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by Nicole Kali (4/09/2021)

40 Black Rock-Hers Who Are Shaking It Up!

A rock-her is any femme or non-binary musician with that raw energy! The first is officially Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

She is the African-American gospel guitarist-singer who created rock's current form: distortion, electric strings, rich vibrato vocals over powerful lyrics!

Today, this list is dedicated to 40 rock-hers who are shaking things up worldwide across genres! #BRU hopes you discover every one of them. We aren't restricted to March!

You can hear them on our #BRU Black Rock-Herstory Month Playlist too!

 

      

"Contemporary music that spoke to the past", The 1865 are a blues/punk-rock voyage to 1865 U.S.A., and beautifully portray our heritage in every throwback track.


Photo: C.P. Krenkler. Honeychild Coleman, Flora Lucini, Jason Lucas, Sacha Jenkins.

Sacha Jenkins is the band's creator: a multitalented lead guitarist and videographer in NYC. Percussionist Chuck Treece, Honeychild Coleman (The 1865's great baritone guitarist and vocalist), boss bassist Flora Lucini and drummer Jason "Biz" Lucas make magic!

We highlight Flora and Honeychild! Flora Lucini leads Afro-progressive hardcore band Maafa in addition. They are bolstering a diasporic punk collective who raise awareness.

Flora proudly comes from Brazil, and her parents are professional jazz musicians who inspired her, encouraged her to play.

"I've been playing bass since technically I was seven, professionally when I was 13. My dad's a bass player, my mom's a tenor saxophone player, so my whole family are all jazz musicians.

And so I grew up singing, playing saxophone, playing piano before I was even 10." (Only the Official with Rebelmatic)

BIPOC brought Flora into hardcore as a sista rock-her and listening to No Doubt, ska.

"...friends and family back home in D.C. that are Black and brown, BIPOC or that we grew up together. They're still in the scene to this day, predominantly Black women, which I'm very blessed. Black women got me into hardcore"!

Flora Lucini's politics organically formed from Black punk community conversations, and every experience till this point.

"A lot of the songs like 'Deficit' and 'Filha da Luta' and stuff like that were originally just instrumentals! That were all just different African diasporic things, mainly Afro-Brazilian and djembe breaks, 'Deficit' has a djembe break. I hear this, how does it sound with hardcore?" (#BRUTalk)

So Flora wants the world to respect these roots!

"With the progressive part and with the Afro- part, you know again, centering us, not just including us and taking back our narratives. Let's make up some new shit.

Let's come up with some new ideas on how to not expand a definition but expand the possibilities of these sounds." (#BRUTalk)

Honeychild Coleman weaves between several projects: The 1865, Bachslider, GKA and her choice solo material. She also is 1/4 of New York City's Sista Grrrls.

"Feeling seen as an artist with potential to execute an idea! It's something that feels really important to me." (#BRUTalk)

Honeychild Coleman has been featured on Dee Rees' Pariah soundtrack too: a film about a Black LGBTQ+ teenager's self-awakening. Brooklyn is her home. She's part of the Black Rock Coalition.

The 1865 is citizen journalism across eras. "Music is our telegraph, information in code...writing lyrics, I use a lot of hip-hop elements because the energy of hip-hop and punk is very similar." (x)

"And it's been really a lot of fun: to be in a project where everybody has something else that they do and we all appreciate that in each other. Like Flora is also a bassist and a wonderful vocalist." (#BRUTalk)

Who are Honeychild's influential rock-hers?

"Nona Hendrix...I immediately related to her! After reading Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, I realized how much influence she had on early rock as well. Guitar-wise, Barbara Lynn is somebody I look up to.

Yeah! Just seeing Black people playing rock and roll...I never felt like it was something foreign to do despite everything in society saying otherwise!" (Black Rock-Her Roundtable #1)

The 1865 symbolizes an intimate conversation with our past liberators to her.

"It resonated with me because she [Peggy Garner] was from Kentucky, and I knew the Ohio River. Like all these different pieces of her life, it was like...'Yo, I can see my ancestors during that time based on these facts.' So I really wanted people to feel the characters, but also feel them in a modern way." (#BRUTalk)

Honeychild also wants to see true change for rock-hers: booking, genuine love for Black artists outside the mainstream, more. (Black Rock-Her Roundtable #1)

"There's definitely a performative tone happening with some of the indie women-based platforms that never included Black women...I also work in nightlife and the other conversation happening there is when you open back up, will you actually book diverse acts?

