At the turn of the twentieth-century, in the rowdy streets of Chattanooga, Tennessee, a young Bessie Smith was literally singing for her supper. Busking alongside her brother, Bessie learned the hard way just what it took to capture an audience against the odds: to sing and dance and demand attention despite the clatter of carts and the shouts of storeowners and vendors selling their wares. This early foray into the performing life would help shape Smith into the greatest performer of her age, rising up to the heights of Empress of the Blues and becoming the highest paid black entertainer of her day. In her private life she was just as bold and brash as her stage persona, never shying away from saying what she thought and more than happy to get into a fistfight or two. So put the needle on some vinyl and join us as we get down and bluesy with Bessie Smith.
In the melting pot of 19th century New Orleans, one woman emerged as the most powerful and legendary practitioners of Louisiana Voodoo. From her humble beginnings as the daughter of a free-man and his Voodoo doctor mistress, Laveau grew up to become a priestess, a healer, an activist and a commanding and influential leader of her community. But Laveau’s story is as much legend as it is reality, and even in her lifetime stories proliferated about her midnight graveyard ceremonies, animal sacrifices and mesmerising evil incantations.
So how, in a story like this, do we tell the difference between history and myth? And who do we believe when we listen to her story? Join us for our Season Four premier as we pick apart the complex and fascinating life of the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveau!
By the end of the 1920s, the U.S. was rocked by financial and ecological disasters that saw it spiral into the Great Depression. At the same time, the advent of sound film was ushering in the golden age of American animation, and with it, one of history’s most iconic film makers: Walt Disney. While Disney would become a household name, at the heart of his finest work were countless unsung artists and animators; one of the most legendary among them was Mary Blair. With a background in watercolour and fine arts, Blair’s use of bold colours and shapes would go on to cement her reputation as one of the most influential artists in the Disney story. But she would leave more than just her legacy at Disney, devoting her working life to creating the kind of art that dreams are made of. So gather your woodland animal friends about you as we take a break from our last few darker episodes and go goofy (sorry) for the art and flair of Mary Blair.
Known in her lifetime by many names, Malintzin would be recorded in history as the infamous La Malinche. Born into nobility and sold into slavery, from a young age Malintzin possessed a gift for language and diplomacy. In 1519, she was given to Hernán Cortés, the leader of the Spanish invading forces. When her translation skills were discovered, Cortés used her as his interpreter and, eventually, took her as his lover. Positioned as a vital go-between for the Spanish and indigenous peoples, her role is now seen as the decisive factor in the success of the Spanish mission in the “New World”. Often cast as either the victim of the Spanish invaders or Cortés’s duplicitous ‘whore’, she has only recently started to be understood in the light of her historical reality. Journey with us to the temples of Tenochtitlan to witness an epic clash of civilisations, and discover La Malinche: scheming betrayer of her people to some, symbolic mother of the Mestizo race to others.
When Wendy Carlos released Switched On Bach, the first classical album recorded on a synthesizer, she radically transformed people’s understandings of what electronic music could do. At the time of the album’s release, Wendy was also six-months into hormone therapy and struggling with her rising fame and anxieties about how the public might react to her transition. But Switched On Bach was a huge success and Wendy went on not only to critical acclaim, but to work with famed composers and film directors, including scoring Stanley Kubrik’s A Clockwork Orange and The Shining. Join Lauren and our special guest host, Deviant Women’s own composer India Hooi, as we discover how Wendy Carlos changed music forever!
Carolyn Layton had an idyllic childhood. Daughter of a socially progressive Methodist minister father and peace activist mother, she grew up believing passionately in social justice and racial equality. After marrying Larry Layton, a conscientious objector, the two began a new life together, a life founded on their shared principles of equality, freedom and social progress. Then they found an incredible new church, that seemed to share and espouse the values they held most dear: The People’s Temple. As Carolyn became progressively more involved with the organisation and its charismatic leader, Jim Jones, she started to change, and it wasn’t for the better.
Join us as we chat to Laura Elizabeth Woollett, author of Beautiful Revolutionary, about how Carolyn became implicated in the greatest loss of American life until September 11 and the complexities of how we remember the mistress of Jim Jones.
After fleeing her arms-dealing husband and his castle in the Austrian countryside, Hedy Lamarr made her way to Hollywood and the open arms of MGM Studios. She was going to be a star! The only problem: she’d gained a risque reputation for herself in the Czech film Ecstacy. This temptress image is one that would follow Hedy for much of her career, despite the fact that not only was she an extraordinary talent, she was also an extraordinary mind. Because little did most of Hollywood know, Hedy spent her evenings working on an invention that would go on to change the world forever! Join us as we journey through wartime Vienna to the MGMs studio lots, and watch the thrilling and devastating downfall of the bombshell, Hedy Lamarr.
In part two of our look at the history of reproduction rights in America, we trace the life of Pat Maginnis: a grassroots activist who campaigned tirelessly to change America’s abortion laws. After two harrowing years spent working in an army hospital in Panama, it was Maginnis’ personal struggle to find safe and legal abortion providers in the U.S. that cemented her desire to enact change. Pounding the street corners of San Francisco, Maginnis and ‘The Army of Three’ helped thousands of women, while across the country grassroots organisations sprung up in a pushback that would eventually culminate in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade. Join us as we take a look at the life of just one of the many women who struggled for change, and whose legacy we fight to protect today.
In the early 20th century the highly restrictive Comstock Laws made it almost impossible for American women to gain access to, or an understanding of, contraceptive methods. Arriving into the impoverished communities of New York city’s East Side, nurse Margaret Sanger saw women struggling with enormous families of children, the health ramifications of multiple births, and the horrors of back-alley abortions. This motivated her to act, starting a campaign of birth control advocacy that would form her life’s work. In the wake of the recent attacks on women’s reproductive rights in the U.S., the first of our two part episode looks at this controversial woman’s career, and the fundamental changes brought about by her life long work.
Famous today as the overlooked illustrator of the influential Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Deck, in her own time Pamela Colman Smith was something of an enigma. Known for her lively and enchanting Jamaican folklore performances, her publishing press and literary magazine, and for her extraordinary miniature theatre, Pamela – Pixie to her friends – wove magical worlds where women had agency and gender was fluid. But she was also a woman cloaked in mystery, and who was often Othered by her contemporaries. Join us, together with PCS scholar Elizabeth Foley O’Connor, as we travel from England to Jamaica, New York and Cornwall, tracing this elusive and enigmatic woman.
Infamous as the ‘Mad Queen of Madagascar’, Queen Ranavalona’s reign is remembered as one of violence and tyranny. But she was also a queen with a noble mission: to protect the sovereignty and traditional practices of her people from the enormous and oppressive colonial forces of the French and English. Her methods, though, were inventive. Come with us to the island of Madagascar to discover a queen unafraid to poison a witch or two (or a few thousand), hang herself some Christians, and lead her nation to its industrial revolution.
Celebrated as the iconic model and muse for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall has become one of the most recognisable faces in the history of Western art. However, famed for her beauty and romanticised for her tragic personal life, Lizzie Siddall’s own art and poetry was largely brushed aside, diminished by the grandeur of the “great men” who surrounded her. Come with us as we button our bonnets and prepare for some grave-digging in order to examine the mythic story of her life and death, and the long undervalued significance of her own work.