian artists to a wider audience. Some include Beverly McClellan, Vicci Martinez, MK Mobilette, Frenchie Davis, Kristin Merlin and the list is growing. “Big Brother” featured Jennifer Arroyo on one of its seasons.
The early artists are still contributing to society and some are still touring and entertaining.
Dobkin became a member of Old Lesbians Organizing for Change and has served on its steering committee.
Williamson is still touring and will perform at the Michigan festival.
Fure turned her “Tomboy Girl” into a fashion label and has published a cookbook.
Adam has gone into integrative counseling after receiving her Ph.D. in psychology.
Near and Fure are currently on the touring cycle and will be coming to the Carolinas.
Fure will be the featured artist on May 9, 7 p.m., at Mountain Laurel B&B, 139 Lee Dotson Rd., in Fairview, N.C. Tickets are $15 and are available online or via email email@example.com or call 828-712-6289.
On May 10, she will be at Lawndale Swim and Tennis Club, 2919 Keats Pl. Suggested donation at the door is $20. Reservations are recommended. Email TretGSO10May2014@gmail.com to learn more.
The following day she will be at The West End at The Arts Center, 30-G E. Main St., in Carrboro, N.C. Tickets are $15/advance, $11/friends and students and $19/door. Visit artscenterlife.org for more information.
Near will be in Chapel Hill, N.C., on June 19,12 p.m., with the Standing on the Side of Love Concerts trek at The Community Church of Chapel Hill (Unitarian Universalist), 106 Purefoy Rd. More information is available at c3huu.org. : :