“Singing” the Stiletto

“We’re brazen husseys and we don’t give a damn

We’re loud, we’re raucous and we’re fighting for our rights

And our sex and our need to be free”

(The Greenham Songbook)

 

Music is powerful. Patients with dementia often remember songs from their youth long after other memories have gone. The right melody can stir our emotions, moving us to tears or to the dancefloor. It is little wonder then that protest movements down the century have regularly used music as a call to action.

 

Probably the best known suffrage anthem is “March of the Women” by Ethel Smyth. She was a trained musician and a prolific composer, writing in a range of styles. Smyth was the first female composer ever to be made a Dame and, while serving two months in Holloway for breaking windows during the suffrage campaign, conducted a choir of her fellow inmates while using her toothbrush for a baton.

This performance is by Glasgow University Chapel Choir, but it is important to remember that it would have been sung by ordinary women as they protested, not just by formal choirs.

 

Ethel Smyth wasn’t the only woman writing suffrage songs, and the tradition of women writing and singing campaign songs didn’t end in 1918 with the vote. Music has been at the heart of campaigns including equal pay and nuclear disarmament. The handwritten Greenham Songbook, passed around between protesters, has been digitised and can be viewed online.

More recently, “Quiet” by Milck has been picked up by the anti-Trump women’s movement in America. This video shows her performing it with other women at the women’s march in Washington DC

 

We are really keen to incorporate music into the Snapping the Stiletto project. Do you know of any protest songs from the last 100 years which were written by an Essex woman? What were the Dagenham Ford workers singing as they campaigned for equal pay? Which lyrics filled the air at Brightlingsea as women campaigned against live exports? Are there any other “local” protest songs we should be singing? Please email pippa.smith@essex.gov.uk with your suggestions (and don’t worry, we know the lyrics may include a few swear words).

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