Glancing through Star Guitars … That Rocked the World, one might get the erroneous impression that women guitarists are few and far between-- only THREE women are listed out of 101 guitarists! (Sister Rosetta Tharpe is one of the three). Here’s a shout-out to—and partial list of-- a few often overlooked, incredible African-American female guitarists, past and present.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
|Sister Rosetta Tharpe, late 1930s (Public domain)|
Gospel superstar. Godmother of rock and roll. Performed at Cotton Club, and with Dixie Hummingbirds, Lucky Millinder, Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, and Sammy Price. Many performers have credited Tharpe as having had a major influence on their music including Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Isaac Hayes, Aretha Franklin, and Tina Turner.
Video: May 7th, 1964 performance, Alexandria Park Station, Manchester, performing “Didn’t it Rain.”
|Andi Allo and Prince (Public domain)|
Cameroon-born singer, songwriter, guitarist, and actress Allo released album (UnFresh) in 2009, which led to her role as a backup singer and guitarist for Prince’s band The New Power generation.
Video: Andy Allo performs “People Pleaser” on Jimmy Kimmel Live (March 31, 2013): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w35nYUxR4i0&list=PL3S8_vNEb8w12CiodynhrieQa1Z-V9Dv_
|About Face, "Portland's interview magazine," Fall 2011|
Belinda “Bibi” McGill is best known as the lead guitarist and musical director of the all-female Suga Mamas, Beyoncé's backing band. Bibi also toured with Pink, among other bands.
McGill currently lives in Portland, Oregon where she is also a yoga teacher— and founder of Bibi Food Enterprises which produces kale chips and other “gluten-free artisan food snacks.”
Video “Believe”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofJ1kHg1vFU
|Malina Moye (Public domain)|
Malina Moye, “the female Jimi Hendrix,” is a singer, songwriter, lefty guitarist and entrepreneur. Moye grew up surrounded by music-- her father played with Bernard Allison, and her mother was a background singer with Tina Turner.
Video: “Foxy Lady”: https://youtu.be/rXLp3ukUhBY
|Tamar-Kali ("Nice and Rough : black women in rock" blog)|
Tamar-Kali, favorite on the NYC underground punk rock music scene and star of documentary Afro-punk, takes her name from the Hindu goddess of war and death. She likes to describe her music as “classical experimental” and “aggressive melodic rock.” How would you characterize her music? Here are two music videos of Tamar-Kali performing live to help you decide.
Video: “Boot” live: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqViBZ7g6B8
Video: “Senseless” (Tamar-kali & Psychochamber Ensemble, MOMA, 2015): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fl2aXkPN0x0
|Toshi Reagon (iHeart Radio stock images, Public domain)|
Toshi Reagon’s musician activist parents were members of the civil rights musical group The Freedom Singers. Mother Dr. Bernise Johnson Reagon founded Sweet Honey in the Rock, and father Cordell Hull Reagon was a leader of the civil rights movement in Albany. Toshi is also the goddaughter of folk singer Pete Seeger, and was named after Seeger’s wife. Toshi continues to speak out against injustice as her parents did-- she and her band BIGLovely performed with Nona Hendryx at the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2007.
Video: “Battle of the Broken Word”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvFouNTbwvM
|Valerie June (youtube still image, public domain)|
Valerie June Hockett likes to described her music as “organic moonshine roots music.” A modern woman, she raised funds to record an album via Kickstarter, raising $15,000 in 2 months. Valerie June is particularly popular in Europe and the UK, and her music is often played on BBC Radio 6.
Video: “You can’t be told”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QSKJOwbKQ30
Interested in learning (hearing, watching) more? Sad to say, at present there is little written about female guitarists, particularly those who are African American. We do, however, own the book She's a Rebel : the History of Women in Rock & Roll, as well as various DVDs such as Ken Burn’s Jazz series and Martin Scorsese’s The Blues series. Several Summit Libraries own Gayle Wald’s biography Shout, sister, shout!, as well as CDs of Tharpe's music. UK filmmaker Mick Csaky's one-hour documentary Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock & Roll can be found online, and of course many music videos are available online thanks to youtube.