Reprinted from Sojourner: The Women’s Forum
Before there was Madonna, the Lilith Fair, Ani DiFranco, Melissa Etheridge—or any of the other performers who’ve recently drawn overdue attention to women in music—there was Margie Adam: songwriter, pianist, singer, activist. She was in the early crucible developing the healing power of women’s music were discovered and dispensing it like both a balm for our bruised souls and an accelerant for the fire of feminist battle. Before I knew of the amazing public phenomenon of women making music I had my grandmother, Lydia. The sound of her at the keyboard working her way through show tunes or Bix Beiderbeck’s “In the Mist” has been part of the melody in my head since I was 8 years old. Artistic passion was defined for me by the clear resonance of my grandmother’s voice and the emotion pulsing through her fingers as they flew across the keys of the piano. Her recovery from daily labor, financial struggle and social abuse were palpable as the notes hung in the air of our small tenement flat.
When I first heard Margie Adam play at the New England Women’s Music Festival in 1983 the sound of her piano in the open night air was a familiar thrill. That night she re-ignited the fierce draw that music had for me as a girl and her new CD, Avalon, is another flame in that blaze.
Her compositions for piano such as “Waves” draw the listener into a whirling, emotional sea that is anchored by a the urgent violin of Barbara Higbie. The musicians’ fingers drive the melodies up and around in my head with relentless and seductive power. Margie Adam’s writing and playing display the dual quality music has of being both comforting and tumultuous at the same time.
She creates sensual, expressive melodies that draw on the mythology that is part of the fabric of a feminist vision as well as on her deeply perceptive appreciation of the ordinary elements that make women fascinating. That depth can reawaken the songs of others as well. Singing “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” the Carole King standard originally recorded by the Shirelles, Adam evokes the scandal it caused in the 1960s. It’s frank question acknowledges women’s desire as well as our understanding of the perfidy of sexual passion. The lower registers of Margie’s voice convey the complexity and urgency of the question while at the same time she projects the airy innocence that makes such an inquiry possible. This multi-layered quality in her voice is a distinctive element in her life as well.
Margie Adam songs have become part of the lexicon of activism: “We Shall Go Forth!” has been called the anthem of the Women’s Movement and “How Many” is always heard at AIDS events. She served on the board of the National Center for Lesbian Rights; is currently the associate producer of two films: “Radical Harmonies: The History of Women’s Music” and “No Secrets Anymore” a documentary about lesbian movement heroes, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin; as well as being part of the philanthropic group, 100 Lesbians and Our Friends. Creating her own label, Pleiades, before there was much precedent for such a thing, Adam was never destined to be a girl-group footnote or feature on one of those “where are they now” shows. She continues to use her music to romance us and to politicize us.
It’s the practical spirit underlying her idealism which makes Margie Adam’s music so effective and so moving. In “A Woman’s Work is Never Done” she tells mundane stories of women’s capacity for doing and giving. The refrain is an incantation to be used as a salve to our wounds and to keep us going: “We must imagine and remember/a woman’s work is never done/building a fire/from just an ember.” Avalon, that mythical place one goes to heal, is an apt title for this new collection of music. It captures the history and the melodies that help women open up to ourselves—the girls we once were and the heroes we can become.
For more information: Pleiades Records