Gerri Gribi's A Musical Romp Through Women's History


How And Why It Came To Be


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Cover Photo: Gerri Gribi - The Womansong Collection
Updated 12/08/11 /// Email Gerri

I'm a historian by training, and I've been singing folk songs ever since I was a little girl. One day in the late 70's, I realized that all of the "women's" songs I'd ever heard told one of two stories: They were either about young women who, unable to get the man they loved to marry them, went down to the river and drowned themselves, OR they were about women who, having married the man they loved, found out he wasn't the peach they were expecting him to be, so they went down to the river and drowned themselves!

Then of course there were the murder ballads, in which somebody else killed them...

These songs portrayed our foremothers as helpless victims at best, and as co-conspirators in their misery at worst. While they are a valid part of the tradition, they need to be balanced with other images if we are truly to understand woman's role in American history.

Why care? Because folk songs are the legacy, the diaries, of everyday people, the kind of people who didn't have the leisure time or education or money to leave their history behind in written records; ie. the people who are generally ignored by history books.

I knew women had done more with their lives than kill themselves over men, so I set out to find songs that showed our foremothers in a more realistic light. (And by the way, those "foremothers" belong to men just as "forefathers" belong to women.)

Songs like "When I Was a Fair Maid," in which a woman disguises herself as a man to sneak into the British navy. Or "Equinoxial and Phoebe," in which a young pioneer husband swaps roles with his wife for a day and discovers that "women's" work is more than he can handle!

In "The Crafty Maid" (which first appeared in London in 1860) a woman uses a bawdy double entendre to outwit an assailant, and steals his horse to boot. Women demand the right to vote in "Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be," and a black slave woman protests her situation in "All the Pretty Little Horses." In the haunting Primitive Baptist hymn "Sister Thou Wast Mild and Lovely," women lament the death, but celebrate the life, of a departed friend.

At first, I simply hoped to find a few songs to round out my repertoire, but I ended up being consumed by the richness and variety of women's history! Since I believe we find strength in our cultural roots, I've woven the songs and stories into a variety of presentations and concerts, and I've performed for hundreds of events at campuses, conferences, schools, military bases and even prisons across North America. I've recorded 25 of these songs on a CD, The Womansong Collection. Many of them are now available for download, too.

My greatest satisfaction comes when somebody rushes up to me afterwards and says, "I never realized women had so much HISTORY of their own!" Or even better, "I feel so proud to be a woman."

Such a great job to just doesn't get better than this!