We think of the blues player as a wandering, itinerant musician, traveling with his guitar, playing his music and spreading the musical styles of the South across the nation. What we often don’t realize in that scenario is that the stereotype is possible because a woman was in the home, caring for his children, working the fields or the factory, and harboring her own musical talents that were shadowed by obscurity.
The blues music of women in the South was quieter and more sophisticated in a sense; it was music made for the home. The unknown female musicians of the last hundred and fifty years learned music that was passed down through the generations, and they would in turn pass the love of that music on to their children. Women have kept the musical traditions of the South alive – but have largely been ignored by any mainstream media attention directed at the blues.
Unfortunately we have limited knowledge of female blues musicians, as their music was not recorded much; researchers did not look for them and often brushed them off when found. Luckily in North Carolina we have been blessed in the Piedmont Blues tradition to have wonderful recordings of Libba Cotten, Etta Baker and Algia Mae Hinton. These artists’ musical influence has traveled throughout the world.
This month, for Women’s History Month, we hope to shine a light on the female musicians that have contributed so much to American musical culture. We have done our best at Music Maker to ensure the artists we work with get the recognition and the appreciation they deserve – and for many female Roots artists, such as Algia Mae Hinton or Etta Baker, recognition came late in life. But we still have much to learn from them.
- Tim Duffy