All Female Band
Prior to 1970
In the Jazz Age of the 1920s, “all-girl” bands such as “Helen Lewis and Her All-Girl Jazz Syncopators” were briefly popular. (In 1925, Lee DeForest filmed Lewis and her band in his short-lived Phonofilm process, in a film now in the Maurice Zouary collection at the Library of Congress.) Blanche Calloway, sister of Cab Calloway, led a male band, Blanche Calloway and Her Joy Boys, from 1932 to 1939, and Ina Ray Hutton led an all-girl band, the Mellodears, from 1934 to 1939. Author and professor Sherrie Tucker published a book detailing the times and trials of All-Girl Swing bands of the 1940s, titled “Swing Shift”, in 2000. (Duke University Press)
Groups composed solely of women began to flourish with the advent of rock and roll. Among the earliest all-female rock bands to be signed to a record label were Goldie and the Gingerbreads, to Atlantic Records in 1964 and Fanny in 1969 when Mo Ostin signed them to Warner Bros. Records.
Roger Ebert, in his audio commentary for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) claims credit for inspiring all-female rock bands with the fictional band The Carrie Nations created for the film, stating that such bands were quite rare at the time, but started to spring up in the film’s wake.
In 1975, the Canadian duo of sisters, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, recorded the first of a string of albums. Joan Jett’s first group The Runaways were an early commercially successful, hard-edged, all-female band, releasing their first album in 1976; other members included Cherie Currie(vocals), Sandy West(drums) and Lita Ford.
In the United Kingdom, the advent of punk in the late 1970′s with its “anyone can do it” ethos lead to the formation of such bands as The Slits, The Raincoats, Mo-Dettes, and Dolly Mixture among others, and the formation of other groups where the female members informed the music and lyrical content (Au Pairs, Delta Five) or were the featured artist within the ensemble, notably Siouxsie and the Banshees and X-Ray Spex. The expansion of punk into Europe gave rise to Switzerland’s die Kleenex/LiLiPUT.
In the 1970s, a number of feminist folk music-based performers began fostering a Women’s Music Movement, although it was not long before women with a background in rock music and jazz started women’s bands to escape from the ‘chick singer’ trap. This included Jam Today, which started in a Peckham shed during the spring of 1976.
1980s and 1990s
The 1980s, for the first time, saw all female bands and female-fronted rock bands reach Billboards charts. When Joan Jett’s I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll became the number 3 single on the Billboard Hot 100 year end charts for 1982 along with the Go-Go’s We Got the Beat at number 25 it sent a strong message out to many industry heads that females who could play could bring in money. While Joan Jett played “no-frills, glam-rock anthems, sung with her tough-as-nails snarl and sneer”, the Go-Go’s were seen as playful girls, an image that even Rolling Stone magazine poked fun at when they put the band on their cover in their underwear along with the caption “Go-Go’s Put out!”. However musician magazines were starting to show respect to female musicians, putting Bonnie Raitt and Tina Weymouth on their covers. While The Go-Go’s and The Bangles, both from the LA punk/garage scene, were the first all-female rock bands to find sustained success, it was individual musicians who helped pave the way for the industry to seek out bands that had female musicians and allow them to be part of the recording process.
While the 1980s helped pave the way for female musicians to get taken more seriously it was still considered a novelty of sorts for several years, and it was very much a male-dominated world. In 1984 when film maker Dave Markey, along with Jeff and Steve McDonald from Redd Kross, put together the mocumentary Desperate Teenage Lovedolls, a comically punky version of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, it also spawned a real band. While the Lovedolls could barely play at first, because of the film, and because they were an “all-female band”, they received press and gigs.
Klymaxx became the first all-female band in the R&B style of music to all play an instrument; several of their singles have charted successfully in both R&B and pop countdowns.
