The Missing Music: Closing Reflections on Ten Women in Music   1 comment

September 28, 2011

The Lost Music:  Ten Talented Women Who Left Us Too Early

Here’s hoping you had a chance to read one or more of the pieces in this series. (Links to all of them are below.) These ten women were selected with the emotion of a music lover. I started a list of all the female performers that I’ve appreciated through the years, all of whom are included in the vinyl albums, vinyl singles, cassette tapes, and CDs I’ve warehoused in Milwaukee, or Chicago, or Los Angeles, or Connecticut, or Minnesota, and now in Northern California. Unfortunately, there was one characteristic shared by all ten: death before their time. This wasn’t a bunch of teenagers who died in some collective accident. How and when they died was an individual event; and the women crossed musical styles and genres, shared no birthdays, experienced their own generational boundaries, and each left some lasting impact, large or small, on American popular music. And they all have a place on my desert-island list.

Each woman made a significant contribution—in my opinion—to the lasting greatness that is music-as-art. The more I thought about my list, I knew there was something special within the story of each one of these women: Patsy ClineJanis JoplinTammi TerrellSandy DennyMinnie RipertonKaren CarpenterLaura BraniganKirsty MacCollEva Cassidy, and Laura Nyro. If you’ll allow me (and at the risk of too much drama,) I’ll take some additional time to talk about their deaths.

Like any person who has shied away from Shakespeare since high school or college, I recall the opening passage from Hamlet’s “Soliloquy”—”To Be or Not To Be”—while another phrase from that piece had long disappeared from my consciousness: “The Undiscovered Country”. It was refreshed some years ago when a large number of movie fans and most Star Trek fans—myself included—heard that phrase as it was appropriated for one of the better feature films in the Star Trek series: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. As the debates between the principal characters—whether Klingon, Vulcan, or Earth—progress in the film, the reference to the quote from Hamlet takes center stage. The use of “The undiscovered country” in the title is the future, which in fact, is true enough. But in a focused and far more literal sense, the Bard was talking not about the future in general, but about death:

“Who would fardels bear, To grunt and sweat under a weary life, But that the dread of something after death, the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns, puzzles the will, and makes us rather bear those ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of?”

These ten women, musicians, and legendary performers are all gone. They’ll not return, but one way or another we’ll join them. Until that moment, we continue to have the pleasure of their music. It enriches our lives, stimulates our psyche, captures our emotion, and provides each of us with something to share; with our lovers, our friends, our families, our co-workers; with anyone who’s interested in discovering or sharing music. Wherever they are—Cline, Joplin, Terrell, Denny, Riperton, Carpenter, Branigan, MacColl, Cassidy, and Nyro—may they know the joy they brought to us and the joy that they will continue to bring to millions long after we too have gone on to the undiscovered country.

David Steffen

© David Steffen 2011

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One response to “The Missing Music: Closing Reflections on Ten Women in Music

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  1. Pingback: “Spotlight On” Deceased Singers | The Palindromic

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