Today’s Women’s History Month-inspired post is all about women in the world of music.
Appropriately for Women’s History Month, it was Grandma Snail who sent me this Janis Joplin postcard. The photograph was taken in Janis Joplin’s hometown, where she was born in 1943.
The charismatic singer, looking ever joyous and self assured had a simultaneous dark side of drug and alcohol abuse, as was the tragic history of the blues legends she admired. It’s hard to think of Janis Joplin without momentarily grieving her initiation into The 27 Club. She made such an impact, gave so much to the world musically, in only about six years (1964-1970). That’s what I try to remember. I also admire her for overcoming a status quo culture to lead in a progressive one. As a teenager, Joplin had been overweight and developed severe, scarring acne, for which she was generally bullied. She found friendship, however, with a group of other misfits. One of her friends had blues albums by the likes of Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey and Lead Belly. She was inspired to sing. She soon discovered Odetta, Big Mama Thornton and Billie Holiday, and joined the local choir. Then she hit the road to San Francisco and let that voice and spirit carry.
Yes, I shared this postcard in the Black History Month post, and here Ms. Fitzgerald is again! The First Lady of Song was born in Virginia in 1917. Fitzgerald’s family moved to Yonkers just outside New York City, where her mother died in 1932, after which she was abused by her stepfather. She worked for a spell as a lookout at a bordello and with a numbers runner for the Mafia before being sent to an orphanage in the Bronx. After running away from reform school, she found herself homeless.
At the age of seventeen Ella Fitzgerald began singing at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Soon she moved onto Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom with Chick Webb’s band. Fitzgerald’s 1938 recording of “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” was her first hit. The song sounds cloying sung by everyone else I’ve heard–she seems to be the only one who could manage it with un-ironic whimsy. When Chick Webb passed away in 1939, she became the new bandleader.
Then in 1942, she went solo, signing with Decca Records. Developing upon her work with Dizzy Gillespie’s big band, she began her signature improvisational scat-singing. As she once explained, “I just tried to do what I heard the horns in the band doing.” This vocal jam style inspired innumerable singers to come.
Ella Fitzgerald passed away in 1996. Just a few hours after her death, the Playboy Jazz Festival opened at the Hollywood Bowl. The marquee read: “Ella We Will Miss You.” Amen.
Photograph by Paul Gilmore, image from Vanity Fair
This photograph of Ella Fitzgerald was taken by Annie Leibovitz, one of the ultimate celebrity portraitists. Her father was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force. She took her first photographs while living in the Philippines, where her father was stationed during the Vietnam War. Going further into her personal/creative experience, Leibovitz was Susan Sontag’s partner in the last decade of the National Book Award-winning author’s life (d. 2004).
In 1970, Leibovitz began work as a staff photographer at the newly launched Rolling Stone magazine. (The best known photograph of her extensive career is probably the Rolling Stone cover of Yoko Ono and a naked John Lennon.) She became chief photographer in 1973, holding that position for ten years. Leibovitz thus defined the look of one of the most well known magazines while simultaneously capturing some of the most intimate views of the world’s rock gods.
Leibovitz was the official photographer for the Rolling Stones’ 1975 Tour of the Americas.
In 1983, she switched from Rolling Stone magazine to Vanity Fair, to which she continues to contribute. In 1991, she mounted an exhibition at the U.S. National Portrait Gallery, the first woman to ever show there, and only the second living artist to do so.
I’ve told you about my hero Janet Klein…The ukelele playing chanteuse performs songs from the 1910’s, ’20s and ’30s with her band of excellent jazz musicians, The Parlor Boys. By day, Ms. Klein is a print designer, so all her show-announcement postcards are exquisite. To see my collection of them, take a peak at this post.
Come back to Snail’s Postcard Post tomorrow for postcards of women in the world of dance.