There are plenty of female artists in the music industry, but women are not all held to the same standards as men, nor are they created equal. They are mostly appreciated less for their talent than they are for looks, or even how they cater to their audiences.
Since women are stereotypically more open with their emotion, when paired with an art form like music, we have a coupling sweeter than red wine and chocolate. Musicians have bleeding hearts, sharing their pain with the world and making the rest of us feel more human. It just does that. Maybe it was the sound that gave us goosebumps, or perhaps it was a lyric that resonated so clearly with our inner turmoil that it snapped us to a moment of clarity.
I wanted to put a spotlight on Minnesota women in music who may not be Lady Gaga famous, but are independent, powerful, and true to themselves. Though it was a difficult process, I have compiled a list of my top 5 lady musicians from our very own soil:
- Caroline Smith
I chose this young woman as my No. 1, because she embodies my idea of a strong female, Minnesotan folk artist. Raised by a single mother, the oldest daughter was lovingly given Father’s Day cards by her siblings and first performed in her mom’s coffee shop as a young girl. She made her way from her hometown in Detroit Lakes to live in Minneapolis where she now writes music like it’s a 9-to-5 job. Her most recent works are with her group Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps, consisting of three other talented musicians formed in 2006. Their top track on YouTube is “Tying My Shoes,” but my personal favorite is “Half About Being A Woman.” It’s super bluesy and brings back memories of my mom singing along to Norah Jones in the kitchen.
A synth-pop band out of Minneapolis that completely caught me off guard. The first song I ever heard by this group was “Very Cruel” and vocals by Channy Leaneagh had my hips swaying seated. Perhaps it has something to do with my dad’s Bjork kicks while I was growing up, but I fangirl over a woman with a haunting voice. Formed in 2011, Polica put out two albums in a three-year span [Give You The Ghost and Shulamith], and then a third called United Crushers after Channy became pregnant with her second child last year. It was a collaboration between her and album partner, Ryan Olson, and while United Crushers has a political tone, it touches on real life struggles and vulnerable feelings that being a mother can bring to the surface. I dig it.
- Babes in Toyland
This one had to go on my list, since I hold punk bands near and dear to my heart. Formed in 1986, Babes in Toyland consists of three women who literally don’t give a rip about what people think. This to me is a quality most of us lack, so whether punk is your scene or not, we can all learn something about being authentic to our true selves and appreciate those who are. They have changed members a couple times over the last few decades and even disbanded back in the 90s but reunited with two of the founding members in recent years and even played at First Ave in 2016. An exciting development for punk fans both old and new.
- Chastity Brown
Bluegrass isn’t my go to when it comes to music, however, this woman has solid talent. She found her voice performing in a gospel church and grew up surrounded by country and soul music. She then toured with folk icon, Ani Difranco, for most of 2016. Her bio states, “I’m really intrigued by the perseverance of the human spirit and the complexities and contradictions that we embody as human beings.” Artists who put all of themselves into their work draw me in and in Chastity Brown’s case, it’s the content and quality of her music that gets me going. I’m not a huge bluegrass fan, though I loved her approach to the sound, and that’s how I gauge good music.
- The Andrews Sisters
This one predates me by a lot and may surprise you. Last year I was blessed with the opportunity of having my own morning show on a classic radio station for southern Minnesota, which is how I fell for the Andrews Sisters. Hailing from Minneapolis and active from 1925 to 1967, they were inducted to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998. It was the boogie-woogie era and if you listen to a few of their songs, you can tell how influential this group has been for modern artists like Christina Aguilera, Pentatonix, and Bette Midler. They were the kind of group that entertained WW II soldiers, and reached major fame in the 1940s. It’s jazzy, it’s swingin’, and unapologetically classic.
What I thoroughly enjoyed about putting this list together is how entirely different the genres were. It reaffirmed the notion that Minnesotans aren’t all country and acoustic guitars, though that is where many musicians get their start.
If you root for Minnesota the way I do, your love may be refreshed seeing how many females make their way combining poetry and sound. We are in the midst of a feminine movement as women seek equality and notoriety for who they are, rather than what they are. Hopefully, the women who become well-known will pave the way for others, and inspire messages of courage for little girls to live life in self-fulfilling ways. Not everyone can make it in music, but we should applaud those who do.
By Rian Dicke-Michels