In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, I want to talk about two women whose voices have been loved and heard by many: Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin. Their songs are timeless and their contribution to music is extraordinary.
Born in Texas in 1943, Janis Joplin made a reputation for herself and has been considered by many the first female rockstar. Inspired by landmark blues figures such as Big Mama Thornton and Bessie Smith, she dropped out of college and moved to California to follow her dream of becoming a singer. San Francisco played a pivotal role in Joplin’s career –there she was introduced to Big Brother and Holding Company, a band that she shortly joined. Janis Joplin is known for her unique sound, which blends several genres such as blues, soul, and rock. The raspiness of her voice conveys vulnerability and passion and makes her tone hard to forget. Arguably, her most famous song is “Piece of my Heart” which held first place on the Billboard in 1967. Besides her distinct voice, Janis Joplin is also known for her eccentric persona which is facilitated by her iconic fashion sense. She always wore flamboyant clothes that she matched with hair bands or feathers wrapped around her head and an extensive amount of jewelry. Despite her neck and hands being heavy with bijou, Joplin’s performances were very energetic, and she is still remembered for her sensual on-stage presence. According to her biographer, Goerge-Warren, she even compared being on stage with having an orgasm. Unfortunately, in 1970 Janis Joplin succumbed to a heroin overdose and joined the long list of 27 club members. However, she remains one of the most memorable artists.
Aretha Franklin, known as the “Queen of Soul,” was the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee, but she made her first musical steps as a gospel singer at Baptist Church in Michigan. At the age of only eighteen, she signed a contract with Columbia Records. However, signing with Atlantic Records in 1966 was what gave her a foothold in the music industry. Although self-taught, Franklin had excellent vocal techniques that allowed her not only to reach both high and low notes with ease, but also to touch her audience’s soul with her expressive and powerful tone. Throughout her career, she received 18 Grammy Awards, was inducted into four music Halls of Fame, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom–the highest civilian award in the United States. Besides her passion for music, Franklin was also an active advocate for civil rights and women’s rights, and her famous song “Respect” became an anthem for both movements. She publicly preached equality and she spent her money on helping her community:
“I have the money; I got it from Black people — they’ve made me financially able to have it — and I want to use it in ways that will help our people.”
Aretha Franklin suffered from pancreatic cancer, which ultimately led to her death in 2018. Her kind soul and music skills have made her one of the most influential women in the history of Rock & Roll.
Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin are two iconic women who have made an indelible mark on the music industry, each with their unique style and sound. Despite their different backgrounds and paths to success, they share a common legacy of inspiring generations of female musicians. Their contributions to Rock & Roll have been immense, and their influence continues today.