New 'Women Who Rock' book is loaded with Detroit connections
“Women Who Rock” editor Evelyn McDonnell said she believes The Supremes are just as important as to musical history, and all history, as Bob Dylan.
In her new book, out Tuesday, McDonnell presents 103 notable female musicians in chronological order based on the start of each woman’s career. The book starts with Bessie Smith and ends with Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes. The women featured include Motown stars, hippies, punks, guitarists, drummers, divas, riot grrrls, pop stars and queens.
“Women Who Rock” — which uses the word “rock” not as a genre or noun, but as a verb — doesn’t claim to be encyclopedic. Instead, it focuses on key game changers from around the world and proves that “woman” is not a genre.
“I think we all hold in our heads some ideal where we don’t think we need to have a book about women who rock because women are integrated into all the histories and articles,” McDonnell said. “But you just have to look at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to realize how far we still are from that ideal. And times like these remind us in general what a long way we still have to go as a society before women are respected and empowered.”
Some of the women who authored these pages — Yale professionals to punk stars to AP reporters, said McDonnell — are musicians themselves, namely Detroiters Jessica Care Moore and Wendy Case. They are both artists, writers and musicians who wrote the entries on Betty Davis and Chrissie Hynde, respectively. Electronic musician Peaches penned the essay on Sinéad O’Connor and Theo Kogan of the Lunachicks wrote entries on Debbie Harry and Patti LaBelle.
Case, former pop music writer at The Detroit News, said she had the luxury of choosing her subject. Hynde, she said, was “a natural fit.”
“Evelyn is kind of a conduit for passionate, capable people,” said Case of the book’s editor. “So, when she told me about the book, I knew it would be something special.”
Music journalist Caryn Rose writes about Aretha Franklin’s list of accomplishments and makes it seem “inadequate to simply declare her the greatest singer of our time.”
“She is Lady Soul; she is blues personified; she sings the gospel from a place so deep an unbeliever will feel the presence of the divine,” Rose writes. She also authored the section on Diana Ross.
Rose’s Franklin essay in “Women Who Rock,” published by Black Dog & Leventhal, is accompanied by an illustration by New York artist Julie Winegard. Like most entries, a playlist of essential tracks is highlighted.
Many of Detroit’s musicians that you’d expect to read about in a book like this are here, including Franklin, Ross and Madonna. The book gets into lesser-known but highly influential musicians with Detroit ties, too, including 1970s rocker Suzi Quatro and ’90s R&B star Aaliyah.
Case’s piece on Hynde is accompanied by her painting of the Pretenders frontwoman. Case writes about being young in Ann Arbor in the late 1970s and finding the first Pretenders album at one of the record stores there.
“Normally I try to steer clear of the whole ‘women in rock thing,’” says Case, adding that she prefers to leave gender out of it. “But as I age, I’m getting a little less rigid in my convictions.”
She said she was also persuaded by being permitted to give a first-person account, which allowed her to put together elements that shape how a person encounters music.
"That alchemical moment that changes something in you," she said. "When it happens, it stays etched in your DNA."
McDonnell said when she started the book in 2016, she had a different outlook than she does today.
"We thought the tide was about to reach a historic high in terms of women's leadership, and that this book would be part of a celebratory appreciation of great females," she said. "Instead, the tide ebbed, and 'Women Who Rock' became a political statement about women's perseverance against often daunting odds."
"Women Who Rock"
Black Dog & Leventhal