Smithsonian Libraries and Archives and Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage Unveil “Music HerStory”


The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives and the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage open a new exhibit, “Music HerStory: Women and the Music of Social Change” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History on June 22. “Music HerStory” will be on display until February 20, 2024.

Women’s leadership in music and social change is central to American history. From people’s first musical encounters to the formation of complex social identities, the American musical landscape would not be what it is today without the countless contributions of women changemakers, pioneers and tradition bearers. “Music HerStory” explores these contributions through unique multimedia collections from the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives, the Center for Folklife and Culture Heritage, and around the Smithsonian.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe performs at the 1967 Newport Folk Festival. Photo by Diana Jo Davies. Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the “godmother of rock ‘n’ roll,” rose to prominence in the 1930s as a pioneer in blending “secular sounds,” like electric guitar, with sacred lyrics.

The exhibition, presented in Spanish and English, will feature Ella Jenkins, an award-winning musician whose songbooks have taught children about the diversity of cultures and languages ​​for more than 50 years; Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the “godmother of rock ‘n’ roll” and pioneer of spiritual music; Lucy McKim Garrison, an abolitionist musicologist who documented African-American music in the 1800s; Queen Lili?uokalani, the last sovereign monarch of Hawaii, who was a gifted and prolific composer; and singers Dolly Parton, Kitty Wells and Loretta Lynn, who shaped the country music genre.

“With more than 16,000 musical instruments, 100,000 pages of sheet music, 80,000 pieces of recorded music, hundreds of books, and hundreds of musical events each year, the Smithsonian is one of the largest music museums in the world. world,” said Meredith Holmgren, curator of the American Women’s Museum. the music and this exhibition. “And yet, many of these musical resources remain unknown to the public. This is especially true for our music collections that relate to women’s history. Women have made incredible contributions to music history and social change. We are thrilled to bring many of these stories to life in the exhibition.

“Music HerStory”, tells the powerful stories of women who have used music to challenge gender stereotypes; bring out a revolutionary self-expression; reinventing political and social change; pushing the boundaries of the labor movement, women’s health and education; and winning victories for temperance and suffrage activism. Exhibits include Jean Ritchie’s dulcimer made by George Pickow (Viper, Kentucky, 1951), Elizabeth Cotten’s Folksongs and Instrumentals with Guitar (Folkways Records, 1958), Lydia Mendoza’s La Gloria de Texas (Arhoolie Records, 1980) , Gustavus D. of pike The Jubilee Singers and their campaign for twenty thousand dollars (Boston and New York, 1873) and the riot grrrl zines of the 1990s.

“We are thrilled to feature influential women who have forever changed the course of American music,” said Tamar Evangelestia-Dougherty, director of Smithsonian Libraries and Archives. “We honor their drive, creativity, advocacy and achievement, painting a portrait of their longstanding influence through the Smithsonian collections.”

From Mother Goose to Girl Power, Prohibition to the Civil Rights Movement, women have had their voices heard in American music history. Through rare and unique books, photographs, albums and recordings, “Music HerStory” captures their innovative contributions and brave spirit.


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