July 23, 2015
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Rad American Women A-Z is one of the most striking and important children's books I have read in years. Written by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl, the book shares iconic portraits of a diverse selection of strong women from America's past and present.
Bust Magazine wrote of the book:
"The very first kids' book released by the iconic publishing house City Lights, Rad American Women A-Z navigates the alphabet from Angela Davis to Zora Neale Hurston with colorful illustrations and short, powerful narratives. The perfect gift for the junior riot grrl in your life."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
In her own words, here is Kate Schatz's Book Notes music playlist for her book Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future!:
Miriam and I are both heavily influenced by music in pretty much all aspects of our lives. We are artists and moms and activists and East Bay residents and we are the writer (me) and illustrator (Miriam) of Rad American Women A-Z, a New York Times bestselling children's book for everyone that's published by City Lights Publishers. It features bios and illustrations of 26 rad women from American history, with a focus on women of color and women whose stories aren't often told.
What follows is the Rad American Women A-Z playlist, featuring songs by the women in the book, songs about the women in the book, songs we listened to while creating/touring with the book, and songs we (and our kids) just love by women who are just plain rad.
A is for Annie, and Carol Burnett's classic version of "Little Girls"
C is for CAROL in our book, which is a delight to many, many readers who love Carol but are often surprised to find her in a book about radical American women. Carol wasn't an activist, per se, but she was a total trailblazer for women in comedy and television, and her story is awesome. Her repertoire is vast, but I, like many many people my age, know her best from Annie, which I have probably seen 150 times easy. I have every line memorized and "Little Girls"—a fairly disturbing rant by the abusive neglectful alcoholic Ms. Hannigan—has always been my fave. Sorry-not-sorry if you were expecting a much cooler track to kick off this playlist.
B is for BOUQUET "Rad Women Libretto"
Bouquet is a seriously rad band featuring one of our favorite people, Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs who has written an entire song about Rad American Women A-Z that she so kindly performed at a reading in Berkeley at Pegasus Books. Her previous band, The Finches, created songs that still get stuck in my head on a regular basis, and now we have Bouquet who, according to Rookie, "make music for time travelers". Nice. We're waiting on a final recording of the Rad Women song, so in the meantime you should listen to BOUQUET and The Finches. Like all day long.
C is for Carmen Moreno/Los Lobos "Corrido de Dolores Huerta #39"
The corrido is a popular Mexican song form—they're narrative ballads that are usually righteous (and sometimes romantic) in content, telling stories about about oppression, history, and the lives of the working poor. This corrido is about the great labor leader Dolores Huerta, who's the "D" in our book, and it appears on a compilation called Si Se Puede! that Los Lobos put out in 1976 (it was their first album—their breakout Just Another Band From East L.A. came out in '78). They rereleased it in 2014 on Cesar Chavez Day, and proceeds benefit the United Farm Workers (UFW), the union that Dolores and Cesar co-founded in the late 60s/early 70s. This track is sung by Carmen (Carmencristina) Moreno, a longtime singer-songwriter from Fresno, California who's sometimes called the "Chicana First Lady of Song."
D is for Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon/Sweet Honey in the Rock "Ella's Song"
This song is about the incredible and often unsung Civil Rights hero Ella Baker, the "E" in our book, and it's written by Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, the founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock, the a capella heritage group. Dr. Reagon is a rad scholar/performer/activist/artist who was right there with Ella—she was the field secretary for SNCC and a member of The Freedom Singers. This song is about Ella Baker, but the lyrics are devastatingly contemporary—"Until the killing of Black men/Black mothers' songs/Is as important as the killing of White men/White mothers' sons…" #BlackLivesMatter
E is for Elton John "Philadelphia Freedom"
Fun fact! This song is for Billie Jean King, the "B" in our book! The story goes that in 1974 Elton, who's a good pal of Billie Jean, asked Bernie Taupin to write a song for her, and Bernie was like "I cannot write a song about tennis" so he wrote about Philly because at the time Billie Jean was playing for the Philadelphia Freedoms, a tennis team that was part of the World Team Tennis league that she founded. As is the case with so many Elton/Bernie songs, the lyrics kind of make no sense, but Billie Jean loved it (and it was subsequently embraced as a patriotic bicentennial jam). It may not call out BJ by name, or even mention tennis, but it's totally about her. Plus this Soul Train video is excellent.
F is for Free To Be You & Me "Free to Be You & Me"
(Note: Miriam is a little mad that I'm including this song because she feels it betrayed her because she fully believed it when she was little and then she grew up and realized that we aren't all actually truly free to be you and me, and we can't actually run where the horses run free, because there are fences and rules and shit like capitalism and OK fine it's true, and yes this album actually kind of reinscribes gender roles in some ways, but it is still very special and I still like playing it for my kids.) Did you know that "Free To Be You & Me" was a project of the Ms. Foundation?! Ms. is rad, and this album is rad—can you even handle the cast? Aside from Marlo Thomas, we have Carol Channing! Harry Belafonte! Roberta Flack! Diana Ross! Cicely Tyson! All in service of 1970s feminism! ERA now!
