Gender and Hawaiian Music

Iʻm making lists and checking them twice. And the exercise is kind of eye-opening. So let me think out loud.

I started with a question related to my teaching experience. I teach a course called “American Musical Soundscapes.” So I thought, out of fun, if I were to draw up a gallery of 6-8 prominent composers over the 20th century, who would I include? My off-the-cuff list started like this:

Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, Duke Ellington, Philip Glass, Leonard Bernstein . . . uh, five men. Who are possible women for inclusion? Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson . . . Yes, many more, but how many have achieved the kind of stature as the first five men whose names  automatically began the list?

Then I tried “songwriters”–songs are on a different scale from the kind of compositions by the above group. My off-the-cuff list started like this:

Irving Berlin, Stephen Foster, George Gershwin, Hank Williams, James Brown, James MacGranahan, Rev. Thomas Dorsey, James Taylor, Carole King, Gil Scott-Heron, Tupac Shakur, William Bolcom … only one woman so far.

So then, thinking in terms of parallel universes–what would a list of songwriters in Hawaiian music look like? Again, note–this is off the cuff, off the top of my head. Iʻm trying to call some attention to a kind of process here.

Prominent songwriters:  Nā Lani ‘Ehā (Kalākaua, Lili’uokalani, Likelike, Leleiōhōkū), Helen Desha Beamer, Charles E. King, John K. Almeida, Lena Machado, Alice Namakelua, Mary Kawena Pukui, Bill Lincoln, Dennis Kamakahi, Kainani Kahaenaele, Keali’i Reichel. Seven women, seven men. Interesting, yeah?

But what happens when the criteria are narrowed down to English-language hapa haole songs?

Here goes, off the cuff:  Sonny Cunha, Harry Owens, Alex Anderson, Tony Todaro, Kui Lee, Bob Nelson . . . ?? Zero women so far.

just thinking aloud . . .

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3 Responses to Gender and Hawaiian Music

  1. Linda Lanham says:

    Interesting observations, albeit making choices that are educated but unavoidably personal. I like your thinking and will be most interested to see where it goes.

  2. Mary Johnson often wrote with Tony Todaro. Maybe in the 20th C, especially in the early years, women found greater opportunity and acceptance in literature?

  3. I’ve thought about this too, Amy. The same is true with the gender divide in film composers, I believe… hopefully we can make a change across the music culture to narrow this division as we progress.

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