Female Irish Musicians

Female Irish Musicians

I have noticed that in the early to mid 1900s there were not many female instrumentalists in American folk styles. It appears from the few photographs I have seen that female Irish musicians were much more common during the same period. Has any one else noticed this?
Did American men start discouraging women from playiing when we got to this side of the Atlantic?

Re: Female Irish Musicians

I’m no expert in sociology or women’s studies, but maybe partly it was because women weren’t encouraged to do much at all outside of the home. And unmarried women playing music with men was propably scandalous. Married women with families were busy cooking, sewing, cleaning, etc. Maybe that is too simplistic a reason, though.

And then how would that explain why there seem to be plenty of Irish women musicians of the same time period? Hmmm, maybe I just cut down my own theory…..

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Re: Female Irish Musicians

Probably only partly true. There were ‘women’s instruments’ such as the concertina and fiddle and you would have seen these only in certain parts of the country like Clare.

Even when I was learning in the 1960’s and 70’s there were very few female musicians. Tara Diamond [nee Bingham], Deirdre Shannon, and a few others.

It’s great to see that now this is a thing of the past. Local Comhaltas and other Trad Music Groups in Ireland have encouraged young girls into the music and it’s now at least 50-50.

Re: Female Irish Musicians

I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that the reverse is true. A *lot* of women learned to play mountain music in the late 19th century and early 20th, but maybe for the same reason that not many were ever recorded (plain and simple sexism caused not many to be photographed either. But many of the most well-known old-timey musicians that you will have heard of learned their craft from their mothers (who you won’t have heard of). Someone with more knowledge of American folk music than me can probably answer the question better, but it is simply not true to say that there weren’t many female american folk musicians. In the rural communities where American folk music grew, I’m sure the percentage of female musicians was much higher than it is in America in general today.

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Re: Female Irish Musicians

My wife a fiddler has been interviewing and researching older women musicians in the west of Ireland. Over the past several years we have met many women who played out with bands as well as at house parties or local events. Many of these women were the tradition bearers and taught both their own children as well as many of the most widely known male musicians. Many were tied to home by children or social pressure and did not get out much. With some effort we have met many and collected some stories and connections. My wife got interested because many of the Irish American players we know were not aware of these women and didn’t really know of many. There was even an all women show band in N.Y.C. called the Maids Of Erin that toured some.

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Re: Female Irish Musicians

Thanks for all your input. This is a facinating area that surely deserves research. I agree that my casual “photographic evidence” is unreliable. It would seem apparant that women have always had an important influence on folk music even if they were less “famous.”
Joe

Re: Female Irish Musicians

Here in sunny Manchester most of the people who play in sessions are male and middle aged. Of cause there are some extent women musicians, and I think a bunch of less sexist people you’d be hard pushed to find in any other area of activity.
I have a theory about why there are generally more men, regularly playing music than women. Men have limited outlets for certain emotional states; we can be aggressive angry and “tuff ” but the more uplifting side of emotional life (at least in public) is to taboo. In music however the other emotional stuff is essential if it is to work and we are allowed to emote with les restriction.
This is not the full picture but it certainly is one of the reasons I play.
All the best PP

Re: Female Irish Musicians

I, personally, would love to see more traditional female musicians in my area. But, alas, I am baised -- how about some attractive, single, 20-something female traditional musicians? *chuckles*

On an interesting side note, for the three reguarly-held sessions in this area, I am of a minority: an American of Irish blood. We have mostly Americans of non-Irish blood in the session. Just an interesting, meangingless tidbit.

*Jonathan*

Re: Female Irish Musicians

In what way does Irish blood differ from every body elses?
PP

Re: Female Irish Musicians

Jonathan, you’re lucky if you don’t get reamed for that statement 🙂

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Re: Female Irish Musicians

Isn’t Irish blood green? Like Dr Spock’s

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Re: Female Irish Musicians

Surely *Mr* Spock?
Trevor

Re: Female Irish Musicians

Culturally speaking, many believed that a pub wasn’t exactly the place where a proper young women spent her time. I understand that as little as 60 years ago in New York City you had many bars that offered a small room where a lady could sit down for a drink with friends, but it was separated from the larger bar area where the louder, coarser men had their pints. This could explain why women seem excluded in earlier Irish music, but I’ll bet when there was music in the house (instead of the pub) there were plenty of women players.