As with all other areas of society, the arts wouldn’t be the same without women and therefore, women’s impact on artistic expression and accomplishment should be recognized and celebrated. It’s time to start giving our flowers to the women who are making strides in the arts.
1. Amanda Gorman
Amanda Gorman has received a lot of praise for her poem performed at the presidential inauguration in January, but her career didn’t start at that moment. Amanda has always been a great orator. Gorman became the first National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017. Her work focuses on activism, feminism, race, and oppression. Her poems had her invited to the White House by then-President Obama.
Gorman started poetry at a young age. She published her first poetry book in 2015. She was a student at Harvard University when she was named National Youth Poet Laureate by Urban Word. This program supports youth poet laureates just like Gorman through creative writing workshops, college prep courses, spoken word instruction, and much more. Gorman has not only helped shine the light on issues of disparity in America but has also talked about hope, acted as an inspiration to many young poets, and given back to the community.
2. Debbie Allen
Debbie Allen is known for her decades-long acting, producing, and dancing careers. Her style and talent have had a great impact on television and on stage. As a child and teen, Debbie faced racism while auditioning for a spot at a ballet school. But that didn’t stop her; she honed her skill and later become a famous choreographer. In the 1980s she acted in and choreographed for the ‘Fame’ movie and television series, earning a Golden Globe Award. This made her a household name. She continued choreographing and producing over the years, most notably producing the ‘Cosby Show spinoff, ‘A Different World’ Her career had another highlight when she took a role in 2011 in the television show ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’
Allen’s love of dance was always a part of her life. In 2001 she opened the Debbie Allen Dance Academy where she teaches young dancers ages 4-18. Dancers from all walks of life and financial backgrounds are able to enroll in the Academy. Allen has been breaking rules and setting new standards for women. Her activism and impact have been recognized with multiple image awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
3. Missy Elliot
Melissa Arnette Elliott is also known as “Missy Elliot” changed the way music was performed. Every performance or song she contributed to was stamped with her unique style. Missy’s talent and creativity earned her countless awards such as The MTV Video Vanguard Award. She was also the first woman rapper to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Missy’s hit songs “Get Your Freak On” and “Lose Control” are still being played today. But Missy isn’t known only for her singing. Her choreography and creative mind lead her to produce unique, visually stimulating music videos that are in a lane by themselves. Her wardrobe, dance moves, and musical talent separate her from others in the music field.
From an early age, Elliot was absorbed in the worlds of performance and music art. She joined the singing group Sista in the 1990s and they became a huge success. From that time she was able to change the perspective of the male-dominated music industry, showing that women can be powerful and creative, too. Elliot also worked magic out of the spotlight. She would put on her producer hat and produced hits for women artists like TLC, Mary J.Blige, and Ciara. Missy always wanted to make an impact within her community, she stated, “Women are not always taken as seriously as we should be, so sometimes we have to put our foot down.”
4. Frida Kahlo
Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is considered one of the country’s greatest artists. She was born in Coyoacan, Mexico City. Frida suffered from poor health as a child, but she was also very smart and outspoken. Frida’s first major artwork was a self-portrait she completed as she recovered from a near-deadly bus accident. She said, “I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best.”
Kahlo did not only paint, but she was also politically active, she joined groups such as the Young Communist group and the Mexican Communist Party. Many people considered her a “surrealist” but she thought differently. After enduring the death of the love of her life and surviving the bus accident Frida realized the depth of her strength. She stated, “At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.”Frida’s paintings reflected what was happening in her life. She would often depict her life experiences on the canvas. Her most famous painting ‘Frieda and Diego Rivera’ showed the spontaneous love story of her and Diego, her late husband. Frida painted many paintings that told personal stories. One was ‘Henry Ford Hospital’ which told the story of her miscarriage. Her stories were raw and authentic and helped people that were going through similar challenges. Frida’s paintings touched the hearts of many people. Her work has been exhibited in galleries all over the world.
5. Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou was a famous author and poet who wrote powerfully about social issues in the United States. Maya Angelou was born on April 4th,1928, and was destined for greatness. Angelou faced racial discrimination from a young age. After facing other forms of trauma Angelou went mute. It wasn’t until years later that she learned how to use her words through writing. Aside from poetry, Angelou was a singer and dancer. In the 1950s she landed a role in the stage musical ‘Porgy and Bees’. Later she appeared in an Off-Broadway play. Maya also performed in The Blacks with Cicely Tyson. Angelou later received a Tony Nomination for her role in the play Look Away, and then an Emmy Nomination for the television miniseries Roots.
Angelou created screenplays and became an author and director. She created the educational drama Georgia, Georgia in 1972. This drama made her the first African American woman to have a screenplay produced. Maya worked hard to get what she wanted, she once said “Nothing will work unless you do.” Angelou is most famously known for her poems and her sophisticated and wise diction. Angelou wrote ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ talking about the childhood trauma she faced as a child and during her teen years. Among countless other famous poems, she wrote: “Phenomenal Women” not only giving herself props but giving other women confidence and reassurance. From Angelou’s fame in poetry she was later invited to recite an original poem at Former President Bill Clinton’s inauguration ceremony in January 1993.
All of these women continued to break down barriers not only in the arts, but also in what the world believed a woman was/is capable of. Through determination and confidence, these powerful women used their talents to make an imprint on the world as we know it today. Happy Women’s History Month!