Women’s History Month: Female Innovators In Music

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we wanted to recognize some of the women who continue to shape the music community that we know today. There are hundreds of influential women who have had a part in sculpting the current music landscape but below are a few people that we believe have made the music community a better place and are true pioneers with incredible and inspiring passions for music.

Clara Rockmore

Born in Lithuania in 1911, Clara Rockmore, was an electronic music pioneer as her unmatchable talent playing the theremin helped integrate electronic musical instruments into the modern music landscape. At just four years old, Rockmore was the youngest ever student at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory where she studied violin. After moving to the United States during her teenage years, Rockmore met Léon Theremin who would introduce her the theremin, an electronic instrument the Léon had invented. Rockmore would go on to become the theremins most prominent player and play alongside orchestras across the country. In 1977, she released her first commercial album, ‘The Art of the Theremin’, which was produced by Bob Moog, founder of Moog Music.

Sylvia Robinson

In March of 1973, Sylvia Robinson charted at #1 on the Billboard R&B chart with her single, ‘Pillow Talk’. Sylvia had originally written the song for Al Green but it would be Sylvia to ultimately record it. After recording several hit songs, Sylvia went on to found and become CEO of legendary hip-hop record label, Sugar Hill Records. Sugar Hill Records is responsible for distributing famous records like “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugarhill Gang and “The Message” by Grand Master Flash which brought the blossoming genre of hip-hop into the mainstream. Robinson paved a way for women in the music industry, not just as a successful artist but as a successful entrepreneur and leader. Robinson soon was dubbed “The Mother of Hip-Hop”. 

Bebe Barron

Bebe Barron was an avant-garde electronic musician born in 1925 in Minneapolis. After marrying her husband and later musical partner, she moved to New York City to study musical composition. She was first introduced to electronic music when her husbands cousin gifted the couple a tape recorder for their wedding. After learning the potential of the tape recorder, Bebe and her husband began experimenting with the machine to create unique sounds and music. In 1950, Bebe and her husband completed the first American electronic music composition titled Heavenly Menagerie. Bebe would go on to be credited for writing the first entirely electronic score for the 1956 movie, Forbidden Planet. 

Wendy Carlos

In 1962, at the age of 23, Wendy Carlos moved to New York City to study music composition at Colombia University. It was during this time that Wendy would work with several electronic musicians, including Robert Moog, and would help to produce the first ever commercial Moog synthesizer. Wendy found recognition after she won three Grammy’s in 1969 for her album Switched-On Bach, which was an album of pieces composed by Johann Sebastian Bach but played on a Moog synthesizer. From there, Wendy began composing scores for movies and would go on to compose for popular films such as A Clockwork Orange, The Shinning, and Tron (1984). Wendy released several studio albums throughout her career and was an accomplished solar eclipse photographer with her work being published by NASA.

Suzanne Ciani

Dubbed the “Diva of the Diode”, Suzanne Ciani is a pioneer of electronic music. Born in Massachusetts in 1946, Ciani discovered her passion for music when she learned to play piano at the age of six. Ciani received classical musical training while studying at Wellesley College and was first introduced to music technology when she began taking classes at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While studying musical composition the the University of California, Berkeley, Ciani met Don Buchla, a pioneer of electronic musical instruments. Ciani spent time with Buchla, learning how to use and create synthesizers. After moving to New York City in 1974, Ciani began her long career in music composition for TV, commercials, and movies while still releasing solo albums and winning five Grammys.

Björk 

Starting her musical career at the age of eleven, Björk has been at the edge of musical exploration for the past four decades. In 1992, she departed from her first band, The Sugarcubes, to pursue a solo career and in 1993, released her debut album, Debut. Debut marked her as an avant-garde pop-artist as the album had no clear inspiration but would go platinum in the United States and would be named album of the year by NME. Björk’s music is inspired by a number of genres including dance, techno, electronic, jazz, and other non-traditional forms of music. Her intense music mixed with psychedelic artistically-driven visuals brought her international attention and fame over her career. She has released eight other studio albums, been nominated for 15 Grammys, and has won over 130 awards during her prolific career.

Emily Lazar 

Born and raised in New York City, Emily Lazar is the founder, president, and chief mastering engineer of The Lodge. The Lodge is an audio mastering space located in New York City that Lazar has been working out of since 1997. Lazar has worked with hundreds of high profile artists across all genres like Sonic Youth, Wu-Tang Clan, Dolly Parton, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Armin Van Buuren, and so much more. In 2019, Lazar was the first woman to ever be rewarded a Grammy for Best Engineered Album after having worked on Beck’s album, Colors. Lazar has also received seven other Grammy nominations for her work with artists like Vampire Weekend, Foo Fighters, Sia, Haim, and Coldplay.

Milana Lewis

Milana Lewis is co-founder and CEO of Stem Disintermedia Inc., a Los Angeles based company dedicated to transparently distributing artist royalties. Before founding Stem, Lewis represented many kinds of digital creators while working as a Digital Media Agent for United Talent Agency. During her time at UTA, Lewis recognized issues with distributing royalty payments between content creators, collaborators, and their teams as the whole concept of a ‘content creator’ and it’s business model was fresh and uncharted. She moved on to found Stem and would bring light to these common issues and be the solution by paying out creators and their team with clarity. In 2012, Lewis was featured on Refinery29’s “30 under 30” and in 2017 was featured on the Forbes “30 under 30”. She was also featured as one of Hollywood’s “New Leaders” by Variety.