Sunday, March 5, 2017

Women Who Rock and/or Make History: Tracy Chapman and Henrietta Lacks

March is Girl Women's History Month.

Fact: girls can do things too!

Fact: girls can't do rock and roll, or so one might conclude from the paucity of females inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (motto: "We've got Randy Newman!"). Real fact: girls can do rock and roll (some of them).

Since I am enjoying getting on my high horse (or getting high on horse), I'm going to double dip with a series of girl-on-girl posts. It's a combination of a female musical act (or a band with a female member [possibly more]) that merits* induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and a female who did something like bake a cake or killed a guy (Laura Bush killed a guy).

Tracy Chapman's 1988 debut album is an example of the best and worst things record labels do for their acts. She wasn't discovered by a record label A&R person;  it was the kid of a music publishing company executive that helped her get signed to Elektra Records. Once signed to the label, it was difficult to line-up a producer for the album since the usual suspects were heavily focused on the popular pop and dance sounds of the time (this T'Pau and Nu Shooz and Expose); David Kershenbaum agreed to produce (making it his first project at Elektra, having been a VP of A&R at A&M before that) because he'd been looking for an acoustic record (since record labels only sign artists that sound like, or can be made to sound like, a current hit artist, he would have found a paucity of acoustic-oriented acts since labels were signing the next Whitney or Phil Collins or Expose). Despite the fact that the artist was relatively inexperienced, AND was Black and a woman, but was NOT an R&B-sounding woman, the album went platinum... 20 times platinum. Tracy Chapman is one of the first albums by a girl singer to reach Diamond status (10 million+ in sales).

Chapman won 4 Grammy awards (Best New Artist, Best Pop Female Vocalist for "Fast Car" and Best Contemporary Folk Album for Tracy Chapman; Best Rock Song for "Give Me One Reason"). Here's a song she wrote about the terrorist Nelson Mandela...

Henrietta Lacks died at age 31 from cervical cancer. Cells harvested from her tumor, taken without permission or acknowledgement, were cultured and used in scientific research (some of it for commercial purposes). The HeLa cells are "immortal" which is a thing cells can be. 

Scientists have grown more than 20 tons of her cells and there are over 10,000 patents based on the cells. Oprah is making a movie about all of this.  

* There is a wide spectrum of rock & roll gravitas for the artists included in the 31 I will include. I feel like a reasonable case can be made for each, and everyone one of these is at least as worthy as Randy Newman, 2103 inductee.

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