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(NO?) Strings Attached:
Female guitarists in contemporary music

(Released July 2009)

  by Les Reynolds  


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News Articles

  1. Where the girls aren't: Why is rock 'n' roll without a great female guitarist?

    David Segal, Calgary Herald, 08-31-2004

    Where are all the female guitarists who can light it up in some original, groundbreaking and influential way? Can you name any? Have you heard the phrase "guitar heroine?"

    Probably not, and for good reason. This won't win you friends, but here's the hard truth: Fifty years after Elvis Presley recorded That's All Right Mama, the grand total of pantheon-worthy female rock guitarists is zero.

    What about Bonnie Raitt? you say. Raitt is a fine player, but she didn't pioneer a style or push the instrument to places it hadn't been, feats required for a seat on the varsity squad. She proved a woman can play beautifully -- many women play beautifully -- but if she were a dude, she'd never be mentioned with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen. That might sound sexist, but it's conventional wisdom.

    Last year, Rolling Stone magazine published a list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, and just two women made the cut: Joan Jett and Joni Mitchell. The weird part is how un-outrageous it seemed. Any list of the greatest actors or singers or novelists that was so male-dominated would be ridiculed. . . .

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's eLibrary

  2. Patty Larkin leads circle of women on guitars

    RICK MASSIMO Journal Pop Music Writer, Providence Journal, 08-03-2006

    atty Larkin has been a successful singer and songwriter for years, but the centerpiece of her Newport show this year is the guitar.

    Larkin will perform with guitarists Muriel Anderson and Mimi Fox in a trio show inspired by La Guitara, a compilation record of women guitarists released last year with Larkin as executive producer (and co-producer with Bette Warner).

    The idea had been germinating a long time, she says.

    "Twenty-some years ago, a friend of mine said, 'I think the reason there are no great women rock guitarists is because it's genetic.' Good friend! So that got me thinking. I disagreed with him, obviously, but where [were] they?

    "And they've been coming up through the ranks, and this is something that we're aware of as musicians, but I think it's something the general public needed to know a little bit more. And also, some of these [specific] women deserved wider recognition."

    Eight years ago, Larkin got the idea to put together a compilation of women songwriters whose guitar playing Larkin admired. "People said, 'You play great guitar,' and I would say, 'Well, so does Shawn Colvin and Jonatha Brooke,' and, of course, Ani DiFranco came along." But after she started to put the record together, she decided to expand the scope to other genres and eras. . . .

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's eLibrary

  3. Rockin' women

    Sarah Mauet, Arizona Daily Star, 11-11-2005

    More girls today are encouraged to enter the rock 'n' roll music scene than in the past .

    More than 50 bands have participated in the Arizona Daily Star Battle of the Bands, a citywide high school musician competition, since it started two years ago. Only one has included a female.

    Singer and keyboardist Alison Davis entered the first year with three male band mates. Their band, Fernando, was one of the six finalists chosen to perform at the live battle at the Rialto Theatre.

    "I definitely realized I'd probably be the only girl there," Davis said. "I was really excited. I didn't know what to expect because I'd never been in a battle of the bands before. I think it was a really good experience for the band."

    At the time, she also sang in choir and participated in musical theater at Tucson High Magnet School. Now a University of Arizona sophomore, the 19-year-old music education major sings in Vocal Ease, an all-women a cappella group, and is the only female in her band, Concrete Heat. Still, few of the many female musicians she knows are in bands.

    "It's always weird to me that no one is in a band," she said. "It's obvious that girls in my a cappella group can sing, so I don't know why they're not in bands."

    No girls participated in last year's competition.

    Misty McElroy, the executive director of the Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, Ore., blames a larger social trend.

    "Girls are socialized to play more passive instruments than boys (are)," she said in an e-mail interview. . . .

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's eLibrary


    MATTHEW ERIKSON; Courant Staff Writer, Hartford Courant, 10-28-2005

    Sharon Isbin's resume is a long list of groundbreaking firsts.

    In 1989, she founded the guitar department at the Juilliard School of Music, where she still teaches. She has commissioned and performed the premieres of major new works for her instrument. In 2001, she took home the first Grammy a classical guitarist had won in 28 years. Recent engagements with the New York Philharmonic were the first performances by a guitarist in 26 years and its first- ever recording with a guitarist.

    Isbin, 48, is also a rare female performer in a guitar world dominated by men.

    Saturday evening, Isbin will perform in Hartford with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra as part of an 18-city U.S. tour. The Vivaldi concertos and Albinoni piece she will play at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts are featured on her best-selling CD "Baroque Favorites for Guitar" on Warner Records.

    Describing early 18th-century Baroque music as the jazz of its time, Isbin says, "The concerts afford me that thrill of embellishment, which we don't often get in other works of the 19th or 20th century."

    Rather than a step backward, Isbin's musical career has come full circle.

    The Baroque-favorites CD is dedicated to the late Rosalyn Tureck, the great Bach keyboard interpreter and Isbin's teacher for 10 years. As an undergraduate at Yale, where there was no guitar teacher, much less a guitar department, Isbin's instruction came from periodic lessons with guitar greats Andres Segovia and Oscar Ghiglia when they were in the area, as well as regular instruction from Tureck in New York. . . .

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's eLibrary

Historical Newspapers

  1. FAIR MUSICIANS AT GLEN ECHO.; Concerts by Accomplished Performers on a Variety of Instruments.

    The Washington Post: Jul 11, 1897. pg. 20, 1 pgs

    Abstract (Summary) ABSTRACT

    Original Newspaper Image (PDF)


    Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, Calif.: Nov 9, 1919. pg. III15, 1 pgs

    Abstract (Summary) With preparations afoot for secret plans for a dynamic campaign to gain equal professional recognition with men, the fight of the Woman's Musicians' Equality League assumed despite proportions yesterday. . .

