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The Role of Women in Music

The world of music, like many major industries, is largely male dominated, especially behind the scenes. While there are numerous female pop stars, songwriters, performers and successful musicians, there are very few female music critics, producers and engineers. The reasons for this are numerous, but are largely due to rampant sexism throughout history, both in America and Europe that has permeated into modern culture. However, today we will talk about the roles that women have played in responsibility for a large amount of the styles of music that we revere today as popular music. While there may be a lack of representation behind the scenes, there are fantastic examples of female pioneers in music, dating back centuries. Today, songwriters and musicians have an outlet to distribute their music by learning how to upload music to spotify, so we are seeing a large amount of representation today as distribution is in the hands of the creators. Keep reading for more on the role of women in music! 

A Mis Balanced Industry

As we’ve already mentioned, there is a severe lack of representation when it comes to producers, engineers, promoters and journalists. Where we do see women being represented in large numbers is in orchestras and as songwriters. Women have long been a central part of our most beloved ensembles throughout history, and it’s truly a shame that there is such a vast field without the representation of a community who helped build the musical language and etiquette we have today. In fact, one of the earliest blues and rock musicians was an African American woman from Georgia.

Women in Blues 

Black Americans in the early 20th century still faced horrendous trials and tribulations when it came to their place in society. The civil rights movement was still yet to come, but there was some indication of a brewing culture that few knew would become the sensation it became. Ma Rainey, born in Columbus, Georgia in 1886, was one of the first credited performers to perform blues songs onstage as a part of a performance act that she toured across the country. While many of us think of Robert Johnson, the famous Delta blues singer rumored to have sold his soul to the devil, as the first major blues singer in America. And while they were just barely contemporaries, Ma Rainey actually predates Robert Johnson's first recordings, with hers being in 1924 and his in 1936-37. 

Country Musicians 

If you know country music, you probably know who we’re going to talk about in this article. Country has seen a multitude of female superstars shape its best hits and define its most powerful styles. These include Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, and Loretta Lynn to name a few. But one name has been more prominent and more globally influential than all three, and that singer's name is Dolly Parton. Dolly has truly been a cultural icon for the 50+ she has been a part of the industry, and has been a major influence on many women and people from the fringes of society, whom the best country music is often written for. Dolly Parton has not only played a key role in the country music world, but is also a majorly positive influence on the world for her philanthropy and use of her platform to help individuals in need. 

Electronic Music 

Electronic music’s history takes us to a society that saw a bright, technologically advanced future. Composers of early electronic music were experiencing the industrial age of America, and through World War II, which had some interesting effects on the dynamics of societies around the world. With many men off at war, gender norms were flipped sideways and suddenly rules that seemed to apply before didn’t anymore. This is the unique position that British electronic composer Daphne Oram found herself in. She is credited as being the first woman to set up her own synthesizer and electronic music studio, and was one of the early practitioners of a style of composition called Musique Concréte, which used the manipulation of tape recordings to create complex musical textures that had never been heard before. Daphne wrote several books in her lifetime on the topic of electronic composition entitled An Individual Note of Music, Sound and Electronics (1971) and The Sound of the Past - A Resonating Speculation and only exists in manuscript form, as she died before publishing it. 

These are just a few, very small but very large examples of the role women have played in music throughout history. There are handfuls of inspiring female composers, instrumentalists and journalists that curious parties can explore and research should they desire more knowledge on the subject. Women continue to play a critical role in the development of new music and art, so let’s work together to spread this knowledge and lift up these wonderful artists!


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