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Celebrating Women's History Month with Education Through Music

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Education Through Music is sharing a fun lesson created by ETM Instructional Supervisor Naomi Fernandez. In this lesson, you or your student will learn a little bit about 10 influential women in music. Afterwards, consider some of the discussion questions or the additional activities we’ve provided at the bottom of this page.

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Kassia of Constantinople

Kassia is considered the first female composer in Western history.

She is also very famously argued with Constantinople’s Emperor Theophilos: when the Emperor teased Kassia with a bible story, suggesting that women were troublemakers, Kassia quoted another bible verse back at him, shutting down his unwelcome advances.

Soon, Kassia founded a convent and adopted the monastic life. During her life, she wrote poetry and composed music, including many hymns, several of which are still celebrated and sung today.

Listen to some of Kassia’s hymns.

Kassia of Constantinople

Clara Schumann

Clara Schumann

German pianist and composer Clara Schumann might be one of the earliest examples of an influential woman in music.

Female composers were extremely scarce in the mid-1800s. But Schumann defied such expectations and became both a distinguished pianist and composer. Her playing even inspired German composer Robert Schumann, leading to their eventual marriage!

Schumann was a virtuosic pianist, a passionate composer, a loving partner, and a positive influence of composers of all genders.

Listen to Clara Schumann’s music here.

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday (who was actually born Eleanora Fagan) was born during the vibrant Harlem Renaissance in 1915, and didn’t have much growing up. She did, however, have music!

She loved music and singing, and began singing professionally in local clubs in her adopted hometown of New York City as a teenager.

Holiday became a jazz sensation, not only for her incredible singing, but also for her activism: Holiday broke new ground in the late 1930s by becoming one of the first female Black vocalists to work with an all-white orchestra. She also famously sang “Strange Fruit”, one of the first protest songs of the Civil Rights Movement.

Billie Holiday died at the young age of 44 but will always be remembered as an extremely important figure in jazz music history.

Listen to Billie Holiday sing “Strange Fruit.”

Billie Holiday

Patsy Cline

Patsy Cline

Patsy Cline is considered one of the most important woman in the history of country music.

Born Virginia Patterson Hensley, Cline she achieved a great deal as a woman in music: she was even the first female country artist to perform at Carnegie Hall and headline her own show.

Tragically, Cline died in a plane crash when she was only 30. As a testament to her legacy, though, Cline became the first female inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1973.

Listen to Patsy Cline’s hit “Crazy.”

Tina Turner

Tina Turner if often considered the “Queen of Rock & Roll.”

Born Anna Mae Bullock, Tina is a singer, songwriter, dancer, and actress. Tina first became famous as the frontwoman for The Ike & Tina Turner Revue, which was organized by her then-husband Ike Turner. Her energetic stage presence and powerful voice helped make her a solo star, too.

Turner has sold over 100 million records in her career, and have been celebrated with 12 Grammy Awards! She was also the first Black artist and the first female on the cover “Rolling Stone” magazine!

Fun fact: Tina Turner gave up her US citizenship to become an official citizen of Switzerland.

Listen to Tina Turner perform her song “The Best.”

Tina Turner

Cher

American singer and actress Cher has had a #1 hit in every decade since the 1960s, which is probabely why she’s often considered the “Goddess of Pop!”

Cher first became a popular performer in 1965 as one-half of the husband-wife duo Sonny & Cher. Being part of a duo didn’t stop Cher from having an incredible solo career, which has continued on through today!

Cher has won a Grammy, an Emmy, an Oscar, and three Golden Globe Awards!

Listen to Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time.”

Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton has been busy! She’s a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, actress, author, businesswoman, and humanitarian!

Parton grew up in a one-room cabin in Tennessee with 11 brothers and sisters. She began performing as a child, singing on her local radio stations and TV programs. While her initial success as an adult came from writing songs for other singers, she soon started became a recording artist herself. And the rest is history!

Dolly has received one nomination from all four major annual American entertainment award organizations: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. And she’s sold more than 100 million records worldwide. She’s also supported many charitable efforts, with a particular focus on literacy.

Listen to Dolly Parton.

Dolly Parton

Carole King

Carole King

Carole King began writing and performing music in the 1950s. Her first big hit, which she co-wrote with her then-husband Gerry Goffin, was “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” performed by iconic girl-group The Shirelles.

By the 70s, King became famous not just for writing great songs, but for singing them. She influenced so many other women performers in that era, too.

Recently, her life story–and some of her most famous songs–were turned into a Broadway show called “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.”

Listen to Carole King.

Selena

Mexican-American Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, known simply as Selena, is considered by many to be the “Queen of Tejano music.” Tejano music is an American music style deeply influenced by music from Mexico and other Latin countries.

Selena released her very first record at the age of 12, performing with the Los Dinos band, which included her brother and sister.

Although she was tragically killed when she was 23, in her short career she became one of the most influential Latin artists of all time. Thanks to Selena, Latin music has become a mainstream music genre.

Listen to Selena.

Andra Day

Andra Day

Andra Day is Grammy Award-nominated singer, songwriter, and actress. Day is a fabulous R&B artist, but she was deeply inspired by Billie Holiday, whom she recently portrayed in the film “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” a performance that earned her a Golden Globe!

Listen to Andra Day.

Questions for deep reflection

Now that you know a few things about these ten women in music history, here are a few discussion questions. There are no wrong answers, of course!

What’s something interesting you learned about Selena and her impact on music?

What did you find most interesting about Kassia or her music?

What do you think Clara Schumann’s life would be like if she were living and composing today?

What do you think it was like for Dolly growing up in such a small space with such a large family?

Carol King writes songs for other artists as well as for herself. How do you think she decides if the song is for her voice or another voice?

How do you think Cher’s 60-year career has inspired other women musicians?

Do you think Tina Turner is still the Queen of Rock & Rock?

If you got to ask Andra Day what she thinks about Billie Holiday, what do you think she would say?

What do you think inspired Billie Holiday to join the Civil Right movement and sing “Strange Fruit?”

Can you try to imagine how Patsy Cline felt about being the first woman country singer to perform at Carnegie Hall?

Additional Activities

Research On Your Own! 

Choose one of the women presented here who you find interesting and find out more about them. Create a one-minute video sharing what else you’ve learned. Share it with us at @etmonline!

 

Add To The List

Choose one woman from your life or your personal playlist and research them. Create a one-minute video sharing what else you’ve learned. Share it with us at @etmonline!

 

Women’s History Month Puzzle

ETM Instructional Supervisor Naomi Fernandez also created a virtual jigsaw puzzle featuring images of all 10 women. Give it a shot!