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MIXTAPE: Liberated Women by Dawn Landes

Mar 25, 2024

MIXTAPE: Liberated Women by Dawn Landes

My new album, The Liberated Woman’s Songbook, reimagines folk songs about women’s activism from a songbook published in 1971 at the height of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Songbooks were the playlists of the past. Before people could burn CDs or make mixtapes, if they wanted to share songs they would make books or zines. When I was researching for this project, I consulted a lot of songbooks and zines from the late ’60s and early ’70s and found so many delightful things! Here are a few of my favorite finds (most pre-dating 1971, when the book was published). – Dawn Landes

“Hard is the Fortune of All Womankind (1830)” – Dawn Landes

This traditional ballad was often sung at protests during the Women’s Liberation Movement in the late ’60s and early ’70s. It was recorded by Peggy Seeger in 1954 and Joan Baez in 1961 under an alternate title, “The Wagoner’s Lad.” The lyrics date back to its first printing by English song collector Cecil Sharp.

“Single Girl, Married Girl” – The Carter Family

I first heard this Appalachian song when I worked at a bookstore in NYC and would constantly listen to a Carter Family CD on repeat. Apparently Sara Carter didn’t like the song and didn’t want to record it in 1927, but I’m so glad she did!

“I’m Gonna Be an Engineer” – Peggy Seeger

This masterpiece was written in the ’70s by the great Peggy Seeger, an incredible musician, writer, and keeper of the folk tradition (also, the sister of Pete Seeger). She’s been an advocate for women’s rights throughout her long career and has recorded many folk songs on women’s issues.

“Lady, What Do You Do All Day?” – Peggy Seeger

Seeger’s epic retort to Ewan MacColl’s question at the top of the song is worthy of its own film. MacColl and Seeger were musical and life partners for 30 years and made so many amazing recordings together. Check out her memoir, The First Time Ever, for some wild stories about the two.

“It’s My Way” – Buffy Sainte-Marie

This was the title track to Buffy Sainte-Marie’s debut album in 1964. That whole album is mind-blowing, but this song stands out to me. It’s so self-assured and strong. She’s still performing it in her 80s and even released a rock version in 2015.

“You Don’t Own Me” – Lesley Gore

Lesley Gore was 17 years old when she recorded this in 1963! One of the song’s two writers, John Madera, said its sensibility was shaped by his upbringing and participation in the civil rights movement.

“Oughta Be A Woman” – Sweet Honey In the Rock

Bernice Johnson Reagan said, “June Jordan wrote the words to ‘Oughta Be a Woman’ after I talked about my mother.” I really love the narrators voice in the writing and the uplifting voices of Sweet Honey In the Rock singing this.

“Silver Dagger” – Joan Baez

This song casts such a spell and Joan Baez is one of my all time favorite singers.

“Which Side Are You On (1931)” – Dawn Landes

Here’s a labor song mashup that combines Florence Reece’s lyrics from “Which Side Are You On” with Aunt Molly Jackson’s “I Am a Union Woman.” I’m singing the part of Florence Reece and Kanene Pipkin (of The Lone Bellow) is singing the Aunt Molly lyrics. Both women wrote protest songs during the “Bloody” Harlan County, Kentucky miners strike.

“Custom Made Woman Blues” – Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard

I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time with Alice Gerrard and she told me that the first time she and Hazel Dickens performed this song at a women’s festival the audience clapped so loud they had to play it again! Immediately! Legends.

“I Am Woman” – Helen Reddy

The production on this song really places me exactly in the year 1971, when The Liberated Woman’s Songbook was published and Helen Reddy’s song was about to become a huge part of the soundtrack to the Women’s Liberation Movement. There’s a great documentary about her life and this song on Netflix.

Photo Credit: Heather Evans Smith

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MIXTAPE: Liberated Women by Dawn Landes
MIXTAPE: Liberated Women by Dawn Landes