G is for Gilda Radner "Let's Talk Dirty To the Animals"
People often ask us which women we wish we could have included, since there are only 26 in the book. There are so many amazing women we wanted to have in there, and Gilda is one of them. Like Carol Burnett, she broke down so many barriers for women in comedy. She could be raunchy and vulnerable, sweet and grotesque, and always, always hilarious.
H is for Hazel Scott "Hazel's Boogie Woogie"
H is for Hazel in our book. She was a music prodigy, totally gifted at classical and jazz piano and vocals, enrolled at Julliard as a kid and playing nightclubs on Broadway as a teen. Her piano act was unparalleled. She sang in seven languages, was a consummate entertainer, and was the first woman of color to have her own TV show, The Hazel Scott Show. Look her up on YouTube and watch her play piano...
I is for the International Sweethearts of Rhythm "Jump Children"
A few years back I was asked to write a piece for the Mississippi issue of Oxford American, which was thrilling to me because I, a total California girl, adore this deeply Southern publication that I discovered while visiting friends in North Carolina. I was to choose a Mississippi musician or band from a list, and I selected the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, knowing nothing about them and then quickly learning that they were Everything. They were the first integrated all-female band in the country and they were rad. Their story is amazing, inspiring, and ultimately sad—despite their immense talents, they, like so many other women who found work and fame in a number of fields during WWII, they were largely forgotten and pushed back into the domestic sphere once the boys came back home.
J is for Jean Grae "Knock"
Jean Grae is awesome and hilarious and creative as hell and she is doing SO many rad things right now and though this song is really old and she's put out a ton of newer tracks since this first album, I include this song because not only does she sample the Grateful Dead but she samples "Help On the Way", one of my favorite tracks off Blues for Allah, one of my favorite Dead albums (THIS IS THE PART WHERE I ADMIT I'M A DEADHEAD. SORRY MIRIAM. I AM NOT TRUE PUNK). It's such a good deep bass riff and I feel very happy that Grae used it.
K is for Kim Gordon "Kool Thing"
I read Kim's new book while we were on our Rad Women book tour and then in Portland Miriam gave me a Kim Gordon t-shirt that she got from her friend and I wore it to a reading with my tiger leggings and fake leather jacket so it all feels very connected. It was my airplane book for several short West Coast flights—I actually cried on the flight home from Burbank to Oakland when I was reading about Kim watching Coco play music for the first time. It's such a good book, and I so appreciate how she writes about her relationships with everything around her—southern California landscapes, her brother, the 60s, art, punk, the 90s, Thurston, motherhood, New York, performance, painting, etc etc etc. #TeamKim for sure. And this song because, well, yeah—I mean, are you gonna liberate us girls from male white corporate oppression?
L is for Le Tigre "Keep on Livin"
Le Tigre is a very special band and this is a very special anthem of feminist/queer resilience that is just like "Hey I know this world is fucked up and you just wanna curl up and cry and not function but no way, that will not do, you can't let them do that to your beautiful Self". Self-help feminist dance punk at its absolute rad finest. Much love to Kathleen, Johanna, and JD!
M is for May Day Orchestra "The Red Flag (Another Last Song for Lucy Parsons)"
May Day Orchestra wrote an entire "folk opera" album called May Day, or Songs For Lucy Parsons, which is awesome, as Lucy Parsons, the radical anarchist labor leader is the "L" in our book. The song lyrics "were borrowed in part from the speeches and writings of Chicago's anarchists of the 1880s such as Lucy Parsons, her husband Albert Parsons...and other martyrs to the cause." I'll be honest and say that I haven't listened to the entire album yet, but the very fact of its existence is exciting.
N is for "Nellie" by Karen O
Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs wrote a song about Nellie Bly that went along with a Google doodle and it was all in honor of Nellie's 150th birthday. This is awesome, and if you at all feel like it's not awesome because Google, etc, like it's some corporate thing, I'll tell you that the following week I visited a 3rd grade classroom to read from our book and I mentioned that N is for Nellie and a whole bunch of kids squealed "Nellie! I know who she is! They did a Google doodle about her!" So, cool—thanks Google, and thanks Karen for this sweet song! And thanks to Katy Wu for the doodle—check out her other excellent images, including ones of Langston Hughes and Nelson Mandela.
O is for Odetta "Masters of War"
O is for Odetta! When Rosa Parks was once asked what songs mean the most to her, she replied "All of the songs Odetta sings." I particularly love Odetta's Dylan covers, and I think this is one of the greatest anti-war songs ever written. How unbelievably cutting and fierce are these lyrics, and how different does it all feel when carried on Odetta's thick, commanding voice?
P is for Patti Smith "Piss Factory"
P is for Patti! This song is for her, of course, but it's also for Lucy Parsons and Dolores Huerta, two of the badass labor activists that we feature in the book. But really, it's for Nellie Bly, who, in 1887, bailed on her shitty newspaper job in favor of New York, where she knew she could make it as a journalist. She left a note for her sexist editor: "I'm off for New York. Look out for me. —Bly" and within two years she had changed the investigative journalism game and travelled around the world. Isn't that exactly what Patti is singing about? "I'm gonna get out of here...I'm gonna be somebody, I'm gonna get on that train and go to New York City…"
Q is for Queen Latifah "Young Woman's Blues"
Queen Latifah is amazing in Bessie, the HBO biopic about blues singer Bessie Smith. She's also totally amazing on the soundtrack—she manages to sound like Bessie and like herself, and the result is rad. Since B isn't for Bessie is our book (she was on our list!) this is a great way to honor her as well as Latifah, who has fought to make this movie happen for years.
