Joe’s Jukebox – “Women Who Rock”

Welcome to another installment of “Joe’s Jukebox,” a new series highlighting the library’s most marvelous musical materials– presented by Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian, Joe O’Brien.

Women’s History Month may have ended a couple weeks ago, but of course that doesn’t mean we can’t continue appreciating all the contributions women have made to our culture. And you can read about some of music’s most indomitable women in this book, Women Who Rock: Bessie to Beyonce, Girl Groups to Riot Grrrl, edited by Evelyn McDonnell and published in 2018. 

It includes over 100 essays, each about a woman who has left her unique fingerprints in the pages of music history. And while the book’s called Women Who Rock, we’re not just talking strictly about rock musicians; more like women who “rock” in the sense that they made waves, pulled no punches, and did it loudly and proudly. It starts with legendary blues singer Bessie Smith, it ends with Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes, and in between there’s Patsy Cline, Nina Simone, Odetta, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Dusty Springfield, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Yoko Ono, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Grace Jones, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Salt-N-Pepa, Selena, Tori Amos, PJ Harvey, Fiona Apple, Missy Elliott, Laura Jane Grace, Amy Winehouse, M.I.A., and Lady Gaga…just to name a few.

All the short essays in Women Who Rock come from accomplished writers, such as Ann Powers, Daphne A. Brooks, and Gillian Gaar, and they’re accompanied by gorgeous illustrations of each musician. Although you may have already heard much about the iconic ladies in this book over the years, the essays offer sharp and fresh insights about them. Plus, not all the subjects in here are exactly household names; personally, I was happy to be introduced to musicians I wasn’t familiar with before, such as Alice Bag, and Angelique Kidjo.

So whether you’re a casual music fan or a serious one, whether you’d want to read the whole thing cover to cover or just flip through to check out the subjects that pique your interest, I highly recommend Women Who Rock. It’s currently in our print collection, though if our copy’s currently unavailable you can always request one from a number of other BCCLS libraries. 

And if you read this book and then want to dive even deeper into these women’s stories, we also have no shortage of books written about or by many of the musicians in it. We have biographies on the likes of Janis Joplin, Nina Simone, Odetta, and Joni Mitchell. We have memoirs and autobiographies by the women themselves, like Face It by Debbie Harry, Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir by Cyndi Lauper with Jancee Dunn, Resistance by Tori Amos, Just Kids by Patti Smith, and the wonderfully-titled I’ll Never Write My Memoirs by Grace Jones

We have a memoir written by Loretta Lynn about her friendship with Patsy Cline called Me & Patsy: Kickin’ Up Dust. Speaking of country music legends, we have Dolly Parton, Songteller, which I wrote about in more detail in another one of these blog posts. If you’re interested in learning more about the contributions of Black women to rock music, we have Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll by Maureen Mahon, with sections on influential artists like Big Mama Thornton and Tina Turner. Or if you want to examine Beyonce’s work through a Black feminist perspective, we have Beyonce in Formation: Remixing Black Feminism by Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley.

Again, all of these books are in our print collection, with many also available from other BCCLS libraries, or as ebooks or audiobooks from Overdrive and Hoopla Digital. And of course, hours and hours of the actual music recorded by these women who rock can be streamed on Hoopla Digital, or borrowed on CD from select BCCLS libraries. That’s all for now, but til next time, remember: Sisters are doin it for themselves, standing on their own two feet, and ringin’ on their own bells…

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