“Revolution, the Counterculture, and the Pill: The Late 1960s,” the fourth chronological section within Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power, transports visitors into its time period. In the late 1960s to early ’70s, American women such as Bonnie Raitt and Aretha Franklin bared their souls through radios and on the stages of concert halls, changing the lives of those who listened. The early 1960s brought the Civil Rights movement along with huge advancements for women like the introduction of the birth-control pill. With pioneer influences like Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday, women were prepared to blaze new trails.
A great example of vision, passion, and power is Odetta Holmes, whose voice, guitar, and presence shook audiences. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1930, Holmes was no stranger to the struggles of the time, as she contributed to the progression of gender equality and was frequently referred to as “The voice of the Civil Rights Movement.” Holmes’s folk-singing and song-writing abilities led to her influence on later popular musicians including Bob Dylan. In 1954, she released her first record, The Tin Angel, and from there her career surged. On display is a guitar (nicknamed “Baby”) that she used in performances and recordings, as well as a dress she frequently wore on and off stage. Holmes’s desire for justice inspired those who came in contact with her sound.
Janis Joplin, known for her electric sound and cosmic stage presence, is also showcased in this section of the exhibition. Born in 1943 in Port Arthur, Texas, Joplin often felt like an outsider and used music as a form of self-expression. Turning to influences such as Tina Turner and Etta James, Joplin was fascinated by blues and soul music. Listening to her lyrics such as, “I know you got more tears to share, babe, so come on, come on, come on, come on, come on, and cry, cry baby, cry baby, cry baby,” her audiences were in awe—and Joplin’s handwritten lyrics for this song, “Cry Baby,” are on view . A dress that Joplin hand-beaded and wore on stage in 1968 at the Newport Pop Festival in Rhode Island is also on display. After she toured all over the map and recorded huge hits, Joplin’s drug and alcohol problems caused her death in October 1970. However, her influence proved indelible—as can be seen in “One Night with Janis Joplin,” now showing at the Arena Stage.
Other featured performers include barrier-breaking, Grammy-winning Bonnie Raitt; Tina Turner (whose famous silver-sequined dress is on view); Aretha Franklin; Grace Slick; Joni Mitchell; Laura Nyro; Mavis Staples and the Staple Singers; and Mama Cass and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas. The artifacts on view represent their music as well as the revolution that was occurring at the time. Aretha Franklin demanded some respect, and Mama Cass wouldn’t let her physical appearance define her as a woman. These women’s legacies were ones of courage and strength, inspirations for generations to come.
—Nancy Harwood is the member relations intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
The exhibition Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power, organized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, is on view at NMWA through January 6, 2013.