Leading into the 90′s the surge of Heavy Metal in the 80′s helped to shed another light on the role of females in music. Because of the success of The Go-Go’s and The Bangles many females were frustrated at not being taken seriously or only thought of as “cute chicks playing music” and either joined rock bands or formed all-female metal bands. One such band that was playing harder music in San Francisco was Rude Girl. Originally signed to CBS records the band splintered before an album would be released and the remaining members released a 12-inch single in 1987 under the name Malibu Barbi. When Cara Crash and Wanda Day left 4 Non Blondes and joined the band their sound shifted from heavy metal to a sound described as combining a “driving beat with Johnny Rottenesque vocal and post-punk riffs”. Around the same time in the Midwest, Madam X was signed to an offshoot of Columbia Records, Jet Records. In 1984 the Rick Derringer-produced album We Reserve The Right was released along with the single “High in High School”. The Petrucci sisters were a focal point of the band Max, the lead guitarist, and Roxy, the drummer. However, based on management decisions, it was decided that it would be better if only one of the sisters were in the band and Roxy was placed in another band, the all-female, Los Angeles based Vixen.
With the resurgence of interest in pop-punk bands in the US in the early 1990s, along with the sunset strip ‘hair metal’ scene becoming extremely crowded, bands who combined a “non-image” with loud raw music started were gigging at clubs like Rajis in Hollywood. Bands such as Hole, Super Heroines, The Lovedolls and L7 became popular, while demonstrating on stage, and in interviews, a self-confident “bad girl” attitude at times, always willing to challenge assumptions about how an all-female band should behave. Courtney Love described the other females in Hole as using a more “lunar viewpoint” in their roles as musicians. In the 1990s, Riot Grrrl became the genre associated with bands such as Bratmobile and Bikini Kill. Other punk bands, such as Spitboy, have been less comfortable with the childhood-centered issues of much of the Riot Grrrl aesthetic, but nonetheless also have dealt explicitly with feminist and related issues. All-female Queercore bands, such as Tribe 8 and Team Dresch, also write songs dealing with matters specific to women and their position in society. A film put together by a San Diego psychiatrist, Dr. Lisa Rose Apramian, along with the former drummer from The Motels and The Droogs, Kyle C. Kyle, the documentary Not Bad For a Girl explored some of these issues with interviews from many of the female musicians on the Riot Grrrl scene at the time.
Many female musicians from all female bands in the 1980′s and 1990′s have gone on to more high profile gigs. The Pandoras former members include members of The Muffs; Leather Leone, the singer from Rude Girl and Malibu Barbi, went on to sing for Chastain; Warbride’s founder and lead guitarist, Lori Linstruth joined Arjen Lucassen; Abby Travis from the Lovedolls has played with Beck, Elastica, and Bangles; Meredith Brooks, from The Graces, went on to solo success and Janet Robin, from Precious Metal, was the touring guitarist for Meredith as well as Lindsey Buckingham and Air Supply.
Outside pop music
All-female bands are not restricted to the mainstream genres. The successful British/Australian string quartet bond, who play classical crossover, is another example where women play all the instruments (first and second violin, viola, and cello) and sing the occasional vocals that accompany some of their tracks.
List of all-female bands
List of female rock singers
List of female metal singers
List of female Jazz- and New Improvising musicians in the German Wikipedia
Rock Chicks:The Hottest Female Rockers from the 1960 to Now by Stieven-Taylor, Alison (2007). Sydney. Rockpool Publishing. ISBN 9781921295065
Bayton, Mavis (1998) Frock Rock: Women Performing Popular Music. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816615-X
Carson, Mina Julia (ed.) (2004) Girls rock!: Fifty Years of Women Making Music. Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-2310-0
Gaar, Gillian G. (1992) She’s a Rebel: the History of Women in Rock & Roll. Seattle, Wash.: Seal Press. ISBN 1-878067-08-7
O’Dair, Barbara (ed.) (1997) Trouble Girls: the Rolling Stone Book of Women in Rock. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-679-76874-2
Raphael, Amy (1995) Never Mind the Bollocks: Women Rewrite Rock. London: Virago. ISBN 1-85381-887-9
Savage, Ann M. (2003) They’re Playing Our Songs: Women Talk About Feminist Rock Music. Westport, Conn.: Praeger. ISBN 0-275-97356-5
^ For example, vocalists Girls Aloud are referred to as a “girl band” here (OK magazine) and here (Guardian), while instrumentalists Girlschool are termed a “girl group” here (imdb) and here (Belfast Telegraph).
