Turning The Tables: 8 Women Who Were Fundamental To America's Sound | WGLT

Turning The Tables: 8 Women Who Were Fundamental To America's Sound

Jul 31, 2019
Originally published on July 31, 2019 10:49 am

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. When music historians talk about the pillars of American popular music, they sometimes neglect half the population. Women are too often excluded from this conversation. NPR Music has been trying to offer some balance through an ongoing series called Turning the Tables, and Season 3 begins today.

ANN POWERS, BYLINE: In the past two years, we've looked at the classic album era, celebrating artists like Joni Mitchell and Aretha Franklin. We have had fun with 21st century icons, like Beyonce, and favorites like Carly Rae Jepsen. But now we're going back. We're going back to a beginning.

GREENE: That is NPR Music's Ann Powers. She's one of the curators of Turning the Tables, and this beginning is when recorded popular music all started, when queens ruled. Ann and a group of contributors boiled it down to eight giants of American music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AIN'T NOBODY'S BUSINESS")

BESSIE SMITH: (Singing) By my papa.

POWERS: Empress of the blues, Bessie Smith.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AIN'T NOBODY'S BUSINESS")

SMITH: (Singing) Ain't nobody's business if I do.

POWERS: Maybelle Carter, mother of country music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

POWERS: Billie Holiday, icon of jazz.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD BLESS THE CHILD")

BILLIE HOLIDAY: (Singing) But God bless the child that's got his own.

POWERS: Classical diva Marian Anderson.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AVE MARIA")

MARIAN ANDERSON: (Singing) Ave Maria.

POWERS: Ella Fitzgerald, inventor of vocal jazz.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ST. LOUIS BLUES")

ELLA FITZGERALD: (Singing) I guess these people wonder what I'm singing.

POWERS: Mary Lou Williams, a sometimes overlooked great composer, bandleader and mentor in jazz.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

POWERS: Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who made gospel into rock 'n' roll.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STRANGE THINGS HAPPENING EVERY DAY")

SISTER ROSETTA THARPE: (Singing) There are strange things happening every day.

POWERS: And Celia Cruz, the most popular Latin musician, arguably, of all time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GUANTANAMERA")

CELIA CRUZ: (Singing in Spanish).

GREENE: Now, at least some of the names you heard there, you might recognize. You might already think of them as American icons. This season of Turning the Tables will try to prove that's just not enough.

POWERS: We know what Billie Holiday's face looks like. We know what her melancholy tone is all about. Or we think we do. But do we really know her story? Do we remember her technical skill? We know Ella Fitzgerald is that warm presence who brought jazz into a million homes via television. But do we remember how cutting edge her music was? That's what I think we're trying to do at Turning the Tables. We're trying to go deeper than just a shallow memory of what these women are all about. With, you know, the great men of music, someone like Louis Armstrong, who absolutely deserves every ounce of credit and adulation he gets, there are dozens of books, you know, studies, documentaries, films. But these women deserve that kind of saturation. And what we're trying to do is go deep on a much wider appreciation of our great eight than they're really enjoying and they deserve at this moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOBODY KNOWS YOU WHEN YOU'RE DOWN AND OUT")

SMITH: (Singing) Then I'll meet my...

GREENE: That was Ann Powers from NPR Music. They are rolling out the latest season of Turning the Tables today.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOBODY KNOWS YOU WHEN YOU'RE DOWN AND OUT")

SMITH: (Singing) It's mighty strange, without a... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.