I Will Survive

The 1970s: Rockers to Disco Divas

Women are in the center of the ‘70s mainstream, from Joan Jett and the Runaways, Heart and Fleetwood Mac to Donna Summer. The gains of the feminist movement throughout the ‘70s enabled women working in all areas of the music industry to assume more control over their careers.

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Joan Jett

Born Joan Marie Larkin in 1958 in a suburb of Philadelphia, Joan Jett (pictured right) grew up in California and started her musical career as a teenager, forming her first serious band, the Runaways, at 15. The group called it quits in 1979. Jett spent some time in England working with Paul Cook and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols. She returned to the U.S. to produce the first and only album by seminal L.A. punk band the Germs. Jett's first solo album was rejected by 23 different companies when she and producer Kenny Laguna founded Blackheart Records in 1980. Jett and Laguna initially printed and distributed the record themselves, selling copies at Jett's shows. The record then was picked up by Boardwalk Records and re-released as Bad Reputation.

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The Runaways

The Runaways were started by Joan Jett and Sandy West in 1975. The classic lineup included Jett on guitar and vocals, West on drums, Cherie Currie on lead vocals, Jackie Fox on bass guitar and Lita Ford on guitar. The band was ahead of its time, with its hard-rock sound emerging during an era when disco music ruled the airwaves. In 1976, the Runaways released their self-titled debut album. The song "Cherry Bomb," which Jett wrote with band manager Kim Fowley, became a surprise hit. After Currie and Fox left in mid-1977, Jett emerged as the group's lead singer. She was already a powerful force behind the scenes, writing most of the Runaways' songs. The group called it quits in 1979. An acclaimed film about the Runaways, starring Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart, was released in 2010.

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Cher

Born Cherylin Sarkisian LaPierre on May 20, 1946, Cher met Sonny Bono in a coffee shop in 1963. Bono introduced her to producer Phil Spector, and she was enlisted as a backup singer for the Ronettes. Later that year, Sonny and Cher began recording together under the name Caesar and Cleo and released two singles: “Baby Don't Go” and “Love Is Strange.” The pair married in 1964 and signed a recording contract with Atlantic Records, where they released “I Got You Babe” in 1965 under the name Sonny and Cher. More hits followed, along with world tours and a popular comedy-variety television show, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, which lasted until 1974, when the couple divorced. Cher continued to work on her own television series and married Gregg Allman in 1975 whom she divorced in 1979. She starred in many films, including Mask, The Witches of Eastwick and Moonstruck (for which she won an Oscar for Best Actress in 1988). In 1989, Cher returned to the top of the charts with the single "If I Could Turn Back Time." In 1999, Cher released Believe, which became the best-selling album of her career, with the title single topping the charts around the world.

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Donna Summer

Born LaDonna Andrea Gaines in Boston in 1948, Summer was raised on gospel music in the church.  She performed in the European tour of Hair in the early 1970s when she decided to settle in Germany. In 1975, she began a long-term association with Munich songwriters and producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. They took her lyric “love to love you baby” and turned it into a 17-minute opus.  The song was Summer’s U.S. chart debut and her first of 19 #1 dance hits between 1975 and 2008, a record that is second only to Madonna. Summer was the first female artist with four #1 singles in a 13-month period: “MacArthur Park,” “Hot Stuff,” “Bad Girls” and “No More Tears.” Endless covers and sampling of her music have kept Summer’s pioneering body of work in the forefront of music.

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Heart

Ann (born 1950) and Nancy (born 1954) Wilson grew up in both Southern California and Taiwan, before the Wilson family settled in Seattle, Washington. As children, both were interested in folk and pop music, and Nancy took guitar and flute lessons. The Wilson sisters joined Heart (formed in 1967 in Vancouver). After the Wilsons joined, the group gained a following in Vancouver and recorded its debut album, Dreamboat Annie, in 1975. The album achieved platinum status on the strength of the hit singles "Crazy on You" and "Magic Man." A string of hits followed, including “Barracuda,” “Even It Up,” "What About Love?," "Never," "These Dreams" and "Nothin' at All." In the early Nineties, the Wilson sisters took a brief hiatus from Heart to form the Lovemongers, an acoustic quartet. With 1995's The Road Home, Heart enlisted Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones to produce a live, acoustic set, reprising hits like "Dreamboat Annie," "Crazy on You" and "Barracuda."

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Pat Benatar

Pat Benatar was born Patricia Andrzejewski in 1953 in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island. Benatar began singing regularly in the New York City area by the Seventies. She was discovered at the Catch a Rising Star club and signed by Chrysalis Records. Her debut album, 1979's In the Heat of the Night, yielded such radio favorites as "Heartbreaker" and "I Need a Lover."  More hits followed, including "Hit Me with Your Best Shot," "Treat Me Right," "You Better Run," "Fire & Ice," "Promises in the Dark," "Shadows of the Night," "Love Is a Battlefield," "We Belong" and "Invincible." Benatar has won four Grammys and had a total of 19 Top 40 singles.

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Stevie Nicks

Stevie Nicks’ songwriting and vocal talents have made her one of the top recording artists of the last four decades, both as a member of Fleetwood Mac and on her own. Born Stephanie Nicks in 1948, her career began to take shape after she met Lindsey Buckingham during her senior year in high school in California. They began to date and formed the band Fritz, which was mildly successful in California. In 1973, they released the album Buckingham-Nicks. Soon after, they were recruited by Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Christine McVie to join a revamped Fleetwood Mac. The new lineup released an album called Fleetwood Mac in 1975. It went to #1. The next album, Rumours, was an even bigger success, producing four Top 10 singles, including Nicks’ song “Dreams,” which reached #1. 

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Melissa Etheridge

Born in 1961 in Leavenworth, Kansas, Etheridge began playing guitar at age eight and played in country-music groups throughout her teenage years. She dropped out of college in Boston to pursue a music career, moving to L.A. to begin writing music for films, including the 1986 film Weeds. Her self-titled first album was released in 1986, and her mainstream breakthrough came in 1993 with Yes I Am, which yielded the hits “Come to My Window” and “I’m the Only One.” Etheridge came out as a lesbian and has become an icon of the gay community. She has gone on to receive 15 Grammy Award nominations and won two. She also won an Academy Award, and she has sold 27 million albums worldwide. In October 2004, Etheridge was diagnosed with breast cancer and later made a full recovery.

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Linda Ronstadt

Born in Tucson, Arizona, in 1946 Linda Ronstadt moved to Los Angeles with her band, the Stone Poneys when she was 18. Blending rock, pop and country, the Stone Poneys signed with Capitol Records and had a hit with “Different Drum,” composed by Michael Nesmith of the Monkees. Setting out on a solo career, she formed a band that included Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner, who formed the Eagles after leaving her employ. Once paired with producer Peter Asher, Ronstadt became the most popular female singer of the 1970s. For more than 20 years, she and Asher created a stunning collection of albums on which Ronstadt’s superb interpretive abilities gave light to songs by an immensely diverse group of songwriters, ranging from Warren Zevon and Elvis Costello to Irving Berlin and Billy Strayhorn. She fearlessly moved between genres of music, following her muse, without regard to commercial demands.