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Women Who Rock: the 1920’s to Now at the EMP

You can see Lady Gaga's meat dress, that is now technically a beef jerky dress, at the EMP. (photo courtesy of EMP)

Women Who Rock. That’s the name of the EMP’s newest exhibit, curated by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. It’s a colorful timeline of lady musicians that ranges from Mahalia Jackson, who sang to a massive crowd immediately before Martin Luther King Jr’s famous ‘I Had A Dream Speech,’ to Janet Jackson.

Sometimes I think, hmmm, do we really need an exhibit especially for women? But in this case I say yes, yes we do. So does EMP curator Jacob McMurray.

“We should be at a point where it’s like, People That Rock! And not just Women That Rock or African Americans in music. What’s really powerful to me, looking through this whole exhibit, is the beginning of the exhibit. It starts around 1920 when women got the right to vote with the 19th amendment. In the intervening time periods, all the advances that women have made socially, to see all of that at once, I think really hits home how much progress has happened.”

If you like fashion, you’ll love this exhibit that features 71 ladies and 250 artifacts like Billie Holiday’s three headed fox fur stole, Cher’s Native American inspired feather headdress, from the Half Breed video, and some outfits worn by a couple of local ladies.

“One worn by Ann Wilson from Heart, that she wore on the Dreamboat Annie tour in 1976. And then one worn by Nancy Wilson on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1977.”

There are also some cool artifacts, like a handwritten notebook Madonna used to communicate with when she lost her voice.

“There’s this little telegram. Brenda Lee went to the UK in 1964 and Dusty Springfield, who was a huge hit-maker in London at that time, sent her a telegram that says, ‘My best wishes. I know you’ll be a smash. — Dusty Springfield.'”

The exhibit spans all genres, from punk rock to pop to country.

“Mother Maybelle Carter was eight and a half months pregnant when she recorded the very first recorded country music ever in 1927. [Here’s] a beautiful dress from her from the mid-50’s and her signature guitar and then her bowling shirt that says Maybelle on it.”

We learn a little something about The rolling Stones’ Keith Richards from his communication with Marianne Faithful.

“We have a number of these faxes. She was collaborating with Keith Richards on a song in 2006 and 2008 and he doesn’t have email. So he would send her faxes and they would fax each other back and forth. Which is good for a museum because it’s hard to show emails.”

I grew up loving and listening to The Shirelle’s, The Crystals and The Mamas and the Papas, who are all featured in this exhibit, but perhaps my favorite piece in the collection is Lady Gaga’s actual preserved meat dress.

“We can’t really show a raw meat dress three years later without something gross happening. It went through an extensive dehydration and jerkifacation process. So it really is more of a beef jerky dress now.”

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