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Women Singers in Global Contexts

Music, Biography, Identity

Ten women, ten voices, and the lives they sing

Exploring and celebrating individual lives in diverse situations, Women Singers in Global Contexts is a new departure in the study of women's worldwide music-making. Ten unique women constitute the heart of this volume: each one has engaged her singing voice as a central element in her life, experiencing various opportunities, tensions, and choices through her vocality. These biographical and poetic narratives demonstrate how the act of singing embodies dynamics of representation, power, agency, activism, and risk-taking.

Engaging with performance practice, politics, and constructions of gender through vocality and vocal aesthetics, this collection offers valuable insights into the experiences of specific women singers in a range of sociocultural contexts. Contributors trace themes and threads that include childhood, families, motherhood, migration, fame, training, transmission, technology, and the interface of private lives and public identities.

This volume is the first collection of primarily ethnographic work to concentrate solely on individual women singers. Singing takes on a distinctive role in each woman's life, and the women profiled include a locally known community singer, an internationally renowned priestess, a professional wedding singer, and a national star. Essays range across musical genres encompassing jazz, rap, traditional, folk, devotional, and classical, and the collection's geographical range encompasses Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, Cuba, Cyprus, Germany, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Poland, South Africa, Torres Strait Islands, Turkey, and the United States.

Contributors are Shino Arisawa, Katelyn Barney, Gay Breyley, Nicoletta Demetriou, Veronica Doubleday, Ruth Hellier, Ellen Koskoff, Carol Muller, Thomas Solomon, Amanda Villepastour, and Louise Wrazen.


"An intellectually stimulating overview of how such musicians manage dynamically to present themselves with their own cultures. Highly recommended."--Choice

"The first ethnographic collection to focus on individual female singers. . . . The range of the essays is impressive, featuring women of different generations from five continents. . . . this volume will be valuable to scholars interested in a variety of aspects related to biography and performance."--Journal of Singing

"The ten women featured in this vibrant collection are celebrated for their vocal stories, which provide a unique insight into both their private and performing lives. The volume can be read as a source of inspiration… What is exhilarating …is the insight gained into the relationship between singing, belonging, identity and empowerment, including that of making money."--Journal of World Popular Music

"Each chapter engages with multiple contexts, demonstrating the ways in which women from various backgrounds mediate performance and gendered expectations inside and outside their home communities. . . . Impactful intersections of different identity categories--gender, class, profession, or avocation ("singer"), location, age, sexuality, education, race, and marital and familial status--emerge as central to the work"--Ethnomusicology

"An ambitious collection of essays on women singers by leading scholars in ethnomusicology and related fields. The volume will be welcomed by students of a variety of disciplines including ethnomusicology and women's studies."--Anne K. Rasmussen, author of Women, the Recited Qur'an, and Islamic Music in Indonesia


Ruth Hellier is an associate professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, focusing on ethnomusicology, theater, dance, and performance studies. She edits the journal Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos and is the author of Embodying Mexico: Tourism, Nationalism & Performance.

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