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Some Women Trailblazers in the Music Industry

Clare Horan

Music. When words fail, people flock to music to make sense of the world. Wherever you go, music is universal. Not only does music connect people from all different walks of life but can challenge our preconceived notions of womanhood, music and the industry that surrounds it.

Helen Reddy

Helen Reddy, an Australian, is mainly renowned for her feminist anthem, “I am Woman”, which made her the first Australian Grammy winner. In her acceptance speech, she said that she wanted “to thank God because she makes everything possible”; she was inflicted with a lot of hate for this statement (I guess some things never change). This song was the anthem for women who were fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment, which gave women in the US a range of rights and freedom. In 1989, she performed the song at the Mobilize for Women’s Lives rally in Washington, which was a protest for abortion rights, with hundreds of thousands of people attending. Helen Reddy sadly died in 2020 at the age of 78 due to dementia, though many Aussies and people in the music industry labelled her as a trailblazer for Aussies and women in the music industry.

Some songs to listen to:

  • I am Woman

  • Ain’t No way to Treat a Lady

  • You and Me Against the World

Aretha Franklin

The Queen of Soul didn’t just sing her beautiful songs for 6 decades, she was also a trailblazer for Black women in the music industry. She was awarded 18 Grammys and was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame. Her father was a civil rights activist and preacher. In fact, the Church her father preached in was the church that first witnessed Reverend Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Later, Franklin became key in providing payments to the SCLC, in which King was the president, to keep his movement alive. In 1967, Franklin released her version of Otis Redding’s “Respect”, at a time where black people were protesting a range of injustices, including police brutality, unfair wages and living conditions. This song was soon labelled by people as the anthem of the movement. It reached the top of the charts, as number one on the Billboard Charts and stayed in the top ten in the UK. In 2018, Franklin sadly died at the age of 76, and before her funeral, hundreds of her fans and music lovers gave their respects to her, as her body was on display, showing how Aretha was so important in the life of the music industry, Civil Rights movement but also in the personal lives of people.

Some of her other songs:

  • I Say a Little Prayer

  • A Natural Woman

  • Think

  • Chain of Fools

Dolly Parton

One of the first songs I ever listened to, that I can remember of besides the realm of Wiggles and High Five, was Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ version of ‘Islands in the Stream’. My dad would put the video on YouTube of them on stage having the time of their lives and we would watch Dolly walk on stage, bringing a whole new energy to the performance. I remember asking my dad who this woman was, and he proceeded to show me the long list of famous Dolly songs that would later become staples in my playlists. Being a country music artist, her songs were filled with dramatic storylines, however Parton's storylines were sometimes labelled as too “controversial”. For example, her song “Down from Dover” is about a pregnant teenager waiting for her love to return while hiding the pregnancy, however he never returns, and she is kicked out of her house while the baby sadly dies. This song broke social norms of the time, during which women who were pregnant with an illegitimate child were ostracised. For this reason, Parton was unable to release this song as a single and it was not played on the radio. While Parton doesn’t particularly like to be labelled as a feminist or anything, her music was her gateway to voice her views on life. Parton believes that one of her best songs was “Eagle When she flies”, as she tried to depict all different types of women in her song. However, at the time many radio stations didn’t play it as it was deemed “too feminist”. Nevertheless, it was nominated for a Grammy and was number 33 on the charts. Now, Parton has a Netflix show called “Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings”, her own documentary, an amusement park called “Dollywood” and so many other accomplishments.

Some of her other songs:

  • 9 to 5

  • Jolene

  • Here You Come again

  • Here I am


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