Aretha Franklin

 

“We all require and want respect, man or woman, black or white. It’s our basic human right.”—Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin (1942) American soul singer. Often called “the Queen of Soul,” she is widely considered one of the greatest musical performers of all time.

In this podcast, my friend Sarah discusses the admiration she’s had for Aretha from an early age—and the influence she still has on her life.

Maria Tallchief

“I think it is an innate quality that Indians have to dance. They dance when they are happy, they dance when they are sad. They dance when they get married, they dance when someone dies.”—Maria Tallchief

Maria Tallchief (1925-2013) was a Native American ballerina.  In a field dominated  by Russian dancers, Maria danced her way through racial and cultural barriers to become one of the country’s leading ballerinas from the 1940 to 1960s —and one of the only Native Americans She became America’s first prima ballerina at the New York City Ballet, and held that title for 13 years, touring the world and becoming an international star. When she was older, she turned to teaching, founding and becoming artistic director of the Chicago City Ballet. She was widely praised through her life for her precision and musicality, something that she always attributed to her Osage heritage.

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit

‘The more we sweat in peace the less we bleed in war.”—Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (1990-1990) was an Indian diplomat and  the first woman to serve as president of the UN General Assembly.

“Education is not merely a means for earning a living or an instrument for the acquisition of wealth. It is an initiation into life of spirit, a training of the human soul in the pursuit of truth and the practice of virtue.”—Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit

 

Clara Rockmore

“A lot of trial and error went into it, but the theremin saved my musical sanity by giving me an outlet in music.”  — Clara Rockmore

Clara Rockmore (1911-1998) was a Lithuanian musician who became the most famous and accomplished performer of the electronic instrument, the theremin. As a child, Clara had been a violin prodigy, admitted to the Imperial Conservatory of Saint Petersburg at the age of five. Though she was poised for a life as a professional violinist, tendinitis in her bow arm (caused by childhood malnutrition) forced her to abandon the instrument. After her Jewish family fled Russia to live in America, Clara met another immigrant, Léon Theremin, who had invented the self-named theremin. With her refined violin skills, she became the most prominent theremin player, performing widely, bringing attention to the strange instrument, and helping Leon improve his invention. While the theremin is mostly known for spooky sounds used in vintage science fiction movies, under Clara’s control, it sounded like a classical stringed instrument or even a singing voice.

Septima Poinsette Clark

“I believe unconditionally in the ability of people to respond when they are told the truth. We need to be taught to study rather than believe, to inquire rather than to affirm.” —Septima Poinsette Clark

Septima Poinsette Clark (1893-1987) was an African-American teacher and civil rights activist who set up citizenship schools for disenfranchised African Americans in the 1950s and 60s. Here, they were taught to read and write so they could pass the literacy tests required by southern states to register to vote.  The citizenship schools began to spread through the south, and were adopted by Martin Luther King Jr’s  Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1961. As a result, many began to take control of their lives and discover their full rights as citizens. Septima’s 40 years of teaching experience and her own struggles and triumphs of finding work as a black teacher in the south equipped her to design an education program that changed the course of history…and empowered many African Americans to take control of their lives and discover their full rights as citizens.  She became known as the “Queen mother” or “Grandmother” of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

Anni Albers

“Being creative is not so much the desire to do something as the listening to that which wants to be done: the dictation of the materials.”

—Anni Albers

Anni Albers (1899 – 1994) was a German textile artist and printmaker. She is perhaps the best known textile artist of the 20th century. Rebelling against her comfortable upbringing by choosing to become an artist, she attended the modernist Bauhaus school, where students lived with challenging and impoverished conditions. For a woman, there there were very few options for further study after the foundation level so she entered the woman’s weaving workshop, but she quickly embraced the process and materials of an art form that she would come to revolutionize.  While at the Bauhaus, she met her husband, Josef Albers, who would become a master instructor at the school as well as one of the foremost artist/educators in the world. Anni eventually became the head of the Bauhaus weaving workshop herself.

When the Nazi party pressured the school to close (which it did a year later) the couple were invited to move to America and teach at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Though the Albers had never lived there, they embraced their new chapter of life, sharing their understanding of modernism and art to a new generation of American students. Over the years, they continued to make their own art and collect others’, rarely making work together but always encouraging each other’s creativity with deep understanding.

In 1949, Anni Albers became the first designer to have a one-person exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Albers’s design exhibition at MoMA began in the fall and then toured the US from 1951 until 1953, establishing her as one of the most important designers of the day. Through her long life, she continued in her passion for design as she wrote books and moved into the field of printmaking. She is credited for establishing Design History as a legitimate area of academic study.

