Women Rock! Day
annually on January 3rd
Elvis Presley. Chuck Berry. Jerry Lee Lewis. Little Richard. Buddy Holly. When it comes to rock and roll, it is usually male artists and performers who are first remembered as its architects, innovators, and keepers of the flame. On Women Rock! Day, we remember that women have made an immense contribution to rock and roll as well, and we honor that contribution. The day takes place on the anniversary of the date in 1987 when Aretha Franklin became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame began inducting members in 1986 and has continued to do so each year since. Many women have been inducted since Aretha Franklin, such as The Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, The Shirelles, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith, Grace Slick as part of Jefferson Airplane, Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks as part of Fleetwood Mac, Dusty Springfield, and Nina Simone. Still, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame continues to be dominated by men.
To be eligible to be inducted into the Hall, it must be at least 25 years since an artist released their first recording. The nominating committee is made up of rock historians, some of whom are rock and roll musicians themselves. After the nominees are selected, they are voted on by 500 or so international rock experts. About five to seven performers are chosen to be inducted each year, and sidemen, non-performers, and early influences are also inducted. There continues to be a debate as to how much commercial popularity versus critical reverence should weigh into the decision to induct an artist. The induction ceremony is held in New York City each year: it includes formal inductions, performances, and a final jam session.
In 1995, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum opened on the banks of Lake Erie in Cleveland. Cleveland was chosen as its location in part because it is the city where disc jockey Alan Freed came up with the term "rock and roll." The museum has rotating and temporary exhibits showcasing members of the Hall and other rock and roll musicians. It also has an archives and research library, and hosts events.
Aretha Franklin was born in 1942 and grew up in Detroit, where her father, C.L. Franklin, was a prominent minister. She began singing gospel music at an early age and went to New York City when she was eighteen. There she made a shift to secular music and began recording with Columbia Records. At that time she was singing many different genres of music and had not yet formed the musical identity she would later be known for. Nor did she achieve popular success at the time.
It was not until Franklin moved to Atlantic Records in 1966 that she gained national recognition and formed her own musical identity—singing gospel and rhythm and blues and becoming known as the Queen of Soul. She had a slew of hits from 1967 into the early 1970s, including the self-penned "Think," a cover of Otis Redding's "Respect," and "Chain of Fools".
Franklin returned to traditional gospel music with the 1972 live album Amazing Grace. Her charting power waned, but her popularity never did—she forever remained the Queen of Soul. She continued to put out albums into the twenty-first century, and sang at the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009. In 2015, she electrified a crowd at the Kennedy Center Honors while honoring Carole King. She died in 2018.
How to Observe Women Rock! Day
Today should be spent celebrating women in rock and roll. Here are some ways to do so:
- Listen to Aretha Franklin and watch her induction ceremony to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
- Listen to the music of women rock and rollers. You could start by listening to female inductees of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or to some of Rolling Stone's 50 greatest albums put out by female artists. There are many women artists you could listen to.
- Visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
- Watch videos regarding the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
- Read a book about women in rock and roll, such as She's a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock and Roll. Explore the Women of Rock Oral History Project.