Olivia Records

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Olivia Records was founded in 1973 by the radical feminist members of a Washington D.C. collective called the Furies and the Radicalsbians.[1] Central to the founding of Olivia Records was a musician named Cris Williamson, who encouraged the Olivia collective to use an independent music label as an economic base for lesbian social organizing.[1] President of the collective was Judy Dlugacz, who was twenty years old when she and these nine other women borrowed four thousand dollars to form the independent music label, Olivia Records.[2] This feminist record label sold more than one million records and produced over forty albums during its twenty years of operation.[2]

Meg Christian and Cris Williamson and Meg Christian were the two greatest-selling artists signed to Olivia Records. In 1973, the collective released a 45 record with Meg Christian on one side and Cris Williamson on the other.[3] Without making themselves dependent on any high-profile person, they made $12,000 with that 45, which was enough to put out singer Meg Christian's first record, I Know You Know in 1975 , and soon after, Williamson's groundbreaking album The Changer and the Changed.[4] The music label’s first album, Meg Christian’s I Know You Know (1974) sold over ten thousand copies in its first year, and eventually sold over 70,000 copies for Olivia Records.[5][6] The label’s second album, Cris Williamson’s The Changer and the Changed (1975), became one of the top-selling albums on any independent label.[5][6]

A separate lesbian feminist movement emerged in the 1970s that reacted to the discrimination of women within the gay rights and counterculture movements, and to the heteronormativity that was embedded in the 1960s U.S. feminist movement.[7] Women's music labels such as Olivia contributed to a 1970s lesbian sub-culture by providing a public platform for the expression of topics that were lacking in dominant political discourse, and helped consumers develop strategies to cope, organize, and articulate their experiences.[8] First called the "Olivia Collective," the group that founded the record label named itself after the heroine of a novel by Dorothy Bussy, who fell in love with her headmistress at French boarding school.[9] Olivia Records promoted music that validated women's and lesbian's experiences, including lyrical and musical expressions of love, anger, fear, and humor.[10] Lyrics by artists on Olivia Records frequently described personal or local problems rather than address global women's issues. Fans bonded to the musicians and to each other, thus forming women-centered musical communities.[11] Early interviews with the founders of Olivia Records showcase an acute awareness of the radical political message embedded in the very creation of the label. In an August 1974 interview about the creation of Olivia Records, Ginny Verson, Meg Christian, Judy Dulgacz, Cyndi Gair and Helaine Harris described the label as a new national women’s recording company.[12] In this interview, Meg Christian describes Olivia Records as a form of lobbying, and Judy Delgacz directly tied the label to the broader women’s movement. Ginny Verson explains their vision for women to gain social power and capital by creating alternative economic institutions that would enable women to control their own economic situation. She identified the fastest way to eliminate oppressive/discriminating/harassing workplaces by employing women, promoting women, and investing women’s money in women.[12]

The economic philosophy and business operations that differentiated Olivia Records from mainstream records reflected idealistic hopes of its founders, and the label’s executives reveled in experimenting with unknown artists and inexperienced producers.[13] As an independent label, Olivia Records cultivated a fan base through music festivals, coffee houses and bookstores, and mail order catalogs. Similar to women’s music festivals, Olivia Records favored apprenticeship and mentoring as staple organizational practices.[14][15] The founders of Olivia Records were not the only LGBTQ activists to criticize American capitalism or consumerism. The creation of subculture bars, bookstores, coffee shops, and presses evidence similar reactions that carved out physical and intellectual queer spaces in the American marketplace.[16] The DIY aesthetic of Olivia Records mirrored broader trends that proliferated in the American lesbian arts and counter-marketplace during the 1970s and 80s, including the rejection of mass-production and big corporations in favor of crafts, folk art, and preindustrial production techniques.[15] Similarly lesbians were valuing alternative forms of commerce, including gifting and trading.[16][17] Lesbians were reclaiming handmade objects and domestic products, and the rise of acoustic folk music was an offshoot of all of these trends.[16]

