Visual artists were not the only women breaking new ground in the 1950s. Women vocalists, songwriters, and musicians also cast a vast and relatively forgotten musical canvas of cultural production. Drawing from interviews or autobiographies of Esther Phillips, Big Mama Thornton, Etta James, Melba Liston, Kay Starr, and Della Reese, this talk will explore the terrains of race, gender and industry. The Lady Bears, a term highlighted in Little Esther’s Double Crossing Blues and deepened by Big Mama Thornton, often emerged as teenagers and established themselves at the broad intersection of religious, jazz, blues, folk, country, soul and extractive popular music.
Michelle S. Johnson PhD, aka DJ Disobedience, co-founder of the Institute of Public Scholarship, founder of Playgrown, co-founder of Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative and pre-pandemic host of WIDR’s Slip Back Soul, will share her curatorial process and perspective for the Art, Music, & Feminism in the 1950s exhibition catalog. Joining her in conversation will be Meagan McNeal, singer/songwriter and recording artist from Chicago, Illinois. Locally loved, McNeal renders soul, jazz, and R&B and has received national and international acclaim on stages as wide as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and NBC’s The Voice in 2017. Together they will use the power of storytelling and classic vinyl to shine a spotlight on these six women musicians.