A century of 'Respect' for women in music
November 3, 1999
By Jamie Allen
(CNN) -- Women have been singing for it, and about it, for decades. And if you believe the music press these days, they've finally gotten the respect they've been craving.
In 1997 -- thanks largely to a burgeoning Lilith Fair awareness -- women accounted for more domestic music sales in the United States than men, a first. It happened again in 1998. And those numbers have prompted the media to toss about "the year of the woman" like the phrase is going out of style.
But when Julie D'Angelo hears it, she rolls her eyes. She says that on one hand she thinks "the year of the woman" was out of style the moment the phrase was uttered.
"Women make up over half the population," D'Angelo says, "and it kind of blew me away when people started talking about 'the year of the woman.' Women have been selling millions of records and making great music that both sexes have enjoyed for many years."
On the other hand, however, she says she realizes there's still work to be done before Woman gets her year.
"You can count the number of women who head record labels or major record companies on one hand, and I don't know that women have come very far," she says. "Yes, strides are made every day and that's absolutely wonderful. But considering the art and the talent that goes not just into making the music but selling the music, some days I wonder."
As the year 2000 approaches, women and music are at a significant crossroads. D'Angelo knows this perhaps as well as anyone, along with how we got here. She and her colleagues at Rhino Records have spent the past three years studying contributions women have made to recorded music in the last century.
And some members of the music press might be surprised to know -- or be reminded -- that female musicians and singers made tremendous strides long before Lilith founder Sarah McLachlan took hers.
Spell it out
The result of Rhino's research can be heard in "Respect: A Century of Women in Music." The five-CD, 114-song compilation spans rock, country and soul, from Ada Jones' 1909 rendition of "By the Light of the Silvery Moon" to Liz Phair's 1998 release "Polyester Bride."
There are the expected entries: "Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin spells out Otis Redding's anthem for women, "Respect," recorded in 1967; Judy Garland belts the 1939 "The Wizard of Oz" version of "Over the Rainbow"; Carly Simon sings her 1972 hit "You're So Vain"; Sarah McLachlan hopes for "Possession" from her 1994 album "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy."
There are also entries by the Carter Family, Joan Crawford, Ethel Merman, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Rosemary Clooney, Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee, Dusty Springfield, Tina Turner, Carole King, Janis Joplin, Deborah Harry with Blondie, Heart, the Go-Gos, Chrissie Hynde with The Pretenders, Salt-N-Pepa, Queen Latifah, Sinead O'Connor and Ani DiFranco.
'An amazing title'
Some songs might escape the recollection of casual listeners.
One of D'Angelo's favorites is the 1916 tune "She's Good Enough To Be Your Baby's Mother and She's Good Enough To Vote With You," sung by Anna Chandler -- with a title that says it all.
"It's just such a statement for a lot of things," says D'Angelo. "For instance, you can replace the word 'vote' in the title with 'play guitar with you.' It's a very applicable song, yet it's not heavy-handed. It makes its point in a very fun way.
"I had read about that song and thought, 'Man that's such an amazing title,'" says D'Angelo. "We searched high and low for this particular track and went out to a lot of collectors. We were very happily surprised when it came in."
'The Dinner Party'
D'Angelo says the "Respect" project was created under the influence of artist Judy Chicago's work, "The Dinner Party." That multimedia affair, which offers new perspective on the role of women in history, was showing at a Los Angeles museum when "Respect" was getting under way.
But Rhino's work obviously has commercial motivations: D'Angelo, who has helped produce over 100 releases for the record company, headed a team with co-producer Holly George-Warren, a music writer and co-editor of "The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock 'n' Roll."
The team's goal, D'Angelo says, was to "heighten awareness of Rhino among female customers. We had to develop a product that people could buy and afford, and it would be a good listen and a manageable listen," she says. "From there, criteria start making themselves evident."
When D'Angelo and company came up with a list, they realized it was too long and they'd have to make drastic cuts. The finished collection only focuses on North America.
"We looked at women who had made an impact and made their mark on recorded music and tried to give a good overview of the last 100 years in terms of what was popular, what intrigued people, what was groundbreaking," says D'Angelo.
Several modern-day American artists who have had significant impact on music -- Madonna, Joni Mitchell and Alanis Morissette, for instance -- didn't make the CDs, for various reasons.
"We tried our absolute best to have these people be part of the project," she says. "Sometimes when people are at the height of their career, it's hard to communicate the importance of the project when they have so much going on.
"There are definitely people we wish could've been a part of the project," she says. "However, we all feel very good about the scope and the breadth and the depth of the project, and we're very happy with the artists who chose to participate."
In the end, D'Angelo says, "Respect" is a rare commodity.
"It's the only collection of its kind out there," she says. "It's the only time something like this has been attempted, and I feel really good about that.
"This would have been created whether or not we were at the end of the century or millennium," she says. "As a team and company, we felt it was really important to document and honor women who made it possible for this concept known as 'the year of the woman.'"
Alanis Morissette: Less is more
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