Bev Grant & the Dissident Daughters
by John Pietaro
Topical singer/songwriter Bev Grant has been an active presence in the protest and folk scene since the 1960s. She was one of the radical upstarts in Greenwich Village coffeehouses when the Village still felt bohemian and affording rent was actually a possibility. Yeah, much has changed, but the good fight continues for some.
Bev lead her band The Human Condition to national prominence in the early 1970s, after sharing the stage with such luminaries as Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger and others. The Human Condition was a protest band in the truest sense of that word, albeit approaching the music in a unique manner. Strains of rock, Latin music, R&B, pop and more easily fused with the essence of smoky folk clubs, which by then had ingrained in her fiber. Adding to her topical singer's pedigree, Grant was on the bill of Ochs' 1973 festival, "An Evening With Salvador Allende" at NYC's Madison Square Garden, a benefit for refugees fleeing Chile after the US-orchestrated coup.
After recording a couple of major-label LPs (available again through Bev's website), the Human Condition proved fragile, so to speak, and the band split. Bev maintained her activism along with her music and performed both solo and in duet with guitarist/singer Bruce Markow and in a series of other groups. She developed a special fondness for the company of other female voices, however and this has brought her to a new plateau. As Bev explained, she began performing in a sister act as a child, so harmonizing with other women is natural. Add to this, the feminist in Bev has never been far from the surface and thus the bonding of women is relevant to her on many levels. After working with a women's chorus in New Jersey, Bev created the Brooklyn Women's Chorus, a group that released more than one CD with Bev at the helm. But somehow it all seemed to come together in more recent times...
Bev Grant & the Dissident Daughters is the project which has occupied most of the singer-activist's hours these days. Her latest aggregation is unique as its core sound neither resembles the rock/folk of the Human Condition nor the singer-songwriter genre one expects from a warrior brandishing an acoustic guitar. Instead Bev's Dissident Daughters offers 3-part soprano and alto harmonies bellowing out like the Andrew Sisters gone Red! Not that they sound dated. Actually one can hear a century's worth of music in the confines of this CD. This ensemble, swings, rocks, jumps, soothes and kicks ass.
Bev's original line–up of Daughters included Lynn Stabile and Valerie Andrewlevich, two strong vocalists who recorded the current disc with her. After about a year of performing together, the Daughters had to move onto other projects, so now two more, Angela Lockhart and Carolynn Murphy, have taken on the powerful roles. You can hear it all when the ladies perform live, but Cheeky Woman offers a brilliant document of this power–vocal trio.
The disc opens with a Grant-penned number that will immediately pull you in—"Mama's Leaving Home". Here's a beautiful account of the dilemma of the middle-aged wife/mother who comes to learn that she has never really known herself. It's presented as up-tempo swing that surely belies the emptiness of the title. You'll tap your foot four-to-the-floor as you listen, I promise, even as the lyric drives you to contemplate the women around you. The album is filled with gems like this and Jolie Rickman's "Emma Goldman", Stephan Foster's "Hard Times Come No More" (with a warm lead vocal by Stabile) and the immigrant-centered "In America", written by Bev and Bruce Markow. This CD can appeal to many ages and cultures as it all sounds familiar while being edgy at the same time. Its pronounced feminist thread is pleasingly in your face!
Some of the other cuts include "Where Women Rule", the story of an African village led by a matriarchy, and “Tired of the Bastards”, which stylistically has much in common with the Almanac Singers, save for the contemporary lyrical frankness (“I'm tired of the bastards fucking over me!" -- sing it, sister). Humor notwithstanding, the album's closer, "America's Dirty Little Secret" offer both melodic beauty and almost devastatingly harsh lyrics about a struggling single mother. Not that Cheeky Woman pulls any punches anyway, but this song speaks volumes about the sexism, racism, and classism of these Bush years. It's a vital piece of music for young women to hear. But then, so is the whole album. Its one to immediately go out and buy for your teenagers –boys or girls—as well as for the rest of us.
-John Pietaro is a musician, writer and labor organizer from New York www.flamesofdiscontent.org
Angela Lockhart is a poet, singer, playwright and Artistic Founding Director of Living Lessons Inc, a not for profit educational theatre company that toured the metropolitan New York-New Jersey area during the 1990s. Angela recently became the Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Women's Chorus where she continues to use her talents to raise social and political consciousness through spoken word, song and theatre. Angela has self published her poetry in a chapbook entitled, "What Is It You think You See" and was recently published in a women's political poetry anthology entitled "From the Web." Currently, Angela sings and tours with the legendary Bev Grant and "The Dissident Daughters."
Murphy is a singer, dancer, guitar player and percussionist. Born and
raised in Queens, NY, Carolynn grew up watching her mother tap dance
and sing popular American songs around the kitchen while getting dinner
ready. Her father played jazz piano, and Carolynn was exposed early on
to the wild syncopated sounds of Thelonious Monk. Carolynn
studied music and dance at an early age and loved to perform for
family, friends and at school productions.
While studying at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, Carolynn was the guitar player and song collaborator for the Barefoot Blues Band, a women’s folk trio, a local favorite. With this group she combined her training in environmental education with cultural activism, performing at environmental centers, Earth Day rallies, and other local benefits.
After graduation from college, Carolynn moved back to NYC and began a passionate immersion in American vernacular dance. She studied rhythm tap dance and apprenticed and performed with Manhattan Tap. She was also a solo performer busking on the streets of New York City. She was schooled in the art of swing dance, spending Monday nights at Well’s in Harlem where she danced with the Savoy era greats– Buster Brown, Leroy Griffen, and Frankie Manning. She later took up percussion studies at Brooklyn Conservatory of Music and was the drummer for the jazz quartet The Leisure Kings.
Currently, Carolynn is one of the lead singers and percussionists in a cover dance band called The Maladjustments. She also sings and plays percussion with Bev Grant & the Dissident Daughters. Carolynn appreciates the sense of unity she shares with Angela and Bev. The individual strength she feels from contributing her creativity to the group and the opportunity to share ideas on all levels helps give voice to our own struggles and ideals.