Olivia Records echoed the philosophy cultural production of lesbian feminist separatists. But although Olivia Records claimed to benefit all women, the business was primarily led and promoted the interests of white middle-class American lesbians.[18] In the late 1970s, Olivia expanded in inclusivity by promoting the music of African American artists Linda Tillery, Mary Watkins, and Swett Honey in the Rock.[19] In 1977, after repeated criticism by Anita Bryant, Olivia put out Lesbian Concentrate, a collection of songs and poetry with part of the proceeds going to benefit the Lesbian Mothers National Defense Fund. Sandy Stone was Olivia's sound engineer from ca. 1974-1978, recording and mixing all Olivia product during this period. She resigned as the controversy over her working for a lesbian-identified enterprise increased because she was a transgender woman.[20] [21] In 1974, Judy Dlugacz (president), Meg Christian, Ginny Berson, Jennifer Woodhul, and Kate Winter relocated the company from Washington D.C. to California.[22] But Olivia’s business philosophy ultimately contributed to financial problems and internal conflicts among staff and artists contributed to its restructuring and ultimate demise.

The Women's Music movement continued to evolve (see riot grrl, Lilith Fair, Ani Difranco), but Olivia Records no longer sustained as an independent record label.[23] Following a sold-out tenth-anniversary best-of concert at Carnegie Hall, Olivia’s idealist and inexperienced business practices led to significant financial hardship. Meg Christian left the record label in 1984.[22] The two concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York City were the largest grossing concerts at that venue in its history.[24] In 1988, the record label restructured and morphed into a broader women-centered social business venture resulted in the branding of Olivia, a lesbian travel company.[19][22][23]

In 1973, the collective put out a 45 with Meg Christian on one side and Cris Williamson on the other.[25] Yoko Ono responded and said that she wanted to do a side project with Olivia, but the collective politely declined.[citation needed] Without making themselves dependent on any high-profile person, they made $12,000 with that 45, which was enough to put out singer Meg Christian's first record, I Know You Know in 1975 , and soon after, Williamson's groundbreaking album The Changer and the Changed.[26]

Sandy Stone was Olivia's sound engineer from ca. 1974-1978, recording and mixing all Olivia product during this period. She resigned as the controversy over her working for a lesbian-identified enterprise increased because she was a transgender woman.[27] The debate continued in Janice Raymond's book The Transsexual Empire,[28] which devoted a chapter to criticism of "the transsexually constructed lesbian-feminist".

In 1977, after repeated criticism by Anita Bryant, Olivia put out Lesbian Concentrate, a collection of songs and poetry with part of the proceeds going to benefit the Lesbian Mothers National Defense Fund. Included on the 13 track LP is Meg Christian's "Ode To A Gym Teacher" and Sue Fink's "Leaping Lesbians".[citation needed]

Olivia moved first to Los Angeles to stay on top of the burgeoning music scene and then to Oakland. The remaining five women of the collective, who had been pooling their money and even living together for the previous seven years, began to disperse. Olivia stopped putting out new records and instead performed a series of 15th anniversary concerts in 1988. The two concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York City were the largest grossing concerts at that venue in its history. Yet, The New York Times barely mentioned the show.[29]

Even though Olivia Records released world music and salsa records, they were most successful with acoustic solo acts, although sometimes they failed to identify mainstream talent. In 1985, singer/songwriter Melissa Etheridge, then a struggling Los Angeles artist, sent her demo to Olivia, but was ultimately rejected. Etheridge went on to become one of the most popular female performers of the 1990s and arguably the most successful lesbian musician of all time. She saved the rejection letter, signed by "the women of Olivia," which was featured in Intimate Portrait, the Lifetime Television documentary of her life.

Unable to reinvent themselves for the changing musical landscape for women, from riot grrl to Lilith Fair to Ani Difranco, Olivia could no longer sustain itself as a record label.

Olivia Records founded Olivia, the lesbian cruise line, in 1988.[citation needed]

