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The plan for this topic is to highlight female composers, song writers, conductors, musicians and singers.  Not too long ago I didn’t know of any female symphonic composers.  However, during the past few years that changed.  What I have realized is that by not knowing these women I have missed out on hearing a lot of very good music.  

Florence Smith Price was born in Little Rock, Arkansas on April 9, 1887.  She learned to play piano from her mother and her general education was in the segregated schools at the time.  After graduating from High School, Florence started studying at Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music.  Upon obtaining degrees in teaching and as an organ soloist she worked as a teacher eventually becoming the chair of the music department at Clark University in Atlanta.  In 1932 while in Chicago Florence Price composed her first symphony, this being her symphony in E Minor.  The work was a quick success as in that same year it won the national Rodman Wanamaker composition competition for a symphonic work.  Then on June 15, 1933 it was performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  

My favorite of her works is her Mississippi Suite (1934).  It is just beautiful, with a serene beginning, perhaps reflecting the river before humans arrived, then referencing the historical events that occurred along its banks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfdvCrqzTm0. On top of this the piece is performed by the Woman’s Philharmonic and is conducted by a woman - Apo Hsu - who was born in Taiwan.  The composer's picture is shown near the end of the video.

Sometimes I get carried away when posting about an artist that I like, but here are two more selections:

First, the 9 minute long Fantasie Negre No.3 in F Minor played on the piano by Samantha Ege: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8R-lxn-BQw.

Second, the composer’s Symphony no. 1 in E-Minor, performed by the New Black Repertory Ensemble: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9s4yY_A2A2k. The short third Movement, Allegro, is entitled “Juba Dance,” and according to the website of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “. . . evokes an African-derived folk dance that was popular among slaves in the antebellum South.”


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Oddly enough I've just finished reading a book on woman composers called Sounds and Sweet Airs by Anna Beer.  Most names in the book were familiar to me though their stories were not.  I particularly admire Barbara Strozzi and Marianna Martines.  Lots of Strozzi's works on discs, but sadly little of Martines.

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According to the USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative report - Inclusion in the recording Studio? Examining 800 Popular Songs, during the eight years 2012 to 2019, only 12.5% of songwriters among the 800 popular songs covered by the report were female.  That is 1 female songwriter to 7 male songwriters.  Further, among those same 800 songs 56% had no female writers involved, 32% had only one female writer involved and less than one percent had only female writers, that is less than 8 out of the 800 songs.  So more than half of the songs had no female writers whatsoever compared to less than one percent that had only female writers. 

I believe that women can write songs just as well as men.  Here is a list of some historical female songwriters:

Sappho was born c. 640 BCE on the Greek Island of Lesbos. Only fragments of her songs remain and none of her music remains.  Her lyrics deal with the personal life and emotions as opposed to the epic poems of Homer.  I can easily imagine her traveling to various festivals and possibly what would be the Greek equivalent to a coffee house, playing before an audience, much like a modern singer/songwriter might do.  Here is a video (2 minutes long) of Andrea Goodman singing one of Sappho’s songs in ancient Greek and accompanying herself on a 7-string lyre to music by Eve Begiarian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOlIqozu3Fg.

The trobairitz (female troubadour) Beatriz de Dia was born c. 1140 seemingly in the south of France.   Her song “A chantar m’er de so q’ieu no voldria” (I must sing of what I do not want) was written in the Occitian language, an old language of southern France.  Here is an 8½ minute video of the song being sung: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Zah4VWPiNE.  The lyrics speak of a woman who is betrayed by her lover.  An English translation of the lyrics can be found here: https://lyricstranslate.com/en/chantar-mer-i-am-obliged-sing.html

Next is a song that is a mystery as no one knows who wrote it, but ever since I first heard it, it seemed to me that it must have been written by a woman.  It is "The House of the Rising Sun" and has been covered by many artists.  To me the word “House” in the title is a clear reference to a brothel as in “a house of ill repute.”  There is a claim that a house on St. Louis Street in New Orleans had been a brothel, between 1862 and 1874, run by a Madam LeSoleil Levant, which translated from French as “The Rising Sun” and when a house on St. Louis Street was renovated, a ceiling mural of a golden rising sun was found.  Also, there was a women’s prison in New Orleans with an image of a rising sun.  So, whether the writer was a prostitute or a female prisoner she was a woman.  I feel that the song being sung by a male is somewhat silly.  This link goes to a 1 ½ minute long recording of Georgia Turner singing “The House of the Rising Sun” in 1937.  The lyrics that are sung and the written lyrics are somewhat different: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15VIDcUMQQI.

Next is a song in a very different vein than the ones before.  It is “The March of the Women” by Dame Ethel Smyth  and was written in 1911.  Dame Smyth was born in 1858 and composed musical works including symphonies, choral works and operas.  She was also a supporter of women’s right to vote as the lyrics to the song and the 3 minute long video linked here shows:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCtGkCg7trY.

Elizabeth Cotton was born on January 5, 1895 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and wrote the song “Freight Train” in 1906 when she was about 12 years old, but it was only recorded in 1957.  It has been covered by 80 artists.  Here is a 3 minute long video of Elizabeth Cotton singing the song and accompanying herself on the guitar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUK8emiWabU.

Born in Algiers, across the Mississippi from New Orleans, in 1897, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Douglas, later to be known as Memphis Minnie, moved with her family, at age 10, near to the city from which she received the name she is best known for.  She was a blues singer/songwriter who played the guitar, made over 200 recordings and co-wrote the song “When the Levee Breaks.”  Here she is singing “Drunken Barrelhouse Blues” (first released in 1934): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3GSv-ZbJ7o.


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A piece of music that I like very much and have discovered only within the last few years is Dora Pejacevic’s Symphony in F sharp  minor, Op. 41 composed between 1916 and 1917.  Marie Theodora (Dora), was born in Budapest on September 10, 1885 and started composing music at age 12.  At the time of her birth Budapest was in the Austria-Hungarian Empire.  Despite being born into the Croatian/Hungarian nobility (she spent her childhood in her family’s castle in Croatia) she did not sympathise with the aristocracy saying “I simply cannot understand how people can live without work -- and how many of them do, especially the higher aristocracy . . . . I despise them because of this.”  She also volunteered as a nurse during the First World War.  When excerpts from her Symphony in F sharp minor was premiered in Vienna, a newspaper critic admitted to being surprised when, at the conclusion of the piece, a woman came on stage as the composer.   Dora was fluent in six languages and composed 58 opuses with a total of 106 compositions.  

A video (48 minutes long) of Dora Pejacevic’s Symphony in F sharp minor can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=940dNX5zHEU.  In the video a different painting is shown for each of the four movements, as well as a photograph of the composer.  The paintings are picked to go with the movements.  My favorite movement is the first, Andante maestoso - Allegro con moto and it is certainly maestoso.  

I know the symphony is long.  If you want something shorter, Dora composed a series of eight short pieces under the general title of the Life of Flowers.  Here is a link to her two minute long The Rosehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3A2kKPtRd9o.  After this you can go back and listen to the Symphony.


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