After listing the definition, Merriam-Webster refers to stereotype as “an often unfair and untrue belief that many people have about all people or things with a particular characteristic.” Breaking this “his”tory of bias, we continue to celebrate Women’s Herstory Month by highlighting some past Levitt performers who inspire us, not only by their artistry on stage, but what they represent off the stage.
Redefining who can be a musician
Gaelynn Lea won NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Contest in 2016, and not long after she took to the road, including a show-stopper at Levitt Shell Sioux Falls in 2019. She has toured in 45 states and 9 countries, captivating audiences around the world with her unique mix of haunting original songs and traditional fiddle tunes. Lea has appeared in several major festivals, including SXSW and Winnipeg Folk Festival, and has opened for well-known bands such as Wilco, The Decemberists, LOW, and the industrial rock supergroup Pigface. She is currently creating original music for a Broadway production of Macbeth starring Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga, which is set to open April 2022 in New York City. In addition to performing and recording, Lea frequently does speaking engagements about Disability Rights, finding inner freedom, and accessibility in the arts. She uses her music as a platform to advocate for disabled people and to promote positive social change as the Co-Founder and Vice President of the change-making group, RAMPD—Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities. RAMPD’s mission is to amplify disability culture, promote inclusion and advocate for accessibility in the music industry. “The way people talk about disability is still pretty negative, it’s seen as suffering…Obviously they would wish to be able bodied. But now we have Disability Pride, where you don’t have to feel bad about having a disability,” says Lea. “I don’t think that’s caught on yet, but it’s cool to be alive at this time when we’re changing the conversation.”
Inspiring American artist
Hitting the Levitt stages in Arlington, Bethlehem, Dayton and Sioux Falls, Ruthie Foster is a four-time GRAMMY® nominee who Rolling Stone declared is “pure magic to watch and hear.” Whether she’s duetting with Bonnie Raitt or trading verses with Susan Tedeschi or commanding the stage solo, Foster wows audiences with her unique sound and power vocals singing the Blues. Foster’s accolades include seven Blues Music Awards, three Austin Music Awards, the Grand Prix du Disque award from the Académie Charles-Cros in France, a Living Blues Critics’ Award for Female Blues Artist of the Year, and the title of an “inspiring American Artist” as a United States Artists 2018 Fellow. Honing her vocal talent in worship services at her community church, Foster caught the performance bug while serving our nation in the U.S. Navy, singing for the Navy band Pride. After leaving the service, she signed a development deal with Atlantic Records and moved to New York City, but walked away to remain true to herself; the label wanted Foster to hand over her authenticity in exchange for being molded into a pop star. Returning to her roots in the Lone Star State, she established herself as a singer/songwriter and has released seven albums since 2002 with Blue Corn Music, including her latest, “Live at the Paramount,” an homage to the Swing-era greats featuring the Ruthie Foster Big Band. Her advice to like-minded artists? “I would say know your worth. Walk and talk that. Because as women, we get underestimated all the time. It’s important to know that you are worthy of being in this industry or any walk of life, really. Just walk and talk it, and you’ll be all right.”
Age is just a number
Splitting the frontperson status among each of the four members, Blame Sally features Pam Delgado (percussion, guitar), Renee Harcourt (guitar, bass, banjo, harmonica), Jeri Jones (guitar, bass, dobro, mandolin) and Monica Pasqual (piano, keys, accordion, melodica). Previously all solo artists, the band was formed in 2000 after informal jam sessions gelled into something special when the four leading ladies were in their 30s and 40s—the age at which bands are traditionally supposed to break up and begin solo careers. “We’ve realized that some of the things that might have been considered liabilities were actually assets,” says Pasqual, “and that in truth, the very thing you might be thinking you should hide or isn’t going to help you is something that people are excited about.” Defying the age as well as the gender bias of a female band who plays their own instruments, the celebrated singer songwriters from San Francisco created a collaborative sound rooted in Americana, folk and country mixed with a little pop, rock and R&B. Levitt audiences in Arlington and Pasadena experienced the lyric– and chord–driven artistry of Blame Sally numerous times during the summer seasons. Producing six albums together during their most active years, the foursome continues to perform together as well as releasing individual solo projects, all the while breaking down barriers and leaving stereotypes aside.
La Que Manda
Gina Chavez is a multi-ethnic, internationally-acclaimed Latinx pop artist who is redefining Latin music in her native Texas and beyond. The wife, philanthropist and award-winning independent musician is a 12-time Austin Music Award winner, including 2019 Best Female Vocals and 2015 Austin Musician of the Year. Her NPR Tiny Desk concert has more than 1.3 million views and her hour-long PBS special is available nationwide. Performing both on stage at Levitt Pavilion Dayton and virtually to Levitt audiences in Bethlehem and Sioux Falls during the pandemic, fans recognize Chavez as a masterful storyteller with music and lyrics that are deeply personal. Her passionate collection of bilingual songs takes audiences on a journey to discover her Latin roots through music as she shares her story of life in Texas as a married, queer Catholic. Gina tours internationally as a cultural ambassador with the U.S. State Department and runs Niñas Arriba, a college fund she co-founded with her wife for young women in gang-dominated El Salvador. She is featured alongside Oprah, Beyonce, Mahalia Jackson, Dolly Parton and many more in Southern Living’s new book celebrating “100 extraordinary women who have left their indelible mark on the South and beyond.” Nominated for a 2020 Latin GRAMMY®, her recent album La Que Manda (The Woman in Charge) is the story of a woman coming into her own power. “I’ve spent my life playing nice and making myself small,” says Chavez. “Then I toured the U.S. and the world and saw how women everywhere—from Nebraska to Uzbekistan to Argentina—know what it means to be silenced in the face of power. This album is for them, for all of us. An anthem to reclaim our bodies, our hearts, our voices, and show the world what we’ve known the whole time: we are La Que Manda.”
From all walks of life, these music mavens and Levitt artists bring their artistry to the stage and their humanity to life. Refusing to fit inside a box or a preconceived stereotype, Gaelynn Lea, Ruthie Foster, Blame Sally and Gina Chavez use the power of music to remind us that no voice should ever be silenced.