As Black History Month winds to a close, we take a look at the musicians who have presented independent, alternative representations of black womanhood in rock and metal music over the decades — from Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard to Prince protégé Sheila E.
Critics decry the lack of racial and gender diversity in rock, but we wanted to celebrate those who are doing it. So we asked Laina Dawes, author of "What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life And Liberation In Heavy Metal," to tell us about some of the fiercest black female rockers.
Click on the slideshow below.
Howard sings/howls/plays guitar/bleeds soul in the white-hot southern rock group Alabama Shakes, who released their debut "Boys & Girls" on Rough Trade in 2011. Their star has continued to rise and recently destroyed their appearance on "Saturday Night Live" in mid-February.
The Toronto-based MC is primarily known for her work in hip-hop, but some may recall her foray into alternative rock briefly fronting the rap-metal band Raggadeath, which featured metal riffs with dancehall rhythms and vocals. The group had one hit in 1995, "One Life."
Sandra St. Victor (Family Stand)
St. Victor has fronted the New York-based R&B/soul group The Family Stand since the late 1980s. In earlier years, the band tackled hard rock and funk, led by the St. Victor’s imposing presence. "Their music is a real range, but Sandra was very inspirational in providing an alternative image for black women," says Laina Dawes, author of "What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life And Liberation In Heavy Metal."
Joyce Kennedy (Mother’s Finest)
Kennedy’s band, the funk/rock outfit Mother’s Finest, produced music in a diverse array of genres, moving from '70s rock into soul and into other genres. Their 1981 album "Iron Age" is considered a pioneering alternative metal record. "They had a really hard time getting their music played — because they played rock music, they had difficulties with some radio stations, and white stations didn’t play them either," Dawes said.
Perhaps best known as Miles Davis’ second wife, Davis produced a handful of hard rock/funk albums in the mid-'70s — raw, folky, bluesy and categorized by endlessly funky guitar riffs. Her fearless sexuality and distinctive vocals led to radio boycotts called by the NAACP. She remains a cult figure and has long been retired from music.
Prominently figured in James Spooner’s 2003 documentary "Afro-Punk," Tamar-Kali has dabbled in a variety of genres and forms in her solo career, including punk, hip-hop and dance. She’s toured as a vocalist with Fishbone and Outkast.
Otherwise known as Deborah Anne Dwyer, the frontwoman for U.K.-based hard rock group Skunk Anansie is known for a few things — her shaved head, her feminist lyrics, her bisexuality and her massive voice. She’s released two solo records in addition to her work with Skunk Anansie and has also lent her vocals to the likes of Sevendust, the Prodigy and Toni Iommi.
Cindy Blackman Santana
Longtime Lenny Kravitz drummer virtuoso Blackman began playing drums at age four, and has never looked back, releasing a number of albums and playing with a host of legends. She eventually left Kravitz’ band to focus on her own music and return to jazz. She also tours with husband Carlos Santana’s band.
Vox has been dubbed "the true cross between Rob Halford and Tina Turner." She’s the lead singer and songwriter for the hard rock group Swear On Your Life and fittingly, she also fronts an all-woman tribute to the Metal Gods, Judas Priestess, and also works as a VJ and writer for Afropunk.com.
Rowe plays lead guitar in the Atlanta-based thrash metal group Tetrarch. Their new EP "Relentless" is due out in March.