Isn't that the truth! "I'm still relying on the underground because we rep for each other. The old way is expiring and we are the new way. So it's very eye-opening, definitely." (Black Rock-Her Roundtable #1)

   

 

"Darkwave duchess" Abra is THE alternative/indie chameleon from Atlanta, Georgia. She absorbed city, childhood sounds via New York, London and ATL and transformed them into her own. Guitar caught Abra's attention as an adolescent, hasn't let go since those younger years.

Her mash-up YouTube features enthusiastic acoustic covers—the pathway to Awful Records. Abra produced and wrote the 2015 debut release Rose! She's been featured on Adult Swim's summer singles ('Novacane'), Ninja Tune and more.

Versatile label owner, producer and rapper Father says about Awful Records: "Awful has done a lot for indie music. We showed many just how far you can get on your own." (Billboard) He encouraged her to make original songs.

True Panther Sounds distributed the following project, Princess, in 2016. We are still wrapping our heads around the audial expanse. Abra's second EP hit many marks without forcing it. As for Abra, she defies the generalizations around Black R&B, rock performers and moves her chosen way.

"I don’t want to put music out that will make people's heart feel heavy. There is a time and a place, but that’s not for me. Learning about bass in Atlanta was really important to me because it gave me a way to be hella emotional like I am but still turn it up." (Stoney Roads)

Hear her ethereal track 'Healthy' here. Below is a wavy fan-made video.

     

Ashanti Mutinta undoes all preconceived notions about sound, period. Backxwash is the Zambian-Canadian metalhead who mystifies with blistering beats and heavenly precision. She first heard hip-hop through her sister: "Mo' Money Mo' Problems". Rock was soon to follow.

Grimalkin Records (former label) happens to be the "queer-focused record label & collective" who represent Woven In. They are a Baltimore darkwave artist you'll see later on the list.

"What's fun about sampling metal is the crate digging." (Twitter)

You can expect industrial samples, '70's rock (Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin), witchcraft references, all the heavy jams. She lives in Quebec via Lusaka, at first to pursue university.

Now it's all about making art. Their embracing self coincided with Blvck Sail4r Moon's release (2018) and our own journey. Rock and rap had to accept us whether they were ready or not.

"I like a lot of those feelings that heavy metal brings, and they mesh well with the music I’m trying to create...I guess the difference in choosing those sounds is also part of a new creative process." (x)

God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It is Backxwash's horrorcore/goth-hop odyssey before Stigmata.

"I go into the void...", she raps on a brooding track with Malldate. 'Adolescence' samples 'When The Levee Breaks' (Memphis Minnie-inspired), and Spells cast exactly that!

Backxwash is reversing colonialism's effect on our minds, one eerie song at a time.

"These are practices that they used to teach and believe in before the missionaries came, so it plays an important aspect in that sense because it’s going back to the beginning." (The Star)

Backxwash won the Polaris Music Prize in 2020. CBC Music presents this award to Canada's best album of each year. Of course, Backxwash's full significance is yet to be documented. We anticipate more dark storytelling, that is for sure.

"Be as honest as you want to be and create the art that you want to".

      

 

Meredith Bell is RVA rock-her royalty, frontwoman for Philadelphia hard rock/metal quintet Palaceburn: bassist Michael Marks, guitarists Darren Makins (rhythm) and J.P. Miglionico (lead), drummer Bon Soma. She has sang over 30 years (began in her grandfather's choir) and entered our airwaves via The Awakening (2013).

That EP emanated lasting shockwaves, and would precede Palaceburn's place alongside other great bands like Candiria, Death Grips, Letlive., and Sevendust. Meredith wowed the crowd at Chris Jericho's All Elite Wrestling entrance when she sang Fozzy's 'Judas' last year too!

'And You Wonder Why They Kneel' revisited Philando Castile's death by police brutality: their band's first reunion after 2018.

The poignant, timely song is an ode to Black lives everywhere and features nationwide activism in each member's hometown.

"I went to my guys and I said 'Listen, this is about some Black-ass shit. Are you going to be okay with this?'

They [the band were completely supportive, they were 110% completely in it. They were just like "Absolutely, Meredith, we're all for it"."

And don't forget her #BRU's 1st Black Rock-Her Roundtable appearance either!

