The Shaggs

To excuse my belated post, “I set my clocks early ’cause I know I’m always late” (in honor of the Fall Out Boy concert that I attended last night). Keeping that same note, many famous bands might have never come to fruition had they listened to their number one naysayers: their parents. With the 1 in 10,000 chance of reaching stardom, many parents reasonably advise against pursuing a career in music. However, denying a dream before it has the potential to blossom seems to be part of the problem.

Perhaps if more parents were initially supportive, we would have more Beyoncés. I mean Kris Jenner, the definition behind the word “momager,” demonstrates the influence that one can have over their child’s career. Yet what happens when the support takes on a different form?

Cue The Shaggs.

“It doesn’t matter what you do
It doesn’t matter what you say
There will always be
One who wants things the opposite way”

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Years Active: 1968-1975

Nationality: American

Known For: Dot (lyricist, vocals, lead guitar), Betty (vocals, rhythm guitar), and Helen (drums)

Upon a palm reading performed on Austin Wiggin’s mother, three prophecies were foretold – two of which came true (Austin would marry a strawberry blonde, and he would have two sons after his mother’s death). The last promised that Austin’s daughters would comprise a popular music group, and these would be the words that determined the course of his daughters’ lives. Dorothy (Dot), Helen, and Betty were withdrawn from school and enrolled in music and vocal lessons. In 1968, the Shaggs began a weekly Saturday night gig at the Fremont, New Hampshire Town Hall. Yet, it is important to note that the sisters did not necessarily want to be musicians. In 1975, the year that their father passed, the Shaggs disbanded, and other than their performance in 1999, the sisters rarely speak of their band.

“Some kids do as they please
They don’t know what life really means
They don’t listen to what the ones who really care have to say.”

The legacy of the Shaggs is controversial to say the least. Depending on who you ask, they are either the best (perhaps even better than The Beatles) or the worst band of all time. Despite their father’s insistence, the Shaggs never achieved renowned success but they amassed a bit of a cult-like fan base. Other than Dot, it seems that the other sisters remain indifferent (verging more on opposed) towards their band.

It seems odd to include a band of reluctant sisters in a World-Crushing Women series, yet similar to the Shaggs’ legacy, they can be interpreted in many ways. Perhaps what is most striking about the Shaggs can be found in their lyricist, Dot. Despite, and because of, the simplicity of her words, the songs performed by the Shaggs ring of a genuine energy. The Shaggs illustrate that while being unpolished might not be for everyone, the demand for it certainly remains present.

Josephine Baker

Have you ever glanced at someone else’s resume and felt a tad inadequate? I can only imagine how one must have felt when they came across a resume belonging to Josephine Baker. Activist. Performer. Spy. Josephine Baker is the epitome of a triple threat, yet that phrase seems limiting when used to describe her.

In Paris, Baker’s erotic dancing garnered her an immense amount of attention. With admirers ranging from Hemingway to Picasso, her pet cheetah,”Chiquita” which would be spotted on stage wearing a diamond collar during performances, and successful films, Josephine Baker easily established a legacy. However. a legacy is nothing if it’s not equal.

“I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents. And much more. But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee, and that made me mad.”

Despite renouncing her American citizenship in 1937, Josephine Baker became a huge advocate during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s: “Surely the day will come when color means nothing more than the skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one’s soul, when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood.” When she returned to the United States, she refused to perform for segregated audiences (she turned down $10,000 from a Miami club until they met her demand). During the March in Washington, she was the only official female speaker. Clearly, Baker was a master of expression – whether her vehicle of choice was dance or words, Baker could deliver a message.

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Born: June 3, 1906

Nationality: French

Known For: Activism, Performing, Spying

In fact, during World War I, the French military relied on Baker’s ability to deliver intel. During parties, Baker used her charm to gather information about the locations of German troops. Since she was an entertainer, Baker easily maneuvered throughout Europe using her notes written on her music sheets to share information. After her assistance and recovering from an illness, Baker toured North Africa to entertain the troops, charging no admission.

“I’m not intimidated by anyone. Everyone is made with two arms, two legs, a stomach and a head. Just think about that.” 

Later, a king of Egypt requested Baker to perform, to which she declined as punishment for his neutrality and failure to acknowledge Free France. After receiving threatening phone calls from the KKK during her involvement in integrating audiences for live entertainment in Las Vegas, Baker (very) publicly announced that she was not afraid of them.

Josephine Baker had a message for the world. One that she carried with her in her professional and personal life. During her involvement with the Civil Rights Movement, she began adopting children. She referred to her family as “the rainbow tribe,” as she believed that they were an embodiment of her core values.

 “All my life, I have maintained that the people of the world can learn to live together in peace if they are not brought up in prejudice.”

Sifting through countries and careers, Baker’s quest for equality never wavered. Each challenge strengthened her resolve, allowing her to face inequality directly demonstrating that privilege for some is equality for none.

Alicia Alonso

We are all too familiar with the stories involving a woman’s love. A love typically accompanied by sacrifices. We accept these stories because she’s in LOVE. Love is a beautiful thing, but too often we are subjected to a woman’s love for a man. So often that we believe that such a love is a part of a woman’s nature. Wouldn’t it be nice for a different narrative?

Cue Alicia Alonso

“Dance is not an exercise. Dance is an art.”

Like many women, Alonso possesses an undying love, yet unlike the stories mentioned earlier, her love is not for some man: “Dancing is an expression of the happiness of life. It’s like laughing, you laugh with your mouth, you laugh with your body, you enjoy every moment” (Alonso). I have seen enough romantic comedies to know that when someone describes anything in such a matter, they are truly, madly, deeply in love.

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Born: December 20, 1920

Nationality: Cuban

Known For: Ballet

Faced with vision problems and being diagnosed with a detached retina, Alonso had corrective surgery. Her doctor ordered her to remain on bed rest for three months, but Alonso was not having it. She continued to practice dancing, using just her feet. After three months time, Alonso discovered that the operation was not entirely successful, leading to a second, and ultimately, a third surgery. Her three month bedrest became a year’s worth. Once again refusing to be separated from her true love, Alonso and her husband used their fingers for her to learn dancing roles.

Upon returning to work, Alonso was asked to replace an injured ballerina for Giselle. Despite her problematic vision, Alonso’s performance had critics raving, allowing her to establish. While training with partners, Alonso instructed them where to stand on stage.

“The difficulty was in dancing with partners, knowing where to find them without my eyes on the stage. They sometimes used special lighting effects to guide me. But the biggest difficulty was always coming off the stage, trying to find the wings and the curtain drops.”

Concealing her failed vision, and performing well into her 70s, Alonso refused to lose her love. Instead, she fostered the Alicia Alonso Ballet Company and the Ballet Nacional de Cuba to equip others with the love that allowed her to conquer all.