From bubble gum pop to rhythm and blues, country, jazz, folk, and of course, rock n roll, the 60s brought us some of the most inspiring female singers and songwriters. Though these women were just starting to find their voices, each 60s female singer superstar gave us more than music.
The swinging 60s represent a rude awakening. Women no longer wanted to be repressed housewives. The post-war era was over, and it was time for changes.
Undoubtedly, becoming a force for change remains challenging. But when you have an artistic gift and your desire to share it with others, it bigger than any fear, then you’re already doing something worth remembering.
The birth of the 60s female singer/songwriter
Songwriting was a male-dominated field. It still is, though things are way more tolerable than they were 50, 60 years ago.
So, many of the singers started by singing songs others (males) wrote for them. But Ellie Greenwich, Abbey Lincoln, Carole King were among those who used their pens to write some of the songs that shaped the world.
As the ’60s progressed, the Women’s Liberation movement helped a new generation of independent women who felt that any career should be open to them. For the music industry, they were role models who showed a new generation of girls that they could and should be people who create music.
During these times, The First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald, who was already an iconic voice, started acting and went from being the first lady of jazz to explore numerous music genres.
Young Aretha Franklin started enchanting the world with her writing, singing, and playing skills, while Joni Mitchell took over the folk scene.
With the help of voices such as Janis Joplin, Roberta Flack, Odetta, and later Tina Turner, Cher, Patsy Cline, and Barbra Streisand, one thing was for sure: the future is female.
The changes on both sides of the ocean
While Marianne Faithful was rocking the Stones and the music world in the UK, France and Italy saw the rise in female singers/songwriters as well.
But the place to be was the USA. It was a place where the biggest changes took place, and it had nothing to do with music.
With the Civil Rights movements came many artists who wanted to be part of the change. Black women went from being entertainment to becoming proper artists.
Bernice Johnson Reagon was a member of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee’s Freedom Singers in the Albany Movement in Georgia. She is also a musician, songwriter, and one of the names that will always be the synonym for equality.
Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King’s wife, often incorporated music into her civil rights work. Coretta had the vow to obey her husband eliminated from the wedding ceremony, which was quite brave at the time.
After getting a degree in voice and piano at the New England Conservatory, the Civil Rights Movement took off. Instead of focusing on her career, Scott King became more significant than any song.
Later in life, she fought against racism and homophobia and stayed true to her pacifistic views until the end.
Nina Simone broke the stereotype about a black woman with realism, dignity, pain, and anger. She famously stated:
“How can you call yourself an artist and not reflect the times?”
Their legacy continues to live and inspire women across the globe.
Rejecting traditional roles with fashion statements
One thing today’s woman can’t quite comprehend. Being the 60s female singer came with certain visual expectations and rejecting it, creating your image, was bold and often dangerous.
Fashion became a form of expression. By rejecting traditional roles, singers rejected many other things that came with it, but one thing stood out: fashion.
Instead of perfectly ironed A-line dresses, singers wore baggy shirts, bohemian dresses, or ultra minis. In 1963, Lesley Gore sang You Don’t Own Me. It was a message to her lover that he’s not her owner. She’s not his, but her own.
What people on the streets thought about female artists from the 60s is well documented and quite shameful from our perspective. Yet, all the rebellious acts, both visually and lyrically, changed a woman’s position in society just a few years later.
In 1969 MaxineFeldman, a folk singer-songwriter, performed the song Angry Atthis. She was openly lesbian, and this tune is considered to be the first openly distributed out lesbian song.
It was also an intro into a women’s music movement in the 70s.
Tired of being told how to dress, which songs to choose, how not to overshine their male colleagues, women in music, regardless of sex orientation, race, creed or religion, went on to change the world.
The 60s female singer was a force of nature
,Despite that they weren’t all fighting the same fight, the women from the 60s struggled through a lot. Their quest for equality remains beacon of hope for every girl, and every boy, because inspiration is universal.
Being a 60s female singer meant dealing with racism, chauvinism, sexism, misogyny, so it’s no wonder that many ladies didn’t choose to pursue their dreams of fame and fortune.
If there were no Aretha, Nina, Janis, Dolly Parton, Gladys Knight, there would be no Whitney, Mariah, Gaga, Taylor. Additionally, many contemporary male singers credit the 60s icons for their love for music.
Fierce, bold, and determined, they did more than change the face of the music industry. They made being a woman cool, edgy, strong. And for that, and many of their songs, we will continue to look for inspiration in the singers/songwriters from the 60s and the 70s.