"That's art, right? When you are a creative being and you get to the point where you want to talk about things that you're passionate about and you feel about, that's your way of talking about those certain things.

...The story of rock 'n roll is very whitewashed, you know what I'm saying? They never wanna give us credit, right? When you think of people like Sister Rosetta Tharpe?

It's like we were really the blueprint when it comes to the music that you're listening to. So it shouldn't be an issue that we're in this!" (Rock-Her Roundtable #1)

This is our time! Meredith Bell was also a returning panelist for Rock-Her Roundtable #2!

"Really trying to navigate and weave my way through the scene and seeing how people were going to react to someone like me...that, I had to say, was the biggest challenge but also has been rewarding. People are going to feel that authenticity as an artist."

 

Tina Marie Bell reigns as the "Queen of Grunge Punk", hard rock heroine that time obscured and uncovered again. She learned to sing in the Baptist Church like another famous rock-her!

 

Bam Bam (Tina, bassist/vocalist Scotty Ledgerwood, guitarist Tommy Martin plus future Pearl Jam/Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron) was her resident band well before grunge's foothold. Bam Bam was a combination of Tina and Tommy's last names.

"Tina, Tommy & I basically spent the Spring & Summer of ’83 writing.. a lot! We did almost nothing else, 5-6 days a week."

And here's a cool fact: "Tina gave me the name Scotty Buttocks at the wrap up of the Ground Zero taping." (The Sonic Mosquito Soup)

Their 1984 vinyl Villains Also Wear White released through Reciprocal Recording Studios. Bam Bam's 'Ground Zero' and 'Heinz 57' were unreal. Audiences had never witnessed anyone like Tina. Her first band was untouchably formative, raw.

So she faced the same reluctance as other Black rock-hers and retired in 1990 away from her beloved stage. Tina raised a son T.J. with Bam Bam guitarist Tommy Martin. He's a filmmaker now (Tina).

"Queen of Grunge" Tina Bell passed away in 2012 before another band reunion. We never got to uplift her in life. We're posthumously watching her ripple effect today, shaking up the scene.

Bam Bam just signed with Bric-A-Brac Records! Congratulations and rock on out there! RIP, Tina Bell.

     

Big Joanie is a London Black womanist punk party of three, "similar to The Ronettes filtered through ’80s DIY and Riot Grrrl with a sprinkling of dashikis".

Stephanie Phillips (guitarist), Estella Adeyeri (bassist) and Chardine Taylor-Stone (percussionist) "can be completely themselves as Black women" as Big Joanie. They rock for themselves and future generations.

 

That has been the case ever since Sistah Punk's heartfelt decision to be Black and femme out loud. Our first listen was 'Dream No. 9'. Big Joanie vocalized so much in their longing. Adored 2018 album Sistahs won hearts for the same reason.

Stephanie Phillips is Big Joanie's lead guitarist/vocalist and a Midlands-born artist. Stephanie has brought transformative non-fiction and cultural research on Black music/rock-hers to the mainstream consciousness.

"There was a lot happening in the black feminist scene so we thought, 'Oh, why can’t we have this in punk?'" (The Quietus)

Stephanie Phillips has hosted BBC podcasts, M Magazine's digital Black History Month edition and Why Solange Matters charts Solange Knowles' triumph despite all odds.

Their Third Man session of 'Cranes in the Sky' rocks.

"It was just kind of an obvious thing to do because it's a song we all love so much," Estella said to Boogaloo Radio. "Take an R&B song and make it punk."

Stephanie's solo project Stef Fi deserves more shine too.

Estella Adeyeri is part of the music podcast-trio Melatrois: three Black "eccentric aunties" who delve into mold-breaking artists and underrepresented history. Estella also is integral to Girls Rock London, a music camp for young girls and women. She's in Charmpit too!

"It’s just been ten years, getting interested into different alternative scenes, identifying with something angsty or rebellious as you’re growing up."  (The Quietus)

"The first role model I saw when I was like, young would have been Skin from Skunk Anansie and seeing her...they were such a huge band and to see this Black woman with an amazing voice like, fronting this heavy band is really beautiful. I wasn't aware at the time that that was something I was allowed to look like!" (Melatrois)

Estella participated in Poly Styrene's documentary (which Celeste Bell, her daughter, directed) I Am A Cliché Q&A as well, a punk her-story moment. Check it out!

