The daunting odds, the guts and grit and the talent required by women rockers to make it to the top of their field all come to life in PBS Arts From Cleveland: WOMEN WHO ROCK, a performance documentary that chronicles and celebrates female musicians from early groundbreakers to contemporary powerhouses. Premiering November 18, 2011, at 9:00 p.m. EST on WVIZ/PBS and PBS stations nationwide, WOMEN WHO ROCK is part of the first PBS Arts Fall Festival, a multiplatform event anchored by nine films that highlight artists and performances from around the country.
Mixing interviews with key women musicians and live performance footage, WOMEN WHO ROCK features the stories of trailblazers like Bessie Smith, Ma Raney, Mother Maybelle and Mahalia Jackson as well as contemporary stars Darlene Love, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, Bonnie Raitt, Cyndi Lauper, Wanda Jackson, Mavis Staples, Deborah Harry and Kathleen Hanna of the bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. Also featured are songwriter Cynthia Weill and journalists/critics Ann Powers, Nelson George and Holly George Warren.
Cyndi Lauper, with nearly 30 years as a music icon and worldwide record sales of 30 million, will host the program. Lauper, who appears in the film, won a Grammy Award for Best New Artist for her first album, She’s So Unusual, which spawned five top-ten singles. She’s been nominated for more than 40 Grammy, Emmy, American Music, American Video and MTV awards. In June 2010, she released her 11th studio album, the Grammy nominated Memphis Blues, which sat atop the Billboard Blues Chart for 14 consecutive weeks. Lauper will release the DVD From Memphis with Love on October 25 and her long-awaited autobiography in 2012, along with a new reality show. Lauper is completing work on writing the music for the Broadway show Kinky Boots, and continues her philanthropic work through her foundation, the True Colors Fund.
The program breaks the female influence on rock and roll into distinct eras, starting with the music’s blues roots in the 1920s and 30s. It travels forward through time, telling stories of key musicians from each succeeding era, including rock and roll’s emergence in the 1950s, the girl group and counterculture era of the 60s, disco and punk in the 70s, celebrations of empowerment and fun throughout the 80s, into today’s predominance of women in pop, and much more. The film reveals the ever-morphing role of female performers, and shows how today’s singers were influenced and inspired by their forebears.
The film is punctuated by photos and artifacts from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. (The Museum currently features a related exhibition, Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power, which runs through February 2012.) The film chronicles women in several music genres whose work not only brought down the house in their time but also broke down barriers, struggling to obtain artistic and economic equality with their male counterparts.
“What’s extraordinary about this film is the intimate and emotional connections it makes between female rockers — through time and across styles,” says director Carol Stein who, with co-director Susan Wittenberg, helmed the film. “The connections are both historical and literal,” she says. “We bring these musicians together to talk about their personal journeys; moments like those between gospel singer/activist Mavis Staples and rock icon Cyndi Lauper, for example, are moving and illuminating. We show a side of these performers and others that people have not previously seen.”
“WOMEN WHO ROCK is emotional, passionate, and celebratory,” says Wittenberg. “No matter whether you’ve dreamed of strapping on a guitar to riff through ‘Barracuda’ or just danced unabashedly to ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun,’ you know the power of female rock.”
“The story of women in rock reflects larger changes in women’s status in our culture,” says Dr. Lauren Onkey, Vice President of Education at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “Although women have been essential to rock and roll — as performers, businesswomen, writers, fans — their role has often been downplayed or ignored. Our exhibit and this film tell these stories, encourage discussions about them and inspire young artists. We are thrilled to partner with PBS on this documentary to further examine these dynamics and bring this groundbreaking exhibit to a larger audience.”
“The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is one of the great cultural treasures of our community and a great partner in education and public service,” says Jerry Wareham, President and CEO of WVIZ/PBS and 90.3 WCPN ideastream. “We are proud to be part of the premiere season of the PBS Arts Fall Festival and to work with PBS and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum on this exciting project. The program is a great opportunity to share the rich arts and cultural resources of Northeast Ohio with the nation.”
PBS member station WVIZ/PBS ideastream® produced the short documentary that will accompany WOMEN WHO ROCK, titled “Artistic Choice.” A short description: Most people recognize the power of art to enlighten and inspire individuals and even entire communities. But most of us don’t have a clue how to pay for it. In the early 20th century, renowned institutions like the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Orchestra would “take Mrs. Rockefeller to lunch” — a metaphor for convincing wealthy patrons to write a check. These days, the wealthy patrons are long gone. This short film shows how Clevelanders not only moved to recognize the powerful resource of their cultural traditions, but also discovered an innovative way to keep them alive.
PBS Arts From Cleveland: WOMEN WHO ROCK is produced by Ace Pictures, in cooperation with The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and WVIZ/PBS ideastream.