    Original Newspaper Image (PDF)

  3. Chicago's Organized Woman Musicians Tire of Playing Second Fiddle Roles

    Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov 20, 1938. pg. SW3, 1 pgs

    Abstract (Summary) Today 235 Chicago women are pointing to the history of music and asking men an embarrassing question. As instrumentalists, members of the Organized Women. . .

    Original Newspaper Image (PDF)

  4. A Rare Club Date for Mary Osborne; Playing Down Woman's Angle On-the-Job Learning A Guitarist Who Faded Away

    JOHN S. WILSON. New York Times, New York, N.Y.: Jul 17, 1981. pg. C20, 1 pgs

    Abstract (Summary) MARY OSBORNE, who is not only the best woman jazz guitarist performing today but is, aside from the young newcomer Emily Remle. . . .

    Original Newspaper Image (PDF)

  5. Fun From Four Female Folkies

    Mike Joyce, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C.: Aug 16, 1990. pg. D4, 1 pgs

    Original Newspaper Image (PDF)

Taken from ProQuest's Historical Newspapers.


  1. In consort: Queen Victoria, her court and women musicians, 1837-1861

    Caines, Jennifer Raechal, Ph.D., University of Alberta (Canada), 2007, 234 pages

    Abstract (Summary)
    Women played a crucial role in musical activity at Queen Victoria's court. Queen Victoria's position at the head of this musical activity marks her and her court as important factors in the careers of women musicians. Despite the use of the Queen's name to typify the era and its people and a wealth of studies of Victorian musical culture, music at the Queen's court itself has attracted surprisingly little attention. While some research has revealed the scope of musical activity there, a detailed examination of Queen Victoria's involvement in women's musicians' careers has yet to be undertaken. Throughout Victoria's reign her court hosted the century's most prominent musical names. This study examines musical activity at Queen Victoria's court from the perspective of women performers and their patron. Both parties exerted more influence over the court and over British culture than has generally been acknowledged.

    In my dissertation I investigate three areas. First, I document the nature and scope of women's musical activity at court and compare it to the place of women in publicly visible venues. Second, I trace the reception of women's musical activity at court both in the press and by the Queen herself. Here the court performances are a particularly valuable source of information, since contemporary coverage of performance ordinarily focused on public venues, which admitted women performers only to a very limited degree, rather than on the salons in which women musicians played a crucial role. Finally, I explore the impact of court musical life on the lives of these and other women. Court life affected women in several ways. It directly promoted the careers of particular musicians; indirectly, women musicians in general were promoted through the activities at court; and symbolically Victoria's own image may have helped promote the representation of these women in a positive light.

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's Dissertations & Theses Database

  2. Shred chicks: Gender and identity in female guitar players

    Turrill, Amber Renee, M.A., University of Maryland, College Park, 2006, 48 pages

    Abstract (Summary)
    Female guitarists in the American rock industry are faced with challenges presented by gender scripts in culture that affect their public reception. In order to negotiate such challenges, women use public performance venues as spaces within which to negotiate power in gender scripts, and to create counter-hegemonic discourse. Public space may take the form of the stage, the internet, or televised media, and women utilize these spaces to render discourse performative in a variety of ways. Thus, counter-hegemonic discourses may be created that celebrate the accomplishments of guitar women.

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's Dissertations & Theses Database

  3. American women saxophonists from 1870--1930: Their careers and repertoire

    Hubbs, Holly Josepha, D.A., Ball State University, 2003, 141 pages

    Abstract (Summary)
    The late nineteenth century was a time of great change for women's roles in music. Whereas in 1870, women played primarily harp or piano, by 1900 there were all-woman orchestras. During the late nineteenth century, women began to perform on instruments that were not standard for them, such as cornet, trombone, and saxophone. The achievements of early female saxophonists scarcely have been mentioned in accounts of saxophone history. This study gathers scattered and previously unpublished information about the careers and repertoire of American female saxophonists from 1870-1930 into one reference source.

    The introduction presents a brief background on women's place in music around 1900 and explains the study's organization. Chapter two presents material on saxophone history and provides an introduction to the Chautauqua, lyceum, and vaudeville circuits. Chapter three contains biographical entries for forty-four women saxophonists from 1870-1930. Then follows in Chapter four a discussion of the saxophonists' repertoire. Parlor, religious, and minstrel songs are examined, as are waltz, fox-trot, and ragtime pieces. Discussion of music of a more "classical" nature concludes this section. Two appendixes are included--the first, a complete alphabetical list of the names of early female saxophonists and the ensembles with which they played; the second, an alphabetical list of representative pieces played by the women.

    The results of this study indicate that a significant number of women became successful professional saxophonists between 1870-1930. Many were famous on a local level, and some toured extensively while performing on Chautauqua, lyceum, and vaudeville circuits. Some ended their performing careers after becoming wives and mothers, but some continued to perform with all-woman swing bands during the 1930s and 40s.

    The musical repertoire played by women saxophonists from 1870-1930 reflects the dichotomy of cultivated and vernacular music. Some acts chose to use popular music as a drawing card by performing ragtime, fox-trot, waltz, and other dance styles. Other acts presented music from the more cultivated classical tradition, such as opera transcriptions or original French works for saxophone (by composers such as Claude Debussy). Most women, however, performed a mixture of light classics, along with crowd-pleasing popular songs.

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's Dissertations & Theses Database