The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum


Mahalia Jackson :: Blog

America's Foremothers

Monday, September 12: 11 a.m.
Bessie Smith

"America's Foremothers" is the first installment in a special series that highlights the evolution of women in music by placing their accomplishments, inspirations and influence in the context of the eras that shaped their sounds and messages. 

Between 1920 and 1947, roughly the period covered in the “Foremothers” section of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s Women Who Rock exhibit, American women made great strides toward gaining equality while championing basic human rights. Female musicians responded to the liberation evolving around them, forming a collection of voices that melodically – and often defiantly – set the tone that inspired generations of women. Leading the charge were the “Foremothers”: Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mahalia Jackson and Mother Maybelle Carter.

Among the suffrage movement's greatest victories was the passing of the nineteenth amendment in 1920. The ensuing decades saw many more developments as women were elected to office, quite literally taking seats of power: state governor (Nellie Tayloe Ross of Wyoming, 1924) and senator (Hattie Wyatt Caraway of Arkansas, 1932); and the first female member of the President’s cabinet, Francis Perkins, was appointed Secretary of Labor in 1933. The Women’s Amateur ...


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