^ Silent Era: PSFL: Helen Lewis and Her All-Girl Jazz Syncopators (192?)
^ “The Billboard Hot 100 1982″, Billboard. Retrieved October 30 2008.
^ Haymes, Greg. “Long live the Queen”, Albany Times Union, November 23, 2006
^ “The Graces interview” (cover story), Endless Party #40, August 1989: Charlotte Caffey: I remember the fact that people would say “You’re an all girl band, you can’t possibly make it”.
^ “The Go-Gos Put Out!” (cover story), Rolling Stone. Issue 375, August 15, 1982
^ “The Graces interview” (cover story), Endless Party #40, August 1989: Question: So no chance of turning up on the cover of Rolling Stone in your underwear with the caption “Graces Put out!”? Charlotte Caffey: The classic cover? No, I don’t think so.
^ Bonnie Raitt cover story, Guitar Player Magazine, May 1977
^ Bonnie Raitt cover story, Guitar Player Magazine, July 1998
^ “Tina Weymouth & David Byrne, The Talking Heads” (cover story), Guitar Player Magazine, March 1984
^ “The Graces interview” (cover story), Endless Party #40, August 1989: Meredith Brooks: I remember working with a couple of producers that went “Yeah, and we’ll get a guitar player…” and I am like “Um, guys. I play!”
^ Flipside, Al & Joy, “Surfin’ the Cess Pool with Dave Markey”, Flipside Magazine #58, 1988: Basically the core of We Got Power films is Jordan and Jennifer Schwartz and myself and Jeff and Steve McDonald helped a lot on the Lovedolls films.
^ Firsching, Robert, All Media Guide
^ Flipside, Al & Joy, “Surfin’ the Cess Pool with Dave Markey”, Flipside Magazine #58, 1988: The Lovedolls became a real band now and from there it became real hectic. To make a movie about an (now) established rock band that was originally a satire would be like a double dip. I figure, they’re a eal band now & they only have a couple of original members at this point- it’s evolved into a very separate entity from the film.
^ Widran, Jonathan. “First Artists – The Rebel Pebbles”, Music Connection, Page 30. Volume XV, No. 14. July 8-21, 1991
^ Fong-Torres, Ben. Becoming Almost Famous: My Back Pages in Music, Writing, and Life. Published by Backbeat Books, 2006. Pg 107
^ Malibu Barbi
^ Hall, Shaunna, “Life and Times of Wanda Day” Loudith Faire
^ Miner, Nicola, “BAM” (Northern California Edition), page 14. September 4, 1992
^ “Discography – Madam X, We Reserve the Right”, Billboard
^ “We Reserve the Right”, Sleazegrinder
^ van Poorten, Toine, “MAXINE: Attack of the Petrucci sisters!”, Metal Maidens, October 2005: Jet records was going under at the time and was trying to re-group. They owned us all individually and tried to change us. They introduced Roxy to VIXEN. Bret later went on to KAISER. Jet pushed John Ward on us and we just didn’t have any chemistry after that. It was over!
^ Raji’s Club (Hollywood Blvd.)
^ Boder, Christopher. “The Hole Story”, Buzz, Page 13, Vol VII, Issue 70. October 1991.Most women in rock are only repeating what men have done. The women in this band are not doing that. We’re coming at things from a more feminine, lunar, viewpoint.
^ Riot Grrrl online
^ Chapman, Kathleen / du Plessis, Michael, “Queercore: The distinct identities of subculture”, College Literature, February 1997
^ Kyle C. Kyle bio
^ Listing Ship band bio
^ Guthmann, Edward “Women Rock Out in ‘Not Bad’ Their wild energy lifts sloppy film”, San Francisco Chronicle, Pg G-3, April 1, 1997
Metal Maidens fanzine
Women in Punk Archive maintained by Nicole Emmenegger (aka Jenny Woolworth)
Helen Lewis and Her All-Girl Jazz Syncopators at Silent Era
Categories: Musical groups | All-women bands