If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would that be? What if you could get a small group around a table?
While cleaning our adopted highway, I thought of two such groups. The first has already been published here . I realized that all of the participants were dead men.
For my second, I thought about women in music. The Women’s Music movement of the 1970s changed how we saw women in music. Women like Carole King helped to make that movement possible.
Carole King (1942-) King got her start as a songwriter in the famous Brill Building in New York. Among other writers there were Leiber and Stoller (about whom I have written before), Burt Bacharach and Hal David (multiple hits for Dionne Warwick, movie themes for “What’s New, Pussycat”, “Alfie”, and “Casino Royale”), Doc Pomus, Jerry Ragavoy, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil…). She wrote “Up on the Roof” for The Drifters, “Pleasant Valley Sunday” for The Monkees, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” for The Shirelles, “One Fine Day” for The Chiffons, and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” for Aretha Franklin, among many others. In 1971 she released the seminal album “Tapestry” which spawned numerous hit singles for herself and others, spent 15 weeks at #1, and earned 4 Grammys. The Singer/Songwriter movement of the 70s (James Taylor, Jackson Browne, etc) owes much to Carole King. In 1994 she appeared on Broadway. She appeared as a guest on The Gilmore Girls and is mom to singer/songwriter Louise Goffin.
There isn’t a weak song on “Tapestry”, and what happens when the songwriter sits down at the piano and plays her own work after others have interpreted it just sounds special.
June Millington (1948-). Millington was lead guitarist in the band Fanny. Treated as a novelty act by the industry, Fanny was an all-woman band, active from 1970-74. They weren’t a novelty – they could play! In 1970 they opened for The Kinks and Procol Harum in LA. They were apparently more appreciated in the UK than the US. In a Rolling Stone interview, David Bowie said of the band, “They were extraordinary: they wrote everything, they played like motherfuckers, they were just colossal and wonderful, and nobody’s ever mentioned them. They’re as important as anybody else who’s ever been, ever; it just wasn’t their time.” In 2021, the film “Fanny: The Right to Rock” opened in limited release. June and her sister Jean began playing in rock bands in 1965. Millington was one of the founding mothers of the Women’s Music movement of the 1970s and contributes lead guitar work to many albums of the era.
This session, recorded warts and all, features Fanny on Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar”. The song starts at about 1:45.
Since that video can’t be embedded, here they are covering “Badge” by Cream.
If you still doubt that women can play rock and roll, here’s one more.
Cris Williamson (1947-) The Women’s Music Movement encompassed many styles. Some artists appealed to a small niche audience, others had more mainstream success. Cris Williamson came out of Deadwood, SD, recording her first album at age 16 and becoming a local sensation in Wyoming after moving there. In 1973 she was instrumental in the founding of Olivia Records and her 1975 recording “The Changer and the Changed” became Olivia’s top seller and was the first album to be produced entirely by women. Her most recent album “Motherland” was released in 2017.
From the same album, but with a different sound featuring banjo:
Diedre Buckley – For the local angle, we look to Diedre Buckley. Buckley is a classical and jazz violist with an MM from The San Francisco Conservatory and a DMA from The University of Wisconsin. She is in the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and the Madison Opera Company. She has played at the National Women’s Music Festival and worked with various jazz ensembles. She has performed jazz with Hanah Jon Taylor and Jane Reynolds and maintains an active teaching schedule. Buckley has performed for Steven Spielberg, George Harrison, and Studs Terkel. Her doctoral dissertation was on jazz singer Betty Carter.
Here is Diedre playing Arnold Rosner’s String Quartet No 5 in D minor, Op 66, with the Ad Hoc String Quartet (Mark Ottesen is a guest on a duet with Diedre on this album. She is the violist here):
For a change of pace, here is Douglas Hill’s “Blues in E” with clarinet, viola, bassoon, piano, and bass.
So why this particular group of women? You’ve heard their music. The connections are probably less obvious than the previous dinner party post. I want to hear Carole King talk about writing music at a time when the industry was dominated by men (as though that weren’t the case now 😉 and how she made the transition from writing for others to performing her own work. I want to hear June Millington talk about being a woman in rock and roll and the transition to the women’s music movement; about the barriers and the sense of fulfillment in each; and about how music influenced her adjustment to life in the US, arriving here at the age of 13 – not the greatest time to come to a new country and try to find your place. I wonder how Cris Williamson found a primarily urban movement when she went from an upbringing in South Dakota and Wyoming to Washington, DC (where Olivia Records was founded); and I wonder how it felt to be part of what was a profound movement and then to settle in for the rest of life after that wave crested. I want to ask Diedre about crossing the lines between classical music and jazz – one highly structured and one improvisational; and about making a living as a musician outside of the major cities for music. As well, Diedre crosses the line between performance by, with, and for women, and with mixed ensembles and mixed audiences. In a sense, we have come full circle. The women’s music movement and 1970s feminism created space for women in the mainstream.
Mostly I want to hear the cross-pollination. Here are four women, whose paths may have crossed and are clearly not parallel. Each was, in her own way, a pioneer; and each built on the work of the women before her, though all are more or less contemporaries. The Women’s Music Movement changed the way women thought about themselves in the music world. It showed that an industry could be developed by and for women. In the 1970s, the idea that women could produce an album without the involvement of men was revolutionary. The children’s book “Firegirl” (Gibson Rich, Feminist Press, 1972) talked about a young girl and her dream to grow up to be a firefighter. She was widely ridiculed because that was “men’s work”. It was the women’s movement of the 1970s that changed that. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (which had a 40 year run) was a women-only festival; planned, produced, performed, and attended only by women. I attended women’s music concerts in the 70s both in the audience and (for concerts that were held as women-only spaces) as part of the Men’s Childcare Collective, providing on-site childcare for the children of women in the audience. Clearly on the fringe, I want to hear what it was like in the middle.