Chardine Taylor-Stone is punk-grunge queen and a super-sharp artivist like Estella and Stephanie.

"I was constantly looking for images that looked like me and I couldn't find them! Then I discovered these people! Poly Styrene from X-Ray Spex...

H.R., Bad Brains, all Black punk bands who changed the course of punk music, led us into hardcore...and D.H. from Dead Kennedys...There was a Black presence in punk music that no one really TALKED about."

Please, PLEASE watch Chardine's amazing TEDxTalk which riffs on Poly Styrene's punk influence, her working-class anecdotes and punk's possibilities.

"It's about using the resources that you have. That is a political act in itself...and I met Stephanie Phillips who's the lead singer and added her on Facebook because she had a guitar.

One day she put up a post saying that she wanted to start an all-girl Black punk band."

Stephanie reminisced on their starting days too. "We started at First Timers and the way we described ourselves, (black feminist sistah punk) it was very literal." (The Quietus)

Big Joanie has toured with Bikini Kill, Downtown Boys, Idles, Sleater-Kinney and Solange! They have performed at the UK's first AfroPunk and Decolonise Fest, a London-centric, yearly punk festival.

Stephanie is key leader in Decolonise's organizing team. Each rock-her in Big Joanie aims to diversify their scene...make purposeful art.

Kill Rock Stars is the independent, artist-friendly record label whose origins lie in Portland/Olympia's rock underground. Associated musicians like Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill), Nirvana, Sleater-Kinney may ring a bell. Kill Rock Stars now has Big Joanie on their roster!

"I think riot grrrl...is about breaking those rules and showing that it's not just old white men making this music. A lot of Black punks are looking back on the history of this music scene and realizing that there's a lot being left out," Big Joanie shared to Riot Diet (Boogaloo Radio).

A celebratory 7-inch split with Charmpit (Kluster Room Sessions) brought the riot grrrl feel with soul! Cheers, Big Joanie. We dug their cameo in fellow UK rock-her Shingai's 'Too Bold' video! So cool!

 

Zulu/English-born Nandi Lily Bushell knew her destiny at six years old. The prodigal percussionist's father John played The Beatles' classic song "Hey Jude". It sparked an ongoing fire in Nandi for rock (Variety).

They jammed together on YouTube with her brother (YouTube). You could tell her bright demeanor and supportive family were boosting her potential to learn!

Nandi began playing gigs by seven. She teaches Dad how to compose now! Imagine that. Drum sessions became a regular occurence, and led to her surreal covers: Metallica's 'Enter Sandman', Rage Against The Machine's 'Guerrilla Radio' and 'Killing In The Name Of', Lenny Kravitz.

The 10-year-old musician confidently handles bass, excellent drums and guitar now. Tom Morello sent his signature Fender Stratocaster "as a gift from me to you because you rock so great...it gives me hope for the future!" in 2020.

We are still awestruck about Nandi Bushell's drum battle win vs. Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl, who called her "the best drummer in the world".

Oh, and Nandi's received a custom set from Lenny Kravitz and Nate Smith too after jamming at the O2 Arena!

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Starr Cullars is our eighth rock-her: fantastic bandleader and former bassist for George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic (but Prince was a possibility)! Her childhood was rooted in Philadelphia.

She gravitated toward cello and guitar before sticking with bass.


"I play a Yamaha five-string bass." (Old Guys Talk Metal...)

She joined the P-Funk at 20. Can you believe such dedication? "And guess what? George Clinton was signed to Prince's Paisley Park label when I joined! So I tell George the story..." (YouTube)

Her wonderful interview with Funk 'n Stuff discusses more if you want to hear from Starr herself!

"The metal community has been paving the way for women! The rest of our complete rock genres, including classic, alternative, progressive, they have NOT embraced women like metal has. And it is still very much a battle...to be recognized as a songwriter-musician, female.

I can absolutely say from my time doing that show, VH1's Rock 'n Roll Boot Camp—my season happened to have Phil Collen (Def Leppard), Matt Sorum and Duff McKagan of Guns 'N Roses! Paul Stanley (KISS), Sammy Hagar (Van Halen)...

I was fortunate enough to be chosen by Mark Hudson to be in his group of five." (Old Guys Talk Metal...)

She heads Starr Cullars Crew (SCC) who opened shows for Bad Brains, Living Colour AND Parliament-Funkadelic!

