Daily Bulletin


The Conversation

  • Written by Andrea Jean Baker, Senior Lecturer in Journalism, Monash University

Two of the twelve music documentaries featured in the Melbourne International Film Festival’s Backbeat program this year are about iconic female blues singers: Janis Joplin and Sharon Jones.

Janis: Little Girl Blue (2015) is a posthumous look at arguably, the world’s first female rock icon while Miss Sharon Jones! (2015), the “female James Brown” is battling to keep her music alive after a pancreatic cancer diagnosis in 2013.

The films, which had their Australian premiers at MIFF, challenge the misrepresentation and marginalisation of women in the music industry. They are also directed by award-winning women, Amy Berg and Barbara Kopple, in another industry where women struggle to get ahead.

Janis: Little Girl Blue is a nostalgic musical journey based on rare archive footage. It is laced with interviews with her younger siblings (Laura and Michael), but largely features members of her boy bands: firstly Big Brother and the Holding Company, and her later backing bands, Kozmic Blues Band, and the Full Tilt Boogie Band.

We follow Joplin’s upbringing in the small, conservative mining town of Port Arthur, Texas in the 1940s, leading to her student days at the University of Texas in the early 60s, and her debut in Austin’s burgeoning folksy blues college music scene.

image Janis: Little Girl Blue (2015). Disarming Films

The images of Joplin’s involvement in the development of the San Francisco psychedelic sound during the mid-60s are a highlight of the film; while the scenes associated with her lonesome demise in Hollywood in 1970 are melancholic.

Joplin emerged as the premier blues vocalist of the 1960s. As Sheila Whiteley wrote in Women and Popular Music: Sexuality, Identity and Subjectivity (2000), Joplin’s recording of Little Girl Blue (1969) offered “a new delicate and compassionate insight into blueness”.

Nicknamed the Mother of the Blues, Joplin sang to her own Southern acoustic beat and inspired other female musicians, such as Sharon Jones, to combine rhythm and blues with extraordinary soul.

Miss Sharon Jones! is a medical mix tape of the 60-year-old singer’s struggle with cancer since 2013, her loyalty to her Brooklyn-based indie label, Daptone Records and life on the road with the Dap Kings, where – like Joplin – Jones was The Girl in the band.

image Miss Sharon Jones! Cabin Creek Films

Jones learnt her craft as a gospel singer in church, and worked in various jobs (for example, as a prison warden), before a mid-life career break as a session backup singer for soul and funk legend, Lee Fields in 1996. Her band the Dap Kings, which formed in 2002, helped to rekindle a renaissance in funk and soul music.

Understandably, both documentaries differ in tone. Janis, Little Girl Blue laments the loss of a great talent at age 27. Joplin’s fourth (and most famous) album, Pearl, was released three months after her death from an accidental heroin overdose. It delivered a Number 1 Billboard hit with Me and Bobby McGee.

In contrast, Miss Sharon Jones! celebrates Jones as a soul survivor, who has cancer but is using music as a remedy.

Both stress that Joplin and Jones experienced marginalisation in the music industry, not only because of their gender, but also because of their appearance.

When the plain looking, slightly overweight and acne-scarred Joplin strutted her musical talent at University of Texas, she was nominated as the “Ugliest Man on campus”.

Later Joplin was criticised by feminists for exploiting her bisexuality at a time when popular culture was grappling with “the problems of image and the representation” of women. In her brief eight year career, Whitely argues, Joplin had “the balls to succeed in the brotherhood of rock”.

image Miss Sharon Jones! (2015) Cabin Creek Films,

In a similar vein, Sharon Jones, who released her first record at age 40, was told she was “too old, too fat, too short, too black” to make it in the industry.

Yet both films hit high emotional notes. The highlight of Miss Sharon Jones! is watching her sixth album with the Dap Kings, Give The People What They Want, be nominated for the band’s first Grammy in the Best R&B album section.

Both these singers' train-rattling, emotionally powerful voices became trademarks in an industry that prides itself on radicalism, yet silences woman from serious discussion and participation.

Radio RRR is hosting a talk on Monday 1 August from 4pm to 7pm at the Forum about Janis: Little Girl Blue and Miss Sharon Jones.

Miss Sharon Jones! is showing at the Melbourne International Film Festival on August 12. Janis: Little Girl Blue is showing on August 13.

Authors: Andrea Jean Baker, Senior Lecturer in Journalism, Monash University

Read more http://theconversation.com/janis-joplin-and-sharon-jones-add-a-feminist-beat-to-the-melbourne-film-festival-62819

Writers Wanted

Radicalism mixed with openness: how Desmond Tutu used his gifts to help end Apartheid

arrow_forward

Pfizer doses to be spaced out in NSW crisis, but state fails to get change in vaccination program

arrow_forward

Alternative Hobbies for Gamers

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Scott Morrison's interview with Ray Hadley, 2GB

RAY HADLEY: Prime Minister, good morning to you.   PRIME MINISTER: G’day, Ray.   HADLEY: Gee, you’ve had a week.   PRIME MINISTER: Well, there's been a lot of weeks like this. This time last...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Ray Hadley's interview with Scott Morrison

RAY HADLEY: I'm going to go straight to the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison is on the line right now. Prime Minister, good morning to you.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Ray.   HADLEY: Just d...

Ray Hadley - avatar Ray Hadley

Defence and Veterans suicide Royal Commission

Today the Government has formally established a Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide following approval by the Governor-General.   Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Royal Commi...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

Record year of growth for Tweed based business The Electrical Co

While many businesses struggled to stay afloat during the COVID-19 affected 2021 financial year, Tweed Heads based The Electrical Co. completed more than 50,000 smart meter installations across Aust...

a contributor - avatar a contributor

The Most Common Reasons why Employees End Up Leaving a Company

It is important for businesses to make sure they find the right people for their open positions. That is why a lot of companies are relying on professional outplacement services. A lot of companie...

NewsServices.com - avatar NewsServices.com

The little Aussie face sock startup is riding the personalized gift game

In a world where everybody has different desires, interests, and goals, what can be better than giving them things that meet their individual requirements. Personalized gifts have taken on the mar...

NewsServices.com - avatar NewsServices.com