For our final featured blog of the season, we at The Avid Listener return to our ongoing inquiry about canons with this essay by Alexandra Apolloni about women and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Behind every list or collection of “100 best somethings” or “10 greatest whatnots” of “500 books you need to read in your life” or “15 best rock bands evah” lurk people who make decisions about these lists. Scholars in Literature and History and even Musicology have been talking for a long time about the power of such lists: we call them canons, and in educational settings they become the backbone of not just “here’s some cool stuff” but also “here’s what people MUST know.” And the problem, of course, is that the content of the lists is comprised of what individual people know, and there’s a whole galaxy of unknowns out there that could just as easily fit into a given list or collection. What happens when a group of people who make a canon, a collection of what we honor as the “best”, are all alike in certain ways? How does the sameness of the committee affect their choices of who to put on the list?
Well, when it comes to Rock and Roll, it means women get left out of the canon. (Not a new phenomenon, of course; exclusion of women from western canons of anything is a rampant problem in many disciplines. I taught a whole graduate course about how this works in Music History.) Enter Alexandra Apolloni, who noticed that zero women were inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of Fame this year. ZERO.
Here’s a teaser: “Each year, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (henceforth Rock Hall) announces a new list of inductees: artists that are deemed worthy of commemoration—and canonization—as rock greats. And in 2016, none of the inductees were women.
The underrepresentation of women in Rock Hall is nothing new: of 259 musicians, bands, and music industry luminaries who have been inducted since 1986, a mere 42 are women, or even groups that include women.
Maybe this is unsurprising. Rock and roll is, after all, a man’s game, right? Not so! Women have always been involved in rock and roll—and the notable but few women who have made it into the rock hall are a testament to that. Those women include Rhythm and Blues pioneers Ruth Brown and Lavern Baker; iconic performers Aretha Franklin and Madonna; and songwriters Carole King, Cynthia Weill, and Ellie Greenwich, to name a few. But Rock Hall inductees are disproportionately male. And the reason why becomes clear when we ask one particular question: what do Rock Hall inductees do in rock and roll?”
Alexandra talks about the voting process, why women tend to be excluded, and what people do in Rock that is deemed worthy enough of recognition. You can read her entire essay here.Can’t wait for the next essay? Rest assured that TAL is available all summer long so you can catch up on all the great essays you missed.
Later this summer we’ll be posting updated support materials for both college and high school classrooms. and we’ll be back in August with new essays. But don’t forget: these essays don’t write themselves! If you love TAL, consider writing for us. We’ll even pay you. It’s cool. Hit me up if you want to join our team.