For International Women’s Day, Black Eyewear celebrates the charismatic women whose revolutionary work and social activism shaped the contemporary music scene and the lives of generations that followed.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
“A queer black woman from Arkansas who shredded on electric guitar, belted praises both to God and secular pleasures, and broke the color line touring with white singers, she was gospel’s first superstar, and she most assuredly rocked.”― Rolling Stone
Daughter of Arkansas cotton-pickers, Sister Rosetta was a total pioneer in her guitar technique, she was among the first to use heavy distortion on her electric guitar presaging the rise of electric blues. Her gospel recordings, defined by a unique mix of spiritual lyrics and rhythmic accompaniment, influenced early Rock and Roll musicians and earned her the title of “Godmother of Rock and Roll”.
” There’s no excuse for the young people not knowing who the heroes and heroines are or were. “― Nina Simone
A defiant artist, Simone owes her iconic status to her passionate work and dazzling talent as well as her civil rights activism. Regarded as one of the most influential recording artists of the 20th century for her legendary performances intensity and technical skills as a pianist.
A woman empowerment advocate, Simone’s social commitment was not limited to the civil rights movement; the song “Four Women” exposed the beauty standards imposed on black women in America.
” Women have been held back and limited throughout the centuries. Creation could not have been rendered, not even considered, let alone be brought into manifestation without woman. She is principal, a powerful energy. She is first. “― Alice Coltrane
She may be best known as the piano player who married jazz legend John Coltrane; but she was also a musical innovator, an influential spiritualist who developed her own sound on piano, organ and harp. Her visionary work broke the rules of jazz to blaze a musical trail that still inspires the modern generation of composers.
” I knew I couldn’t sing over them, so I decided to sing under them. The more noise they made the more softly I sang. When they discovered they couldn’t hear me, they began to look at me. Then they began to listen. As I sang, I kept thinking, ‘softly with feeling.’ The noise dropped to a hum; the hum gave way to silence. I had learned how to reach and hold my audience — softly, with feeling.”― Peggy Lee
Lee was a singer that let her audiences breathe. From her beginning singing with Benny Goodman’s big band, she crafted a sophisticated persona, famous for her wit, sensuality, intelligence and extraordinarily expressive minimalism.
Peggy Lee was an American jazz and popular music singer and songwriter and Academy Award-nominated actress. She received the Ella Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Society of Singers and the Living Legacy Award from the Women’s International Center.
” I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else. “― Lena Horne
American singer, actor and activist, Lena Horne is known as Hollywood’s first black sex symbol. During her 70-year career she became a Broadway and film star, Grammy-winning jazz artist as well as a formidable force for civil rights movement. Horne won a Tony in 1981, was awarded an NAACP medal – previously earned by Martin Luther King Jr., Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, and Rosa Parks.
“ And as I started reaching deeper I realised that most of the blues of that day was done by men. Women just didn’t have the nerve. ”― Etta James
James’s rich, deep, earthy voice is responsible for bridging the gap between Rhythm & Blues and Rock & Roll. She turned to jazz towards the end of her career, in her words: “[Jazz] was too disciplined and too confining” said on NPR – Fresh Air. “I thought you had to be bourgeois to do that. I was a sloppy kid, wanted to be just wild. I think it took me maturing.”
James had an enormously turbulent personal life with numerous periods of drug addiction and poverty but she channeled all of that heartache into her music. Her passionate live performances are a testament to the power of the human voice and unyielding determination.
“I think that’s what really a substantial work is, it’s forever. It’s the truth now and it was the truth then, and it will be the truth tomorrow.” ― Abbey Lincoln
A dramatic performer whose interpretations were full of truth and insight, her lyrics often reflected the ideals of the civil rights movement; a perfect example is her infamous “In the Red” where Lincoln addressed the economical injustices many blacks felt in America at the time. She is often referred to as “the last of the jazz singers” for her ability to inhabit the emotional dimensions of a song – a style strongly influenced by Billie Holiday.