"One of the things these rock legends told me throughout the course of us doing this...in my face, 'There is no woman in rock that we recognize.

Not since Joan Jett and Heart from the 80's and 70's! So you know, we are giving YOU the recognition as the new Princess/current Queen of Rock...'

Mark and the producers start telling all the rock stars who I am! So when Paul [Stanley] comes in the door, he looks at Mark and goes 'Hey, man, is that her, the girl you're talking about?' He walks up to the microphone that I'm singing and playing on...and we're singing and I'm playing!"

Starr is CEO of her own entertainment company/label, Cosmic Nation Productions because the reins should be in Black women's hands when our interests are concerned. She is not afraid to take a stand and be bold.

"I have the nickname Amazon Warrior because that's what I'm doing. I'm in constant, some type of battle, you know in business battles.

You know, just to get the record out, just get that hence why I started my company." (YouTube) There is no way to block Starr Cullars' shine!

Bass Player Magazine recently featured her work! Connect and get Starr's music like 2020's Living Galaxy, and the epic 2003 live album.Visit Cosmic Nation Productions.

   

"This is my time and I’m sharing my soul.”

Wassoulou, southern Mali is one of blues' countless ancestral birthplaces. It was once an empire that Mandinka elite controlled, or the ancient Muslim Dyula who recounted family lines and important history in griot compositions.

African guitarist-songwriter Fatou(mata) Diawara was born here on 1982. She flawlessly danced the didadi in her father's troupe but fate had plans for her in Bamako.

Fatoumata stayed with her actress-aunt, and coincidentally landed major roles as a teenager. Paris gave her further avenues for acting after running away there to avoid arranged marriage.

Cheick Tidiane Seck invited her to Mali again for the award-winning Bambara chanteuse Oumou Sangaré, and American jazz performer Dee Dee Bridgewater!

We discovered her at the same time as Oumou's 'Wayeina' when Fatoumata joyfully danced and provided haunting background notes.

Fatoumata Diawara was a choral vocalist on both artists' projects (Seya [2009], Red Earth, A Malian Journey [2007]). All the while, she developed a richer repertoire and ear for personal music.

Fatou debuted in 2011, a tumultous year for Mali as civil war seeped out of the Sahara across her home country. And yet every pensive song has the fiercest love woven within Fatoumata's renaissance (all instruments by her).

Fatou won No. 1 World Music Award for the year! Fatoumata has recorded with Damon Albarn's African Express, Herbie Hancock, Bobby Womack and Gorillaz between those sessions.

Fenfo was her next anticipated project in 2018: an appealing exploration of funk, rock, soul and traditional tunes. She does not just record African music. She IS Africa.

 

 

Kayla Dixon is the actress/heavy-doom metal vocalist who has raised the bar, and made her mark already at 26 years old. She sings for Portland band Witch Mountain (2015-), and Californian Dress the Dead for four years now. Glendale, CA originally is home.

Kayla absorbed hard rock, nu-metal and a love of theater as a Maryland youth. Who are her influences? Kayla definitely appreciates Dark Tranquillity, Katatonia (x), Leprous, Tool and yes, Mrs. Whitney Houston.

She then attended D.C.'s Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Eventually Kayla Dixon's career brought her to California to pursue acting roles.

It seems like divine intervention when Witch Mountain needed a new voice. Drummer Nate Carson, guitarist Rob Wrong and bassist Justin Brown found the perfect fit.

Kayla nailed the audition, the rest is history. 'Burn You Down' is a seven-minute slow burn still etched into our mind.

"She's our Dio," Carson admitted happily. 'Priceless Pain' scorches society's selfishness with Kayla's trademark choral duality.

Dress the Dead founder (Manmade Gods guitarist) Craig Locicero felt the same way about her adaptability to any sound. He had remembered her performance in San Francisco. They coordinated a year afterward when Dress the Dead vocalist Peter Dolving stepped back. Kayla Dixon is now the frontwoman.

"She'd been checking us out for months and was already a fan of the music...it's like it was made for her. She seamlessly fit into the music," Craig reflects on Kayla Dixon.

"I've been in training the entire time I've been singing...I started singing when I was five...Everything is natural for me, so because of that, I think the decision was (if I'm being honest): well, I'm going to do it because I can [Laughs]!" (YouTube)

The latest Dress the Dead video steals the show. How did they do it, Sway?