Several months ago, while moving into my forever home and unpacking countless boxes, I discovered a treasure trove: five linear feet of fin-de-siecle and early 20th c. sheet music.
The music belonged to my great-grandmother, who emigrated from Belgium in 1909 to become the governess to Ellin MacKaye, Irving Berlin's second wife. My interest was piqued. Here was the music that correlated with the Progressive Era, that rough-and-tumble time period when "America came of age". Here, right in front of me, was the actual sheet music - much of it now lost to the world - that would have shaped the way the (mostly female) artists who played it thought about themselves and their lives. With a swoop of clarity and historical curiosity I realized that the music I was holding painted the soundtrack not only to women’s home lives, but also to the ten years leading up to the passage of the 19th Amendment which - on August 26th, 1920 - granted women nationwide the right to vote.
Digging deeper, I discovered that this time period was fraught with change not only for American politics, but for the very role women filled in society. Motor cars had just been invented, and women flocked to the cities by the hundreds of thousands to fill jobs as typists and manicurists. I learned that women comprised 86% of the typing force just a few years after a time when only respectable profession for a small-town girl would have been that of homemaker or teacher.
But what of the "New Woman" who wanted to become neither a typist nor a manicurist, neither a homemaker nor a teacher?
What of the woman who was a performer?
What of the woman who wanted to do something that would afford her MORE VOICE in the world?
Things fell into place from that point on. As an artist I have been greatly affected by the writings of Willa Cather; anecdotes about American showgirls, and by my own experiences as a young singer trying to “make it” in NYC. When I merged these influences with the historically relevant stories of Suffragettes fighting for women’s rights, the prevailing moral attitude of the day, and the surrounding historical context of a society inexorably marching toward the utter proliferation of consumable media, I started paying attention to how singers/performers and women active in politics have interacted with one another both then and now. When I couched my findings within the narrative of someone who has, literally, been learning how to manipulate their voice since childhood, #SINGDANCEVOTE was born.