The best books on the women’s music movement

Bonnie Morris Author Of The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture
By Bonnie Morris

Who am I?

My expertise as a scholar of the women’s music movement spans 40 years--ever since I attended my first concert and music festival in 1981. A lecturer at UC-Berkeley, I’m the author of 19 books on women’s history, and published the first book on women’s music festivals, Eden Built By Eves, in 1999 (now out of print.) More recently I’ve organized exhibits on the women’s music movement for the Library of Congress, co-authored The Feminist Revolution (which made Oprah’s list), and I’m now the archivist and historian for Olivia Records.

I wrote...

The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture

By Bonnie Morris,

Book cover of The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture

What is my book about?

The Disappearing L offers an overview of the rise and fall of lesbian cultural spaces. What was the soundtrack of the feminist revolution? How did artists, producers, and fans create a vast network of women’s concerts, recording companies, and festivals that offered meaningful performance spaces for women coming out as lesbians—and performers too radical for the mainstream?

The book examines how women’s bookstores, women’s studies programs, and other year-round institutions built spaces that included a music subculture—only to see independent venues vanish once LGBT rights and mainstreaming were attained. As women’s music spaces are disappearing, how will we remember them?

The books I picked & why

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Olivia on the Record

By Ginny Z. Berson,

Book cover of Olivia on the Record

Why this book?

A wonderful overview of the early years of Olivia Records, this memoir from the social justice warrior of the original Olivia collective details how the first lesbian recording company was founded—and succeeded, despite all odds. Berson includes romantic insights on the artists’ passion for one another, as well as accounts of building a national audience. For two generations of women who came out with this music, the songs and albums remain critical anthems of female empowerment—and the only music that existed to affirm lesbians’ lives.

An Army of Lovers

By Jamie Anderson,

Book cover of An Army of Lovers

Why this book?

This comprehensive exploration of the women’s music movement in the 1970s and 80s looks at every angle of business and culture, from artists, companies, labels, distributors, publicity, session musicians, and more; the book includes over 100 interviews, and draws upon the author’s personal experience as a popular touring performer and recording artist.

Fire in the Rain...Singer in the Storm: An Autobiography

By Holly Near, Derk Richardson,

Book cover of Fire in the Rain...Singer in the Storm: An Autobiography

Why this book?

A memoir by one of the most enduring women’s music performers, covering her background in peace activism and solidarity with Black freedom singers that led to the creation of Redwood Records. Wonderful material on the many tensions concerning concerts for women only vs. forming alliances with other progressive communities and performance partners.

Songs in Black and Lavender: Race, Sexual Politics, and Women's Music

By Eileen M. Hayes,

Book cover of Songs in Black and Lavender: Race, Sexual Politics, and Women's Music

Why this book?

Featuring an Introduction by artist Linda Tillery, the book offers a timely critique of white-centered women’s music events and the possibility of Black women’s music festivals. The author looks at the different experiences of Black audiences in primarily white feminist festival spaces and the role of Black lesbian artists across several generations.

Women in American Music Women's Studies Kresge College University of California

By Nancy Flixson,

Book cover of Women in American Music Women's Studies Kresge College University of California

Why this book?

Possibly the best and rarest of all publications about the start of the women’s music movement, this volume was prepared by the students at the University of California at Santa Cruz to serve as a textbook (and record of their experiences) for the first-ever course on feminism and music. Still available to good sleuths who find used copies floating around, the title page is Women in American Music. Women’s Studies, Kresge College, University of California, Santa Cruz, Spring 1975.

The idea for the class was initiated by Karlene Faith, who went on to be an influential producer and distributor; the book she helped edit includes interviews with early Olivia artists who were guest speakers and performers in the class. Before her untimely death, she too was working on a history of Olivia Records.

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