The whole premise of this album is presumptuous and risky--who am I to think I can speak for any of these amazing women? How dare I, a white girl, write songs in first person about women of color? How dare I write a song in first person about any of them, for that matter?
Well, I don’t think I can speak for them, no one can but them. Some of my subjects were interviewed at length, so you can read their own words if you want to dig deeper--I hope you do. Some, like Henrietta Lacks, became famous after death, so we have none of their thoughts recorded. So all of these songs are my imaginings. My justification for doing this album and writing most of the songs in first person is simple: all of these women moved me, I felt compelled to write about them, and almost all of the songs felt stronger in first person.
The history of each one of these women is so rich that many books could (and sometimes have) been written about her. I could only touch on a fragment of each woman in the space of a song. First, I researched and read about the woman (or several women, as in the Rosie the Riveter hybrid heroine of Girl You Never Knew). I then took an episode from her life and imagined her thoughts. Obviously this endeavor is all highly subjective and suspect. But each one of these women sparked something in me I needed to explore, including: Edmonia Lewis’s incredible drive to learn and do art in the face of Job-like hardship. Henrietta Leavitt’s passion for astronomy that transcended her continuing health problems. Martha Gellhorn’s desire to give voice to people who might not otherwise be heard. Josephine Baker spying for the French Resistance while dancing in Berlin.
So my goal here is not to convince you that these songs are what these heroines might have sung, but to perhaps get your curiosity going about them, as mine was. Then you can fall down the enjoyable rabbit-hole of research that I fell into. I also hope you’re as inspired by them as I have been, and still am. Their stories of discovery and bravery, often in the face of injustice, sexism, and sometimes racism, are sadly still very relevant now.