Women Who Rock is a celebration of, and a tribute to, 103 female musicians throughout history who not only shaped music, but used their voices, their instruments and their songwriting to fight for human rights, civil rights and societal change. These are women to celebrate not only for creating outstanding music and for making change within the music industry, but for using the platforms that they built to fight for an end to apartheid, for racial equality, gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights, social justice, protection of the environment, an end to war, and so much more. As the editor herself says, this is “a narrative story focusing on key select figures who were true game changers.”
Evelyn McDonnell is a writer and professor of journalism at Loyola Marymount University. She has authored four books, is a former pop critic for The Miami Herald, music editor for The Village Voice, and has been writing about music for over 20 years. To create Women Who Rock, she brought together a team of female writers to compile these biographies. Her hope was to “Inspire the next generation of wayward daughters to pick up a bass, or a microphone, or a sampler. Or a pen, or a laptop, or a paintbrush.”
Each musician is presented in a 2-3 page biography which covers key moments from their personal lives and music careers, including interesting connections to other musicians and insights into their own musical influences. The writers have also combed through extensive back catalogues to offer a bite-sized playlist for each artist—a combination of undeniable classics as well as lesser known tracks. If you have a music streaming platform ready as you read, you can discover and play music from across decades.
A beautiful and unexpected extra is that every musician featured is illustrated with an original portrait commissioned in paint, ink, pencil, or digital colour—no reproduced, much-before seen photography here! These artworks, each created by one of five female artists, command to be adored in their own right.
Overcoming barriers in the music world and beyond
Two recurring themes throughout the many biographies are the additional challenges that these musicians faced, and continue to face, because of their gender and/or race. Many had to overcome adversities, break down barriers, and smash through ceilings, in order to make the music that they wanted to, and in some cases, to receive the recognition they deserved.
These stories take the reader beyond appreciating the musical brilliance of these women and the roles they played in the evolution of music itself, and ‘lights a fire in your belly’ to fight for the causes that they so passionately fought for. We must keep blazing the trail that these women worked so hard to ignite.
This book reminds us to encourage and empower women and girls to follow their dreams and fulfil their ambitions (musical or otherwise), and not be limited by the confines that society can impose. Kamala Harris should not be making history as the first woman of colour to be elected US vice-president. This should not even be notable—it should be normal.
Everybody has something to learn from within these pages, not just about some of music’s most remarkable female musicians, but also about the differences they made beyond music—the causes they fought for (and continue to fight for). Women Who Rock unearths new icons and new music. It celebrates how far we have come and highlights how far we still must go.
Siân Kear recently relocated to Olympia from the UK. Forever frustrated by our treatment of the planet and each other, but forever hopeful that together we can do better.