Holly Near: Women in Resistance Music
by Lesley Lammers

Holly speaking at the March for Women’s Lives in Washington, DC, April 2004. Photo: www.hollynear.com

Woody Guthrie. Bob Dylan. Pete Seeger. These are the usual suspects that come to mind when baby boomers are asked who championed the political protest music movement of the 60s and 70s. Although singers such as Joan Baez, Buffy Saint Marie, and Ronny Gilbert were widely known, they never gained the same notoriety or status as their male contemporaries. This isn't unusual - women's contributions to progressive movements have often been overlooked. Women performing protest music found themselves in an atmosphere of irony and hypocrisy. While male resistance musicians sang about peace, freedom, justice and equality, female musicians were not just singing about it, they were actively struggling for an equal voice in the movement. For these women, there were two battlegrounds - the male-dominated, male-owned music industry, and the antiwar movement. How could their comrades speak of freedom and peace abroad while half the population of their own country was being oppressed? Out of these contradictions was born a wave of women who were ready to combine their talents with their passion for human rights.

Holly Near was a product of this movement and continues to write protest music after 35 years of performing. The personal has always been political for Near, whose philosophy is: "I do not separate my music from my heart." Her lyrics have a humorous, light-hearted tone while also addressing serious issues, such as the war on Iraq and the healthcare crisis. Near was one of the first openly queer singers and has been recognized by the ACLU and Ms. Magazine as a foremother of feminist activism in the US.

Today's Righteous Babes
Holly Near Benefit Concert
Saturday, October 7, 7:30 pm
H.W. Smith Elementary School (Syracuse)

for the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation, a not-for-profit devoted to public education about the women's suffrage movement and Gage's influence on social justice.

Tickets: $25 in advance
$30 at the door.

To order: (315) 637-9511 or


Although most 20-somethings today probably have not heard of Near, they are sure to be familiar with some of the artists who have followed in her footsteps, such as the Dixie Chicks and Ani DiFranco. While the music scene has changed, women still face the same struggle to have their voices heard. Today, women performing resistance music encounter a fierce corporate-controlled industry that censors antiwar messages and government criticism. Ani DiFranco started her own record label, Righteous Babe Records, in protest of the corporate takeover of music. Surely DiFranco gained part of her inspiration from role models such as Near, who was the first woman to start her own record company, Redwood Records, in 1972. Near started the company after her difficulty obtaining a record deal because her music was seen as too political.

The Dixie Chicks continued the fight of women like Near when they criticized George Bush and spoke out against the US war on Iraq during a London concert. Corporate-controlled radio stations began refusing to play their music, and the band received hate mail. At first they issued an apology, but they quickly decided not to give in to the threats of the corporate music industry, instead reiterating and strengthening their criticisms. Their controversial album, Taking the Long Way, includes lyrics such as "I'm not ready to make nice, I'm not ready to back down." Near's newest album, Show Up, also sends the message that silence is not an option, and she is "tired of making it sound all pretty." Although the issues might be slightly different, today's artists continue the long struggle of progressive female musicians making their voices heard loud and clear as a call to action and justice.

Lesley works as a Scholar in Residence at the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation.