Tony Sarabia and Richard Steele celebrate the achievements of female musicians

Tony Sarabia and Richard Steele celebrate the achievements of female musicians

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Listen to Tony Sarabia and Richard Steele discuss their picks on Eight Forty-Eight

Today is International Women’s Day, the day we celebrate the political, economic and social achievements of women around the globe. Richard Steele and Tony Sarabia also celebrate the musical achievements of women. There are obviously many, but due to time constraints, each of them got four picks.

Tony Sarabia:

Choosing four artists was a difficult task; this is a big world. So I thought I’d look around the globe for something new, something old, something soulful and something bold.

I host the Friday night global music show Radio M and since taking the reins six years ago I’ve discovered music I never knew existed. Take Cambodian rock for instance. For a brief moment, Cambodia was a hotbed of pop music. The music was influenced Latin American sounds, garage rock and psychedelia and was mixed with traditional Cambodian arrangements and instruments.

When it came to singing no one surpassed the “Golden Voice of the Royal Capital”. That was the phrase bestowed upon Ros Sereysothea by Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihanouk. She had a haunting high voice that some say brought people to tears.

The song I chose is called “Kairch Har Cut Stung (Bowl Flies Across the Creek)“. And tears are not far away as the saxophone wails in a minor key while Sothea sings with mournful abandon. The sound has an Ethiopian feel with its pentatonic phrasing. The Cambodian rock era came to an end with the violent and horrific rise of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in 1975 and sadly, Ros Sereysothea did not survive the reign of terror.

Next up is the Godmother of Punk: Patti Smith- musician, poet and activist. There are so many songs from which to pick and I decided to go with “Frederick” from 1979’s Wave.

I know, the album has been called bland by some critics. True, overall it doesn’t have the grit and immediacy of Horses or Radio Ethiopia, but for my money, Frederick is a tour de force with its gorgeous lyrics and propelling instrumentation; oh that tambourine. This is a beautiful love song written for her soon to be husband Fred “Sonic” Smith who was the guitarist with the 1960’s proto-punk band MC5. Frederick and the album Wave was more radio friendly than Radio Ethiopia…but not as much of a hit as 1978’s Easter.

This would Smith last album for Smith and her band. She didn’t release any new music until 1988.

When it comes to country, bluegrass and mountain music no one stands out like the Carter Family. They didn’t call her Mother Maybelle Carter for nothing. Maybelle Addington Carter is the matriarch of female country singers. “Foggy Mountain Top” was written by AP Carter, Maybelle’s brother in law. Here, Maybelle teams up with her daughters for this love song. Maybelle trades in her autoharp for a guitar and what a solo she gives. She takes the first verse of the song, followed by each of her daughters before ending it all with some beautiful yodeling. The melody brings me back to my childhood spending Sundays in my great uncle’s Spanish speaking Pentecostal church in Pilsen, sans the yodeling of course.

From the mountains of Virginia we go to one of the oldest cities in the world for some new music. Lisbon is the capital of Portugal, and there, fado is the national music and no one does it with more soul than Ana Moura.

Fado is known as a melancholic music similar perhaps to American blues. The Portuguese word saudade, which means longing, is often associated with fado. Ana Moura’s husky delivery brings out the saudade and recalls the Queen of Fado- Amalia Rodrigues.

“A Penumbra” is from Ana’s latest release Leva me aos Fados which translates to “Take me to the Fado House”, a place I’ll look for when I make it to Lisbon.

Four amazing women, four fantastic songs.

Richard Steele:

Marian Anderson was an African-American contralto who was one of the most celebrated singers of her time. She performed at concerts and in recital halls all over the world from 1925 to 1965. One of the most publicized racial slights in our music history occurred in 1939, when the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) said “no” to a plan for Miss Anderson to sing before an integrated audience in Constitution Hall. This caused First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to resign from the DAR and arrange for Anderson to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in an open-air concert in front of 75,000 people. She was introduced by Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes (there was a South Side public housing development named in his honor). Ickes is heard here doing the honors and then Marian Anderson sings “My Country ‘Tis Of Thee.”

There’s a renewed interest in Marilyn Monroe here in Chicago, which might be attributed to a 26-foot-tall sculpture of her on the Magnificent Mile, but before that, she was a genuine Hollywood movie star of the 1950s. In 1999, the American Film Institute voted her the sixth greatest female star of all time. She was not known as a great singer, but she had at least one memorable vocal performance in 1962 when she sang “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy (but that’s another story).

Marilyn did make several records, and her voice wasn’t that bad. Here Marilyn sings “She Acts Like A Woman Should.” (There’s been another recent nod to her fame in the form of a film called My Week With Marilyn. Michelle Williams, the actress who played Marilyn, was nominated for an Oscar.)

Queen Latifah is a multi-talented artist who raps, sings, acts and produces and has been successful in all four categories. She participated in the 81st Academy Awards ceremony by singing the song “I’ll Be Seeing You” in honor of film professionals who had died during 2008. She starred in a hit TV sitcom called Being Single. The Queen is a celebrity spokesperson for several major products. She also rides a motorcycle and recorded a jazz album.

But her first album in 1989 produced a best-selling single with a feminist message. It was called “Ladies First,” and was a pushback to all the negative rap songs that disrespected women. (Female rapper Monie Love also was on the track.) So this is “Ladies First” from the album All Hail The Queen.

Juli Wood is one of many fine female jazz artists who call Chicago home. She’s originally from Milwaukee, and for the past 20 years has led a jazz quartet for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s Arts and Cultural Education program. She’s been a featured performer at the Chicago Jazz Festival. Juli has been a band leader for a number of years…but that’s not the unique part of her musical career. She’s a saxophone player who not only plays tenor sax, but has also mastered the art of playing jazz on the baritone sax.

In 1998 she had a CD called Movin’ and Groovin’ -The Juli Wood Quintet with Mel Rhyne (who wrote the track we’re going to play). The track is “Night Vigil” with a smoking baritone sax solo from Juli Wood.