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  • Giavanna Gradaille

Roses & Royalties: Women in Music Overdue for Recognition

*Created by yours truly through Microsoft Word*

It’s incredible how art captures life so accurately. For example, one of my favorite movies growing up was 1988’s Coming to America. All the barbershop scenes where they’re discussing who the greatest boxer ever was and is still gives me hiccups from laughing too hard. Every time I watch those scenes, I immediately think about one of the reoccurring discussions and prominent questions in my household: who was the greatest singer to ever come out of Newark, New Jersey?  My overcrowded Cuban-Italian household ranged in ages and the front door was ever-revolving. So, acquaintances, cousins, family friends, neighbors, and whoever else had the energy to argue all got to weigh in on this conversation.

This household discussion managed to follow me into school cafeterias and other shared, common spaces where it grew. Expanding my idea of what constitutes one’s merit in music. And that added a new aspect to this discussion: there are roles beyond singing that add meaningful value to music. There are lyricists and songwriters that craft messages so thoughtful they inspire activism. There’s audio engineers, composers, and producers that experiment with soundscapes to create something entirely new. All in all, there have been many title holders that have transformed the preexisting state of music time and time again.

But some of the most vital contributors have been overlooked.

Women in music have been forced to take a back seat. And in some cases, their contributions have been altogether erased. Thankfully, in the last subsequent years documentaries and in-depth articles have been released to rightfully recognize women’s involvement in the development of music as we’ve come to know it today. Informing audiences of the rich history of women within music while also showcasing the adversities and obstacles they have had to overcome. In this article, I’ve decided to discuss a handful of women that have directly influenced my life – and possibly yours whether or not you were aware of it.

Wendy Carlos

*Wendy Carlos. Picture: Getty Images.*

Wendy Carlos is a musician, physicist, and audio engineer. But movie buffs perhaps recognize her work the easiest. Carlos composed three film scores for movies that have since become cult classics: Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and The Shining (that only features two of Carlos’ pieces despite the creation of an entire film score); and 1982’s TRON from Disney. However, synthesizer enthusiasts and lovers alike might refer to Carlos as the mother of Moog due to her help in developing the original Moog synthesizer with Robert Moog. Before crafting film scores and original bodies of work with synthesizers, Carlos utilized them to produce sound effects for commercials and re-imaginings of classical compositions. Bringing listening audiences the 1968 Switched-on Bach and the 1980 Switched-on Brandenburgs. Her usage of synthesizers inspired new genres of pop, and film score giants such as Hans Zimmer. Most significantly though, Wendy Carlos is a trans icon that has been very open about the gender dysphoria she’s experienced before and well after her transition. Out of respect for Carlos, I will not attach any of her work in this article. Instead, I will redirect readers to the Wendy Carlos website where they can read more about and buy work directly from the pioneer.

Yoshino Aoki

*Yoshino Aoki. Picture: vgmonline.*

For fellow fans of Capcom games, Yoshino Aoki is the woman behind the game music production and compositions for some of the most beloved franchises. Aoki’s first project at Capcom was not composing music however, it was to arrange music on Mega Man X3. This eventually led to her providing vocals for Roll’s special ending theme in Mega Man Battle & Chase. It later became the character’s main theme song and was even reused in Marvel vs. Capcom. Aoki would finally get the opportunity to co-compose in Breath of Fire III. The success of the game and its accompanying soundtrack ushered our composer in becoming the lead for the subsequent game, Breath of Fire IV. Aoki joined Capcom in 1995 and was involved in the sound development of over 25 games – holding various titles throughout her time there. She departed on good terms a little over a decade later in 2007, to co-found the music production studio Unique Note. Attesting to the good nature of the departure, Aoki was invited to co-compose the score of the final installment of the Mega Man Star Force series as a freelancer. The music Aoki composed during her time at Capcom was filled with mystical whimsy accompanied by strong orchestral elements. Inspiring and convincing a generation of girls that video games can be for them, too.

Paula M. Kimper

*Paula M. Kimper. Picture: Paula Kimper Ensemble.*

Paula M. Kimper has been a composer of dance, film, song, theatre, and opera for the last 35 years. But her compositions in opera are particularly noteworthy.

Especially the opera Patience and Sarah, a prolific landmark for the LGBTQIA+ community. The opera co-created by our composer and librettist Wende Persons, was based on the novel of the same name by Isabel Miller. Patience and Sarah is believed to be the first mainstream opera centering around and showcasing a strong, lesbian couple on stage in the states. Up until this point, operas that did feature queer characters followed one of two tropes: unrequited love for a heterosexual muse or a tragic, foreshadowed demise. The opera made its 1998 world debut at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York, New York; and was originally commissioned by the American Opera Projects. Since the opera’s inception, the ACT II duet has become a significant source of visibility for lesbians and queer women alike. Bringing even the most stoic opera-goers to tears.

Sister Souljah

*Sister Souljah in Harlem. Picture: Getty Images.*

If the name Sister Souljah looks familiar to you, there’s a good chance you’re a book worm whose read some of her bestsellers like The Coldest Winter Ever and Life After Death. Before her days as an author and film producer, Sister Souljah’s activism and reflections of society came in the form of lyrical art. The multidimensional woman was a hip-hop and rap icon of the 90s. Sister Souljah was an honorary member of the musical group Public Enemy, having a feature on their singles “Move!” and “Hard Rhymin’”. But her legendary delivery of “We are at WAR! ” is on Terminator X’s “Buck Whylin’”, featured alongside Chuck D. These features all built up towards her own studio album, 360 Degrees of Power, which dissected white power structures through the lens of unapologetic radical black feminism. However, Sister Souljah’s moment in music was towards the end of militant rap’s era – where the first nail in the genre’s coffin was hammered by former President Bill Clinton when he inaccurately pegged her as an extremist for her remarks on policing after the 1992 L.A. riots. Even though this is a pop-based blog, it would be a mistake to not credit Sister Souljah for popularizing women’s – especially BIPOC women’s – modern-day politics in music. And considering how women’s private and personal rights are currently on global trial, more so now than ever listeners need the encouraging words of the former rapper to keep fighting.

The efforts of the handful of women mentioned above, and countless others whose stories await to be discovered have not gone to waste. Not only have they fostered an inclusive space for all women to share their stories, they’ve also shaped women’s music to become genres of their own. The women in music have managed to capture the collective consciousness of womanhood while simultaneously revolutionizing it. But women’s innovation goes far beyond the borders of music. I highly encourage everyone to visit their local libraries where they can find documentation of the women within their communities who have been forces of change. And to hand-deliver some well overdue roses, too.

Written by Giavanna Gradaille

*copyright not intended. Fair use act, section 107.


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