PBS Arts from Cleveland “Women Who Rock”

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The daunting odds, the guts and grit and the talent required by women rockers to make it to the top of their field all come to life in PBS Arts From Cleveland: Women Who Rock, a performance documentary that chronicles and celebrates female musicians from early groundbreakers to contemporary powerhouses. Women Who Rock is part of the first PBS Arts Fall Festival, a multiplatform event anchored by nine films that highlight artists and performances from around the country. PBS Arts From Cleveland: Women Who Rock airs Friday, November 18 at 9 p.m. on Eight, Arizona PBS.

Mixing interviews with key women musicians and live performance footage, Women Who Rock features the stories of trailblazers like Bessie Smith, Ma Raney, Mother Maybelle and Mahalia Jackson as well as contemporary stars Darlene Love, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, Bonnie Raitt, Cyndi Lauper, Wanda Jackson, Mavis Staples, Deborah Harry and Kathleen Hanna of the bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre.  Also featured are songwriter Cynthia Weill and journalists/critics Ann Powers, Nelson George and Holly George Warren.

Cyndi Lauper, with nearly 30 years as a music icon and worldwide record sales of 30 million, will host the program. The program breaks the female influence on rock and roll into distinct eras, starting with the music’s blues roots in the 1920s and 30s. It travels forward through time, telling stories of key musicians from each succeeding era, including rock and roll’s emergence in the 1950s, the girl group and counterculture era of the 60s, disco and punk in the 70s, celebrations of empowerment and fun throughout the 80s, into today’s predominance of women in pop, and much more. The film reveals the ever-morphing role of female performers and shows how today’s singers were influenced and inspired by their forebears.

The film is punctuated by photos and artifacts from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. (The Museum currently features a related exhibition, Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power, which runs through February 2012.) The film chronicles women in several music genres whose work not only brought down the house in their time but also broke down barriers, struggling to obtain artistic and economic equality with their male counterparts.

“What’s extraordinary about this film is the intimate and emotional connections it makes between female rockers — through time and across styles,” says director Carol Stein who, with co-director Susan Wittenberg, helmed the film. “The connections are both historical and literal,” she says. “We bring these musicians together to talk about their personal journeys; moments like those between gospel singer/activist Mavis Staples and rock icon Cyndi Lauper, for example, are moving and illuminating. We show a side of these performers and others that people have not previously seen.”

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