Turning the Tables: KC Edition | The Influencers
As our Turning The Tables: KC Edition series draws to a close, we are presenting our list of influential female musicians based in or around Kansas City, as chosen by you.
This survey was conducted to present the depth and range of talent in the area, and your choices reflected that. You named 80 women whose careers span nearly a century. They include historically significant figures, like Mary Lou Williams – a pianist, composer, arranger and bandleader who wrote for Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman; Melba Liston, one of the first female trombonists to perform in the big bands of the ’40s; and ’60s funk singer Marva Whitney, once part of the James Brown Revue. You also listed a handful of renowned popular artists who were born or launched their careers in the area, including Janelle Monáe, Melissa Etheridge, Oleta Adams and Deborah Brown.
Many of you focused on women who, in recent decades, have created opportunities for other local artists, like Diane “Mama” Ray – an elder stateswoman of KC’s blues and jazz scene, who established one of the city’s longest (and still running) jams; Frogpond, one of the first KC-based rock bands signed to a major label; and Abigail Henderson – an intrepid singer, songwriter and bandleader who co-founded Midwest Music Foundation, an organization that assists local musicians with health care funding.
Primarily, you helped showcase the diversity of KC music in its current form, identifying women who are active throughout and beyond the city’s rock, blues, hip-hop, punk, folk, country and jazz scenes. We saw two benchmarks of contemporary blues – Samantha Fish and Danielle Nicole – both of whom garnered international attention in their early 20s and continue to distinguish themselves as commanding performers; Amy Farrand, whose work as a songwriter, drummer, bassist, guitarist and singer makes her one of the city’s most revered musicians; Katy Guillen & the Girls, a power trio of accomplished players who turn heads all over the country with their impassioned take on roots rock; and rising vocalist, rapper and writer Ogechi, who was named Atlanta's Youth Poet Laureate from 2017 to 2018.
Thank you for taking the time to read and engage with Turning The Tables: KC Edition. The series was created out of conversations and reflections — reflections of a queer cis female musician of color, and the shared experiences of female-identifying friends, bandmates and professional colleagues in the city’s indie music scene. Our goals were to recognize how women have enriched Kansas City’s music history, and generate conversations about equality and access in the industry. We plan to continue highlighting women, transgender and gender-diverse people in the area, and all of those who work toward making our community more inclusive.
Here’s a playlist that features most of the women you highlighted (those available on Spotify), with a song from a current or most recent project, and another from a previous project.
The names on this list came to us from our survey, through social media and direct messages:
Annetta "Cotton Candy" Washington
Britt Adair and Breaka Dawn
Bukeka Bosede Blakemore
Diane "Mama" Ray
Heidi Lynne Gluck
The Hillary Watts Riot
Jenna (Rae) McCarty
Joyce Anderson Downing
Katy Guillen & the Girls
Lauren C. Parr
Mary Lou Williams
Rosie's Bar & Grill
The Cave Girls
— Michelle Bacon writes about music for 90.9 The Bridge and plays bass and drums in bands. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter at @michelleobacon.