Inspirational personalities and role models are vital to the formation of young music learners; this is a matter of projection, and it highlights the powerful combination of cognition and emotional intelligence. Boys and girls can greatly benefit from looking up to musicians who have left their mark through composition, performance, style, and active interests. It does not matter if music learners latch onto performers and composers through their personalities more than through their music; we should not criticize, for example, a little girl who prefers Camila Cabello over a far more talented musician such as Alicia Keys.
Something else that we cannot be opposed to is that boys are more likely to be inspired by male musicians while girls will naturally gravitate towards female artists; however, we have been getting this wrong for centuries because of the way music has developed as an art and cultural current. When the history of opera is taught in music history lessons, we barely learn about Francesca Caccini, but we certainly discuss the works of her father Giulio during the Renaissance. Mendelssohn’s sister was a prolific piano composer who inspired young Felix to keep compositions short for the purpose of popularizing them as songs. Ludwig van Beethoven had a tumultuous romantic life that featured unrequited lovers who happened to already be married, but he often selected female performers for his symphonic recitals, and we seldom get to know about these musicians.
Women have been getting the short end of the musical stick since ancient times. In the early days of the Roman Republic, patriarchy became predominant, and this resulted in female musicians playing second fiddle, so to speak, to their male counterparts. Some of the most skilled musicians were likely courtesans, and we only got to know them through drawings and paintings. It should not be surprising to learn that Japanese geisha culture, which is 100% female, is the keeper of ancient music from that part of the world. What is even more interesting and confounding is that we know for sure that women in Ancient Greece were in charge of music education at home, but they were rarely accepted in the art academies where poetry, chanting, and instrumental performance were practiced.
At Prodigies Music, we firmly believe that female musicians can be great sources of inspiration for young students. As previously mentioned, women who have excelled in music will be more inspiring to girls; however, boys are known to become interested in the work of female musicians as they grow older. With all the above in mind, the women below are often cited as being deeply inspirational to music students of all ages. We can all look up to them not just because their music has left a mark in history but also because their careers and personalities have made strong sociopolitical statements.
Born in North Carolina and educated at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York City, Nina Simone was a blues, jazz, and soul star who famously explained how music can be a gift and a burden in the lives of those who are passionate about it. Simone’s favorite instrument was her soulful voice, but she was an accomplished classical pianist who truly appreciated the work of Romantic composers. Prior to writing and recording her own songs, Simone was an esteemed piano teacher.
About a decade into her career as a professional musician, Simone pivoted towards civil rights and social justice. She was very interested in the music of Jewish American songwriter Bob Dylan; to this effect, her cover of Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin'” is more than legendary, and it marked Simone’s turn to full-blown activism with songs such as:
- Four Women
- Young, Gifted and Black
- Why (The King of Love Is Dead)
- Mississippi Goddam
Simone had a fiery personality, mental health issues, and substance abuse problems; she did not let any of them get in her way of fighting against racial injustice. If you wish to learn more about this lady’s amazing life, the documentary film “What Happened, Miss Simone?” is a great starting point.
Lita Ford, Cherie Currie, Joan Jett, Sandy West, Vickie Blue, Mickie Steele, and Jackie Fox are some of the members of this 1970s all-female punk band, which many people incorrectly believe was overproduced and packaged for mainstream success. The reality of The Runaways is that they started off as a traditional Southern California punk trio and not as a band that mostly relied on adolescent sex appeal. The individual success of former Runaways was achieved through hard work and dedication; Joan Jett, for example, pursued more than a dozen record labels with ideas about albums that featured her as a lead singer of The Black Hearts, a band that was more glam rock than punk, and she ended up having to form her own label. Lita Ford had a harder time finding success because record label executives and producers wanted to highlight her looks over her music, but she persevered and scored major hits under the management of Sharon Osbourne and the trust of RCA Records. Cherie Curie and her twin sister embarked on a musical career that mixed New Wave with garage rock; her son Richard learned to play guitar at home and now tours with her mom.
