Frances Densmore – Song Catcher of Native American Music, 1867-1957

Mapping the rhythms of a vanishing tribal life

Chief of the Blackfoot tribe records his music.
Frances Densmore recording the Mountain Chief of the Blackfoot Nation in the Smithsonian Institution’s castle building.

Frances Densmore first heard the sound of a Dakota Sioux drum as a child. “I fell asleep night after night to the throb of that drum,” she later recalled. But while others heard the same sound and quickly forgot it, Frances Densmore followed that drum beat for the rest of her life.

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Lavinia Ellen Ream: Abraham Lincoln’s Sculptor

As a teenager, Lavinia Ream was commissioned to sculpt a bust of Abraham Lincoln
A famed sculptor in an era that allowed little room for women in the world of serious art, Lavinia Ream worked with President Abraham Lincoln to create two sculptures of him. The largest one, completed after his assassination, has stood in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda for 149 years.

Lavinia Ream had three strikes against her. She was young, she was female, and she had friends in high places. But when Congress selected her to sculpt a memorial statue of President Abraham Lincoln in 1866, the 18 year old made history as the first female artist and youngest individual commissioned to create art for the United States Government.

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Grace Gallatin Seton: Adventurer and Champion of Women’s Rights

Born the daughter of a west coast steel and iron magnate, Gace Gallatin Seton traveled the world as an adventurer, writer and advocate for women’s rights. Here, in World War I France, she and her comrades use their Ford Camionettes to ferry supplies to the front lines.

Madeleine Albright, America’s first Secretary of State, famously said “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” If that’s true, writer and adventurer Grace Gallatin Seton certainly isn’t there. Continue reading “Grace Gallatin Seton: Adventurer and Champion of Women’s Rights”

Josephine Baker: Exotic Showgirl and Clandestine French Operative

Josephine Baker, stage girl and French Spy
Largely remembered in the U.S. as an uninhibited showgirl and glitzy celebrity, Josephine Baker secretly served as an undercover operative for the Free French movement during WWII. She was ultimately awarded the Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor, France’s highest military honors.

Josephine Baker took Paris by storm, dancing in nothing more than a G-string hung with fake bananas. She had a diamond-collared pet cheetah named Chiquita. Ernest Hemingway called her “the most sensational woman anybody ever saw.” But she was also a French war hero, World War II spy and a civil rights activist who raised 12 children she called her “Rainbow Tribe.”

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Lydia Mendoza : The First Lady of Tejano Music

In the mid-1900s, Mexican-American Lydia Mendoza became an international star who paved the way for later Tejano singers like Selena Quintanilla-Pérez. Mendoza produced 1200 recordings during her long career and the President of the United States honored the singer and her work with the National Medal of Arts.

The shocking 1995 murder of Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, often called the Queen of Tejano music, plunged fans into mourning and introduced her to English speakers who became fans. But few of them knew Selena stood on the shoulders of another woman, born 80 years before her death. That woman was Lydia Mendoza, rightfully known as the First Lady of Tejano.

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Delia Derbyshire – Unsung Hero of Electronic Music 1937-2001

An electronic music pioneer in an age of analog equipment, Delia Derbyshire devised the jury-rigged recording and sound manipulation techniques that became the Doctor WHO theme song.

Think of a song born of wind bubbles, visual swoops, clouds and something called a “wobbulator.” Hummable, with a strong beat, but totally unique. One of the most-heard and instantly recognizable pieces of music today. Give up? It’s the theme for the popular British TV sci-fi series Doctor Who; and it was created by Delia Derbyshire, referred to as the “unsung hero of British electronic music.”

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