The Durham Museum

February 9 - May 5, 2013

The Durham Museum begins a remarkable 2013 schedule with a provocative exhibition from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power illustrates the importance of women in the world of popular music from the 1920s to present day. It highlights the flashpoints, the firsts, the best, and the celebrated and sometimes lesser-known women whose artistry advanced the progress of rock-and-roll music. Featuring more than 250 artifacts and performance videos, the exhibition moves through rock-and-roll eras, demonstrating how women have been engines of creation and change.

Women played a central role in the development of the rock-and-roll genre, beginning with early blues artists, like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. Spirited rhythm-and-blues singers—such as Ruth Brown, LaVern Baker, and rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson—added their creative talents to popular music through its explosive growth in the ’50s. Girl groups, like the Shirelles and Supremes, dominated the charts in the early ’60s while Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, and Joni Mitchell carried the torch into the ’70s. Today, music is ruled by women from Lady Gaga to Alicia Keys, Rihanna to Carrie Underwood.

In addition to being the writers and voices of beloved songs, many women have made their marks by playing instruments in their bands. Women Who Rock features guitars played by Wanda Jackson, Nancy Wilson, Bonnie Raitt, and Taylor Swift; a drum played by Meg White; and Lady Gaga’s childhood piano. In addition to musical instruments featured artifacts include clothing, handwritten lyrics and music, session cards, concert posters, photographs, dressing room notes, appointment notebooks, and a Tony award statuette.

Women Who Rock Eras

Suffragettes to Juke-Joint Mamas: The Foremothers/Roots of Rock
In the 1920s, blues women like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith were the first – and for a while, the only – artists to record the blues. Mother Maybelle Carter made the first country music recordings in 1927. American women of this era made great strides toward gaining equality and basic human rights for themselves and others in society, including attaining the right to vote and working toward social justice. The 20th Century was a wide-open opportunity for women to embrace the modern world, outside of the traditional bounds of the home. The narrative of these ground-breaking women will be presented along with the stories of trailblazers such as Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Billie Holiday.

Get Outta that Kitchen, Rattle Those Pots and Pans: Rock and Roll Emerges
“How many of us know the names of the pioneer women songwriters/singers/musicians of the ‘50s?” is a question asked by Yoko Ono in her preface to She’s a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock and Roll. Two names that the Museum will highlight in the emergence of rock are Ruth Brown and Wanda Jackson, the voices of two predominant roots of rock – R&B and country/ rockabilly, along with LaVern Baker and Brenda Lee.

Will You Love Me Tomorrow: The Early 1960s/Girl Groups
Girl groups, though sometimes seen as puppets manipulated by unseen and mostly male handlers, were an authentic manifestation of the worldview of teenage girls – a group just coming into its own in the early 1960s and increasingly recognized for its growing economic power as consumers and arbiters of style. The girl groups reflected teenage girls’ explorations of their world, their limitations and their limitless potential. Groups like the Shangri-Las and the Ronettes give voice to those explorations and the possibilities that waited down the street or just around the corner.

Revolution, the Counterculture and the Pill: The Late 1960s
American society experienced a revolution in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, especially for African Americans and women. Janis Joplin was the finest white blues singer of her generation; female singer-songwriters like Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro bared their souls, and Aretha Franklin emerged as the Queen of Soul. Bonnie Raitt established herself as both a strong vocalist and brilliant guitarist. Highlighted artists will also include Tina Turner and Grace Slick, as well as country artists including Loretta Lynn.

I Will Survive: The 1970s–Rockers to Disco Divas
Women are in the center of the ‘70s mainstream, from Joan Jett and the Runaways, Heart and Fleetwood Mac to Donna Summer. The gains of the feminist movement throughout the ‘70s enabled women working in all areas of the music industry to assume more control over their careers.

Dance this Mess Around: Punk and Post Punk
Chrissie Hynde said, “That was the beauty of the punk thing: [Sexual] discrimination didn’t exist in that scene.” The DIY aspect of punk rock made it easier for a woman to find a place in music. Highlighted artists will include Yoko Ono, Siouxsie Sioux, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson of the B-52s, Deborah Harry, Tina Weymouth, Kim Deal and Marianne Faithful.

Causing a Commotion: Madonna and the Pop Explosion
Madonna unapologetically celebrated and monetized her sexuality and physicality, paving the way for female performers to explore previously taboo roles and take control of their image and career. Highlighted artists will include Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani and Janet Jackson.

Ladies First: The ‘90s and the New Millennium
The 1990s was the era the riot grrrl, the rapper and Lilith Fair, reshaping traditional ideas of feminism and traditionally male-dominated areas of the music industry. Women have arguably become the leading voices of the industry, standing—army-booted, bare-footed, or high-heeled stiletto—toe to toe with any artist of today. Highlighted artists will include Bikini Kill, Meg White, Taylor Swift, Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys and Lady Gaga.

Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power is organized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Cleveland, Ohio. It is sponsored locally by the On Track Guild, Mutual of Omaha, the Durham Society, the Douglas County Commissioners, the Dixon Family Foundation, the Peter Kiewit Foundation, the Parker Family Foundation, and Mary, Kelly, and Sarah Wilson. Media support provided by KETV.

Top photo, left to right: Aretha Franklin, Madonna, Patti Smith. Courtesy of Janet Macoska.

Madonna's Blond Ambition Tour Bustier, 1990; Wanda Jackson's Acoustic Guitar c. 1958; Lady Gaga's meat dress. Images courtesy of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.