A century of American women's music

click to enlarge The cover painting by Christine Haberstock
  • The cover painting by Christine Haberstock

On Oct. 5, Rhino Records released Respect: A Century of Music, a five-CD boxed set of American women's music. Co-producer Julie D'Angelo, along with Holly George-Warren, has compiled the most comprehensive and ambitious women's music collection to date -- five discs featuring over six hours of music and sound bites from prominent women artists. An accompanying book offers extensive backgrounds of the women whose artistry and talent paved the way for performers such as Ani DiFranco and Lucinda Williams, and the cuts range from the first-ever blues recording by Mamie Smith to Loretta Lynn's "The Pill."

Respect looks like a labor-intensive project. Whose idea was it to take on 100 years of women in music?

It's actually the conception of quite a few folks. Rhino has something very unique called the women's product development team. The first project we developed was a series of releases focused on torch music, called Heart Beats. A lot of folks on that team wanted to see something that documented the history of women in music. It hadn't been done before, and it was something we thought would be very inspirational, very enlightening.

It must have taken years to choose and then compile 116 tracks from so many artists.

Just over three years, from start to finish. It took quite a long time to license all of those tracks, working with all the different labels, majors and independents.

The team brainstormed a huge list, and co-producer Holly George-Warren was brought in to improvise some historical backup. She and I worked very closely on how to hone [the list] to what it is today. We went to a variety of different sound archives and individual collectors, beyond the labels themselves, and then used the best possible quality source. I would say at least 40 to 50 people were involved in this boxed set. Between the folks of Rhino, our sound producer Bill Inglot and myself, we scoured the country.

I know some artists, like Joni Mitchell, have made it policy to not participate in "women-only" collections, but I don't see other important female performers listed on Respect, Madonna and the Judds, for example. How did you decide what artists to include, and which to forego?

It was a difficult process. We were trying to create an overview of the eras. Who had made their mark, who was popular, who had made a first? We looked at the different influences of women artists who came later, and tried to create a kind of family tree. We had to keep in mind that we were creating a release that people could afford and gave a good listening experience.

Every other era seems to be well-represented, but the fifth or most modern disc has a noticeable absence of country artists, like Shania Twain.

We did try to balance out the contemporary country as much as possible, and there were licensing restrictions for certain folks. Everything just kind of shook out in that direction, unfortunately.

Besides the music, one of the most appealing features of Respect is the artwork. How were the velvet box and postcards developed?

Our art director, Rachel Gutek, had commissioned a couple different artists to contribute some work, and we ended up going with Christine Haberstock. She's done music-related drawing and things for other publications; we had worked with her on our Heart Beat series. We thought she would have the right touch.

The packaging (a velvet box with a satin ribbon) is kind of evocative of a journal, because the set tells so many stories of women's lives -- what they had to go through to get their art out there and perform great music.


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