Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Women Who Rock and/or Make History: Labelle and Valentina Tereshkova

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).

Labelle's existence as one of the earliest funk bands is more remarkable when you consider the musical journey the ladies (Patti Labelle, Sarah Dash and my beloved Nona Hendryx) took to get there. They started as a Philly soul/doo wop girl group, originally the Ordettes, then the Bluebells, The New Originals, then the Blue Belles, then, encouraged by a lawsuit Patti switched from Patti Holt to Patti LaBelle and the band became Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles, the Thamesmen, Patti LaBelle and her Blue Belles, then LaBelle or possibly Labelle (later they would be Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald, then just Michael McDonald). 

Their rebranding as Labelle happened just before they sang with Laura Nyro on one of the most unlikely and amazing albums of all time. Their partnership with Nyro came about because Patti was the cook on her 1970 tour. Oh, yeah, Patti can cook.

In 1971 Labelle started wearing space suits on stage; sometimes feathers. Not at the same time, that's just silly. Space suits or feathers, not space suits and feathers.

Among the songs the band recorded for their Nightbirds album was a song with some lyrics in French that a young and innocent Patti LaBelle (nee Holt) didn't understand. Patti was inviting you to have sex with her in the song "Lady Marmalade." Let's just call "Lady Marmalade" a classic, shall we?

The band disbanded (the disband, hah!) in 1976 with Sarah Dash singing with the Rolling Stones; Nona Hendryx creating rock, new age, and house music albums, and working with an avant garde theater troop; and LaBelle becoming a solo superstar and later the Cobbler Queen. They un-disbanded in 2008 which is when they recorded their take on this Sylvester classic.

Valentina Tereshkova was a textile worker by day and a skydiver by night (or, you know, on the weekends). Her background in skydiving gave her that certain something that prompted Soviet officials to select her as America's Next Top Astronaut to be the first woman in space (that we know of). More than 400 women applied and Tereshkova was able to eat more beets while driving a tractor than any other Russian stereotype of the time.

She had no experience as a pilot, but all 5 finalists received training to fly the MiG jet fighter, along with courses in the physics of rocket science and physical training on the actual experience of lift off and weightlessness. The beets really helped. 

When she blasted off in Vostok 6, June 1963, she was 10 years younger than America's youngest astronaut. Her 3-day flight, 48 orbits of the earth, was longer than the combined flights of every American astronaut to that point. 

And she had to do the dishes afterward.

Gordo Cooper never even bothered to clear his own place.

* 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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