Chiquinha Gonzaga was a Brazilian composer, pianist and the first woman conductor in Brazil. At age 11, she composed her first musical work, the song ‘Canção dos Pastores’. Gonzaga composed 77 plays and operettas which were widely popular for the way they played on elements from contemporary Brazilian culture. Chiquinha is remembered today as the first woman conductor in Brazil – but it wasn’t just in her professional life that she made a mark. She fought for the end of slavery in Brazil, joining the abolitionist movement that took place during her generation. (Source)
We learned a lot about Chiquinha Gonzaga from this awesome virtual exhibit that Google Arts & Culture put together. Check it out here:
Francisca Edwiges Neves Gonzaga was born in Rio de Janeiro, on October 17, 1847. Her mother was a freed black woman slave and her father was a high-ranking military man. From a young age, she was a voracious student of academics and music. At the age of eleven, she wrote her first piano composition for a family Christmas party. When she was 16, Chiquinha was arranged to be married but her husband did not like music and considered the piano to be his rival. Music had become her passion and she could not stand to live without it. She made the decision to leave her husband, causing a life-long legal battle that plagued Chiquinha and resulted in abandonment by her father. Struggling to make ends meet, she had to rely on teaching piano to survive. Determination and courage afforded Chiquinha a prosperous career in music and allowed the opportunity to take part in the great social battles of her time, mainly the abolition of slavery in Brazil. She used to sell sheet music of her compositions to raise funds for the cause. She was already a famous artist in 1899 when she composed Ô Abre Alas, in a style called “marcha-rancho”. The song became an anthem of the Brazilian carnival. At the turn of the century, there was no law to protect the composer’s rights, so she created the first society for copyright protection in Brazil: the Brazilian Society of Theatrical Authors (SBAT). (Source)
To celebrate Chiquinha Gonzaga, the Prodigies team put together SHEET MUSIC (Fixed Do and Moveable Do) for Ô Abre Alas” by Chiquinha Gonzaga. Ô Abre Alas is arranged in the key of A Minor with Moveable and Fixed Do Solfège Hand-Signs, body percussion ORFF and Portuguese lyrics. It features a syncopated melody, non-harmonic accents and modal interplay.
The former lead singer of Flyleaf is known for her unique vocal delivery, which somehow manages to sound frightening and melodic at the same time. Born in Florida and raised in Texas, Sturm used to be an emotional mess as a young woman; she used to live in a personal godless world until finding Christianity at one of the lowest points in her life. When she joined Flyleaf, she focused on Christian rock with an additional edge, but the band also managed to cross over into secular genres such as grunge rock. Aside from songwriting and performing, Strum is known for her soulful writing and her kind advice to young girls who have a hard time adjusting to modern life.
In 2006, a BBC News report estimated that this acclaimed violinist was among the wealthiest musicians living in London, and she was just 28 years of age at the time. Vanessa Mae was born in Singapore, where he learned classical piano, and educated in Beijing, where he fell in love with the violin. The rest of Mae’s musical education took place at the Royal College of Music in London, and she would later become the youngest violinist to record best-selling solo performances of works by Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, and Beethoven. While still in her teens, Mae decided to branch out into other musical genres, thus composing, arranging, and recording for:
- Electronic dance music
- Modern chamber music
An interesting tidbit of Mae’s life is that she represented Thailand as a skier in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi; she qualified based on her father’s nationality, and she also faced allegations that she took advantage of her looks and fame to enter the competition. The International Ski Federation later apologized for this suggestion.
The Queen of Salsa earned 23 gold records during her long career, and she was known as an inexhaustible performer for whom fans always came first. Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad was born into a poor Cuban family in 1925; she barely knew her Spanish father, and she did not have any memories of her Afro-Caribbean mother. What Cruz remembered about her childhood was the deeply soulful singing among women in her large adoptive family, and this is what she chose to do from an early age.
After singing boleros in Havana cabarets, Cruz felt more comfortable with Latin jazz and salsa because she could improvise and rap over the band. She pioneered Latin American fusion music by making arrangements of tango standards, which she loved, to be played by tropical bands. Cruz approved of just about everything that mixed salsa with other genres; for example, her work with Willie Colon over three albums had a distinctive disco beat, and it paved the way for bands such as the Miami Sound Machine. The incredible voice of Celia Cruz was at times described by famous opera singers as one of the most powerful, and she inspired an entire generation of Spanish language tenors to sing at the top of their lungs even in romantic songs.
Happy Women’s History Month!