Producing and disseminating music is a massive undertaking. Roles unrelated to performance are critical to success in the music industry. Whether behind the scenes, administering business activities, or working with artists, women contribute in a variety of roles.
Women in the Industry
Women work in every facet of the music industry. Throughout the twentieth century, women broke significant ground as record label executives, talent developers, editors, engineers, and photojournalists, among other professions. As more women become decision-makers in the music industry, they bring diverse perspectives, talent, and creativity to the profession.
Women-Owned Record Labels
Paredon Records, cofounded by Barbara Dane and Irwin Silber in the early 1970s, set out to amplify the voices of artists and activists that were full of hope, and sometimes desperation—voices that expressed the struggles and victories of people standing up for peace, equity, and social justice. Dane’s Paredon Records donated their holdings to the Smithsonian in 1991.
In 1948, Marian Distler (1919–1964) and Moses Asch (1905–1986) cofounded Folkways Records, an innovative label dedicated to recording and documenting culturally diverse music and sounds. In 1987, the Smithsonian purchased Folkways Records from the Asch estate.
Sylvia Robinson was a groundbreaking singer, songwriter, producer, and record label executive. As co-founder and CEO of Sugar Hill Records, Robinson produced and released one of hip hop’s earliest commercially successful songs of sociopolitical commentary, “The Message” by Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five (1982).
Suzanne de Passe
Suzanne de Passe is a popular music producer, label executive, television producer, and business woman. At Motown Records, she helped lead artist development and music television productions for more than two decades.
Singer, songwriter, editor, and labor activist Sis Cunningham (1909–2004) founded Broadside magazine in 1962 with her husband Gordon Friesen. They published a wide range of topical songs from well-known folk artists of the era, including Bob Dylan, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Vanessa Redgrave, and others.