Women in the Blues
So, for my first lyric poem addressing the blues, I thought I’d stir some reaction by talking about women in the blues, and list a few Australian blues women that we can rightly be proud of. This should bring a torrent of abuse for not including the favourites of most readers. What can I say? I’ll always take the medicine. Oh, and start your own web page listing and commenting on them!
The history of the blues is packed with women who made a lasting impact on the music. Early on, many of them straddled blues, jazz and soul. Hardly surprising – get three blues addicts in a room and you’ll get four definitions of ‘blues’. The first recording of a blues singer was Mamie Smith, who recorded ‘Crazy Blues’ in 1920. Ma Rainey and Memphis Minnie, an amazing guitarist, were also early singers. Bessie Smith is probably one of the best known from that era. Big Mama Thornton made an impression in more ways than one.
If you want to listen to one of the most amazing blues singers, search for Sister Rosetta Tharpe on YouTube. The sheer energy of her performances has to be seen to be believed. There’s a video of her and her Gibson Les Paul SG custom playing a gospel number at youtube.com/watch?v=JeaBNAXfHfQ and the image of this woman, hammering it out, with a full robed-up gospel choir behind her, is mind-boggling.
Billie Holiday is one of my favourites, and if you don’t think she is blues, have a listen to ‘Gloomy Sunday’, otherwise known as the suicide song. Definitely not career suicide though: this song has been covered by Marianne Faithfull, Bjork and Sarah Brightman. The legend says it has caused more than 100 suicide cases since its release in 1933, supposedly including the composer and his wife. It made the front page headline of NY Times in 1939.
Now, below are listed some Australian women in the blues scene. It’s not an exhaustive list; they’re just the ones that came to mind when writing this. It’s not even exhaustive of the local blues scene, so no conversations will be entered into. It’s part of the richness of the blues scene that there are so many. If you search in the usual places for information about these women, you will find young ones starting out, mature musicians and vocalists who perform regularly in Australia and overseas, award winners, Indigenous singers and recent arrivals to Australia. Some create their own music and lyrics; others rely on their interpretation of blues standards.
Anyhow, you don’t need to take my word for the quality. Sleepy Hollow Blues Club is having a double-header at their venue on March 23rd – Chubby Rae & the Elevators, followed by Sweet Felicia and the Honeytones.
Iseula Hingano – vocals
Stevie Paige – guitar
Chubby Rae (Marisa Quigley) – vocals
Sweet Felicia – bass guitar, vocals
Sarah Carroll – Ukulele Queen of the Bellerine
Fiona Boyes – guitar, vocals
Syvana Doolan – vocals
Georgina de Leon – vocals
Robyn Green – vocals
Olive McGuiness – vocals
Eva Bell – vocals
Renée Geyer – vocals
Sonia Valenti – vocals, alto saxophone
Kerri Simpson – vocalist
Andrea Marr – vocalist
Jessey Jackson – vocals, guitar
Andrea Nordon – drums
Erica Graf – guitar
Sandy Brady – bass
Rebecca Davey – vocals
Written by Dr John Lamp. Presented by The Sleepy Hollow Blues Club