R is for Rah Digga "Angela Davis"
Wait what? Rah Digga is back? With a song called Angela Davis? Yes, yes it's true. Rah Digga was once part of Flipmode Squad and is often given that most dubious kind of gendered title—"One of the greatest female emcees ever" "the female female rapper" etc etc. Whatever, she's great. As is this track, as is the KRS-One outro at the end! Shout out also to John and Yoko's song "Angela" which is also about Professor Davis.
S is for Sleater-Kinney: "Surface Envy"
We love S-K and they were kind enough to let us use this song off their amazing new album for a video that Upworthy did for our book. Miriam and I have both grown up with S-K, albeit in different ways (as in, she's older and cooler and is friends with them and I'm a fangirl who still squeals when I pass the Sleater-Kinney exit on I-5 on the way to Seattle), so they're special to us both. We went and saw them in SF a few weeks ago and brought two of Miriam's high school students, who we got to take back stage with us. I was a total mom who made everyone pose for pictures. Sleater-Kinney is the Great American Rock and Roll band and they get better with every album.
T is for Taylor Swift "Shake It Off"
Look, I'm sorry, but let's be real: this song is freakin' great, and both of our daughters love it. My 2 yr old son loves it. Um, I love it, and when we were driving through the very rainy Pacific Northwest during our book tour Miriam made a sneaky video of me singing along to it. It's also a damn good message that I have effectively utilized as a parent when my child has reported Kids Saying Mean Things—"You know what you gotta do, kiddo? Shake it off! (And tell a teacher!)"
U is for Ursula Rucker "The Unlocking"
Ursula Rucker has been doing spoken word for a long time and she did two tracks with The Roots (who I got to see in concert at the beginning of this year, uuggggh so good). Rucker's work is always gorgeous and urgent and graphic and hard, which is why it's so effective and amazing in the context of The Roots' music. This track is about rape and misogyny and it's intense and difficult and I have so much respect for Rucker for writing and performing it, and for the legendary Roots crew for putting it at the end of their major label debut. That's a rad move.
V is for Vic Chesnutt "Isadora Duncan"
Ok, it's another dude writing a song about a rad woman—but it's Vic Chesnutt, RIP, and he is a great singer/songwriter, so heartbreaking, and despite the fact that he refers to her "ballet moves" I just kind of love the idea of the great modern dancer Isadora Duncan (the "I" in our book!) telling some guy in a cafe "I can't believe you own this attitude." Isn't that just the best line for every mansplaining authoritative dude out there? I just can't believe you own this attitude. Thank for that one, Vic—I'm gonna use it on a troll at some point in the not-too-distant-future and I shall think of you, and of Isadora, spinning all gossamer and wild with zero fucks to give.
W is for Wondaland Records + Janelle Monae "Q.U.E.E.N."
Janelle is a mogul. She's been busy since "Tightrope"—making club bangers, building an empire. Watch her throne, and watch the video for the unparallelled radness of Janelle and Erykah Badu! Rad American women in full effect here.
X is for X-Ray Spex: "Oh Bondage Up Yours"
In our book X is "for the women whose names we don't know" but here it's for X-Ray Spex, and we definitely know the name Poly Styrene, who saw the Sex Pistols play a near-empty show in 1976 and decided that if they could do it, so could she (pretty much the story of punk, yes?). And then boom there she was, shouting "Some people say little girls should be seen and not heard!"
Y is for "Yuri Kochiyama" by Blue Scholars
Ok, this song is by dudes, BUT it's all about the radical activist Yuri Kochiyama, who is the "Y" in our book. It is without a doubt the only hip-hop song in the history of ever to feature the lines "Holla/When I grow up I wanna/be just like Yuri Kochiyama."
Z is for Zora Neale Hurston "Crow Dance"
Zora Neale Hurston is the final woman in our book, and though she's best known as the writer of novels like Their Eyes Were Watching God she was also an anthropologist whose fieldwork focused on collecting the stories, songs, and dances of black cultures throughout the American South, as well as the Bahamas and Central America. In 1935 she went back to Florida, where she was born and raised, to research and record stories and songs for the Library of Congress/Federal Writers' Project. She learned the "Crow Dance", and explained how it originated in West Africa, then traveled to Jacksonville, Florida (where she heard it) via the Bahamas. She recorded this in 1939, and you can hear more of the songs she recorded in Florida here.
Berkeleyside profile of the author
BuzzFeed profile of the author
Identities.Mic profile of the author
KQED interview with the author
Metro interview with the author
MTV interview with the author
The Pirate Tree interview with the author
Publishers Weekly profile of the author
The Seattle Lesbian interview with the author
Weird Sister interview with the author
also at Largehearted Boy:
Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)