Artist’s Note:  Did you know that today is National Widow’s Day? Neither did I, till a friend let me know. Since I’m a widow myself, I thought I’d look up “widows in the art world” for my painting inspiration. Anni’s name came up. Josef (who was 11 years older than his wife) died in 1976, leaving Anni as a widow for 18 years. The two of them were famously close colleagues, having met in art school when they were young, enjoying a deep intellectual understanding with each other. I didn’t meet my own husband till I was 35 and he was 40, but we had both been educated in our own art colleges, and were still making when we met…and then, of course, after. I recognize the closeness of having two like-minded individuals making a life together. Especially, I think, as artists, its a rare thing. And yet, they weren’t making things together. They each had their own area of interest. My parents are like that too. My dad is a painter and my mom is a printmaker…and I admire the together/apartness of choosing to live that way as a couple. Like Josef, who developed two important alphabets through the Bauhaus, Vernon was a type designer too. I miss him. That’s why I chose to paint this picture from a photograph of Anni and Josef together. I imagine they were intrinsically entwined.

Georgia OKeeffe

Temple Grandin

Dr. Temple Grandin, PhD, (born  1947) is an autistic woman who has become one of the top scientists in the humane livestock handling industry and an outspoken advocate of other humans on the spectrum. Temple grew up in a time when very little was known about autism, but due to her mother’s insistence that she receive a good education regardless of her diagnosed “brain damage,” and with the help of understanding mentors, she went on to receive degrees in psychology and animal science. Temple compares her thinking process and memory to ‘movies’ in that can be replayed in her head at will, allowing her to notice small details that would otherwise be overlooked. This has helped her empathetic work with animals as she has advocated for more humane treatment of livestock. She understands the anxiety of being overstimulated by her surroundings, and even invented a ‘hug machine’ to be used with autistic children in need of calming as well as animals in stressful situations. Temple has become one of the most well-known and respected speakers on autism awareness as well as animal welfare, and she is still going strong!

“Autism is an important part of who I am, and I wouldn’t want to change it, because I LIKE the way I think.” —Temple Grandin

Sojourner Truth

 

“Truth is powerful and it prevails.”—Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth (1787-1883) was sold as a slave at 9 years old. She eventually became a freed woman, but when her own young son was sold into slavery by her third owner, she took the matter to court and, against many odds as a black woman at the time, won her son back. Her courageous example  became a  triumph of hope against injustice. Impassioned by her Christian  belief that every man and woman had the divine right of freedom, she joined forces with other abolitionists, and became a traveling preacher. She also became an outspoken advocate for women’s rights. During the Civil War, Sojourner recruited black soldiers to fight for their own freedom. Mostly she was known as a fierce orator, traveling the country describing how it was to be treated as a slave and gaining empathy and momentum for the abolitionist cause.

This is her most famous speech, delivered at the Women’s Convention, Akron, Ohio in 1851:

*Ain’t I A Woman?

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have plowed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.

PS* It’s likely Sojourner did not use the word “ain’t” because she was from New York state and her first language was Dutch (she was born into slavery in a Dutch household) but “Ain’t I Woman?” just sounds so good, doesn’t it? 🙂

Jocelyn Bell Burnell

“If we assume we’ve arrived: we stop searching, we stop developing.”
―Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Dr. Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell (born 1943) is a Northern Irish astrophysicist, who, as a 24-year old graduate student, discovered the phenomenon known as pulsars (signals from tiny but extremely dense dead star remnants called neutron stars) while working with a team of researchers under supervision of her advisor, Antony Hewish. The paper announcing the discoveryhad five authors (Hewish’s name being listed first, Bell’s second), but when Hewish was awarded the Nobel Prize for astronomy (along with fellow astronomer Martin Ryle), Jocelyn was not included. Many critics of this decision began to call it the “No Bell Prize.” Her attitude to the snub has been admirable, to say the least: “You can actually do extremely well out of not getting a Nobel prize, and I have had so many prizes, and so many honors, and so many awards, that actually, I think I’ve had far more fun than if I’d got a Nobel Prize – which is a bit flash in the pan: You get it, you have a fun week, and it’s all over, and nobody gives you anything else after that, cos they feel they can’t match it.

On top of the many honors Jocelyn Bell has achieved in her long teaching career: She was President of the Royal Astronomical Society, President of the Institute of Physics,  President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Pro-Chancellor of the University of Dublin, she is  currently the  President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a visiting Professor of Astrophysics at  Oxford University. Not bad for getting ahead anyway!

 

Artist’s note: I love this picture because I think she looks like a Judy Blume character from my own younger years. Why shouldn’t a smart girl follow her dreams of learning and be rewarded for it? This determined, happy face says there’s no reason at all!