PBS Arts from Cleveland: Women Who Rock on WXXI-TV

PBS Arts from Cleveland: Women Who Rock on WXXI-TV

Sun, 11/20/2011 - 2:00pm

Pictured: Tina Turner

Credit: Courtesy of Janet Macoska

From Bessie Smith to Janis Joplin, this performance documentary traces the indelible mark that amazing women musicians have made on America’s soundtrack.

The daunting odds, the guts and grit, and the talent required by women rockers to make it to the top of their field all come to life in PBS Arts from Cleveland: Women Who Rock, a performance documentary that chronicles and celebrates female musicians from early groundbreakers to contemporary powerhouses. Premiering Sunday, November 20 at 2 p.m. on WXXI-TV/HD (DT21.1/cable 1011 and 11), Women Who Rock is part of the PBS Arts Fall Festival, a multi-platform event anchored by nine films that highlight artists and performances from around the country.

Mixing interviews with key women musicians and live performance footage,Women Who Rock features the stories of trailblazers like Bessie Smith, Ma Raney, Mother Maybelle, and Mahalia Jackson, as well as contemporary stars Darlene Love, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, Bonnie Raitt, Cyndi Lauper, Wanda Jackson, Mavis Staples, Deborah Harry, and Kathleen Hanna of the bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre.  Also featured are songwriter Cynthia Weill and journalists/critics Ann Powers, Nelson George and Holly George Warren.

The program breaks the female influence on rock and roll into distinct eras, starting with the music’s blues roots in the 1920s and '30s.  It travels forward through time, telling stories of key musicians from each proceeding era, including rock and roll’s emergence in the 1950s, the girl group and counterculture era of the ‘60s, disco and punk in the ‘70s, celebrations of empowerment and fun throughout the ‘80s, into today’s predominance of women in pop, and much more.  The film reveals the ever-morphing role of female performers, and shows how today’s singers were influenced and inspired by their forebearers.

The film is punctuated by photos and artifacts from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.  (The museum currently features a related exhibition, Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power.) The film chronicles women in several music genres whose work not only brought down the house in their time, but also broke down barriers, struggling to obtain artistic and economic equality with their male counterparts.
“What’s extraordinary about this film is the intimate and emotional connections it makes between female rockers — through time and across styles,” says director Carol Stein, who, with co-director Susan Wittenberg, helmed the film. “The connections are both historical and literal,” she says. “We bring these musicians together to talk about their personal journeys; moments like those between gospel singer/activist Mavis Staples and rock icon Cyndi Lauper, for example, are moving and illuminating. We show a side of these performers and others that people have not previously seen.”

PBS member station WVIZ/PBS ideastream® produced the short documentary that will accompany Women Who Rock. The film looks at the early 20th  century, when renowned institutions like the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Orchestra would “take Mrs. Rockefeller to lunch” — a metaphor for convincing wealthy patrons to write a check. These days, the wealthy patrons are long gone. This short film shows how Clevelanders not only moved to recognize the powerful resource of their cultural traditions, but also discovered an innovative way to keep them alive.