Artists[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Dolan, Jill. "Feeling Women's Culture: Women's Music, Lesbian Feminism, and the Impact of Emotional Memory". Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism. Spring 2002: 205–219.
  2. ^ a b Hayes, Eileen (2010). Songs In Black and Lavender: Race, Sexual Politics, and Women's Music. University of Illinois Press.
  3. ^ http://queermusicheritage.com/may2008.html
  4. ^ Lesbian News. Jan2006, Vol. 31 Issue 6, p22-23. 2p.
  5. ^ a b Slominski, Tes (2015). "Doin' Time with Meg and Cris, Thirty Years Later: The Queer Temporality of Pseudonostalgia". Women and Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture. 19: 86–94 – via Project MUSE.
  6. ^ a b Peraino, Judith (2005). Listening to the Sirens Musical Technologies of Queer Identity from Homer to Hedwig. University of California Press. p. 169.
  7. ^ Jay, Karla, and Allen Young, eds. (1978). Lavender Culture. Jove/HBJ Book.
  8. ^ Slominski, Tes (2015). "Doin' Time with Meg and Cris, Thirty Years Later: The Queer Temporality of Pseudonostalgia". Women and Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture. 19: 86–94 – via Project MUSE.
  9. ^ Lillian Faderman, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America, Penguin Books Ltd, 1991, page 221. ISBN 0-231-07488-3
  10. ^ Rodnitzky, Jerome L. (2008). "Songs of sisterhood: The music of women's liberation". Popular Music and Society. 4: 77–85.
  11. ^ Peraino, Judith (2005). Listening to the Sirens Musical Technologies of Queer Identity from Homer to Hedwig. University of California Press. p. 169. line feed character in |title= at position 24 (help)
  12. ^ a b Berson, Ginny, Meg Christian, Judy Dlugacz, Cyndi Gair, and Helaine Harris (August–September 1974). "the muses of olivia: our own economy, our own song". Off Our Backs. vol. 4, no. 9: 2–3 – via JSTOR.
  13. ^ Berson, Ginny, Meg Christian, Judy Dlugacz, Cyndi Gair, and Helaine Harris (August–September 1974). "the muses of olivia: our own economy, our own song". Off Our Backs. vol. 4, no. 9: 2–3 – via JSTOR.
  14. ^ Love, Nancy Sue (Fall 2002). "Singing For our Lives: Women's Music and Democratic Politics". Hypatia: 71–94 – via Project MUSE.
  15. ^ a b Morris, Bonnie (June 2015). "Olivia Records: The Production of a Movement". Journal of Lesbian Studies. 19: 290–304 – via Taylor & Francis.
  16. ^ a b c Murray, Heather (May 2007). "Free for All Lesbians: Lesbian Cultural Production and Consumption in the United States during the 1970s". Journal of the History of Sexuality. 16 no 2: 251–275 – via JSTOR.
  17. ^ Hayes, Eileen (2010). Songs In Black and Lavender: Race, Sexual Politics, and Women's Music. University of Illinois Press.
  18. ^ Rodnitzky, Jerome L. (2008). "Songs of sisterhood: The music of women's liberation". Popular Music and Society. 4: 77–85.
  19. ^ a b Hayes, Eileen (2010). Songs In Black and Lavender: Race, Sexual Politics, and Women's Music. University of Illinois Press.
  20. ^ Sayer, Susan (1995-10-01). "From Lesbian Nation to Queer Nation". Hecate. Retrieved 2012-10-03.
  21. ^ Raymond, J. (1994). The Transsexual Empire (2nd ed.). Teachers College Press. The second edition includes a new foreword that describes her anti-trans work after the publication of her thesis project as the first edition in the late 70s.
  22. ^ a b c Goldin-Perschbacher, Shana (November 2013). "Olivia". Grove Music Online – via Oxford Music Online.
  23. ^ a b Love, Nancy Sue (Fall 2002). "Singing For our Lives: Women's Music and Democratic Politics". Hypatia: 71–94 – via Project MUSE.
  24. ^ Holden, Stephen (1988-11-28). "Review/Music; Female Artists' Tribute To Record Company". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-22.
  25. ^ http://queermusicheritage.com/may2008.html
  26. ^ Lesbian News. Jan2006, Vol. 31 Issue 6, p22-23. 2p.
  27. ^ Sayer, Susan (1995-10-01). "From Lesbian Nation to Queer Nation". Hecate. Retrieved 2012-10-03.
  28. ^ Raymond, J. (1994). The Transsexual Empire (2nd ed.). Teachers College Press. The second edition includes a new foreword that describes her anti-trans work after the publication of her thesis project as the first edition in the late 70s.
  29. ^ Holden, Stephen (1988-11-28). "Review/Music; Female Artists' Tribute To Record Company". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-22.

External links[edit]