Amazing Musicians

amazing women

Madonna (1958- )

Madonna

"It's better to live one year as a tiger
than 100 as a sheep."

Madonna is simply an amazing woman! But what in the world is there to say about her that hasn't already been said? A versatile singer, actor, dancer, songwriter, and music producer, Madonna is one of the most diversely talented women in show business. Born Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone in Bay City, Michigan on August 16, 1958, she came from a large Roman Catholic family (she had seven siblings). However, her mother died of breast cancer when she was six years old, an event which has heavily affected Madonna the rest of her life. She attended the University of Michigan for two years on a dance scholarship before leaving for New York City to pursue her career in 1978. There, she worked as a model, dancer (with the Alvin Ailey dance troupe), and actress in small projects. She then learned to play guitar, keyboards, and drums and played with several bands. Her music was well-received at dance clubs throughout the city and in 1983 she released her first album. Her songs began climbing the charts, first the top 20, then the top 10, and then she had her first Number 1 hit with "Like a Virgin." In 1985 she made her feature film debut as the title character in Desperately Seeking Susan, starring alongside Rosanna Arquette. Over the years she has acted in several film and stage projects, including performing on Broadway. Her 1991 tour documentary Truth or Dare, a riveting glimpse into superstardom which Madonna executive produced, received rave reviews. Yet most of her film performances have had less-than-enthusiastic reception. Some exceptions are her movies Dick Tracy (1990), A League of Their Own (1992), and Evita (1996), a role many feel she was born to play; she was honored with a Golden Globe Award for the part. The popularity of her music, however, was never questioned: it escalated until she was one of the highest-paid singers in show business. In 1992 she formed her own multimedia entertainment company, Maverick, which deals in the movie, television, and music businesses. In 1995 her 11th top single, "Take a Bow," made her the female performer with the most Number 1 songs to date. Madonna's albums continue to top the charts. Her next effort, Music, was backed by her first world tour in nearly a decade.
A vibrantly ambitious pop diva of the 1980s, Madonna created a kinky blonde bombshell persona that propelled her albums and her popularity. A high-energy performer of aggressively sexual and irreverent material, she has offended many with her provocative messages on women's rights and sexual freedom, interracial relationships, and homophobia, as well as with the 1992 book she released, Sex, which features erotic photographs of and literature by her. She has had three videos banned by MTV: "Justify My Love" (1990), "Erotica" (1992), and "What It Feels Like For A Girl" (2001). But her fans love her catchy, danceable music (most of which she co-writes and produces), her iconoclastic humor, and her outrageous behavior. She certainly has never held back: "When I'm hungry, I eat. When I'm thirsty, I drink. When I feel like saying something, I say it." But with age and motherhood she has become tamed a bit, though she is still a shrewd businesswoman and a captivating performer. Her bravado in expressing female desire and the injustices between the sexes reminds me of George Sand. Not to mention this comment: "I think that everyone should get married at least once, so you can see what a silly, outdated institution it is." In 1996 she said: "I came to the realization that a strong female is frightening to everybody, because all societies are male-dominated - black societies, poor people, rich people, any racial group, they're all dominated by men. A strong female is going to threaten everybody across the board." Her personal life was often something of a mess, from a failed marriage with Sean Penn to highly-publicized affairs with Warren Beatty, Vanilla Ice, and Dennis Rodman. But she calmed down a great deal after having a daughter in 1996 with personal trainer Carlos Leon. She married British film director Guy Ritchie in 2000 after they had a son together. The couple has since adopted another child.
Madonna once said: "It's better to live one year as a tiger than 100 as a sheep." She has now lived over 40 years as a tiger, always pushing the envelope, never holding back, always being herself yet all the while reinventing herself. She represents freedom of expression, doing what you believe in, and going after your dreams. Ambition has been her driving force; controversy her companion. Yet the shape-shifting, provocative Madonna of old, the woman who launched a thousand fashion trends, hairstyles, and dance moves, has emerged as a much more subdued and spiritually centered woman, a hard-working mother devoted to her family and to managing her empire. Her latest works have been more introspective and moody, yet audiences still love them. Music entered the album sales charts at Number 1, not just in the United States, but in 22 other countries as well... not bad for a 42-year-old mother of two. A couple of years later she returned to her dance music roots with Confessions on a Dance Floor. "I want to rule the world. Every time I reach a new peak, I see a new one and want to climb. It's like I can't stop. Maybe I should rest and admire the view, but I can't. I've got to keep on pushing. Why? I don't know. I don't know what motivates me. I just know I've got to do it."


Madonna Madonna Madonna Madonna
Madonna Madonna Madonna Madonna Madonna

Tori Amos (1963- )

Tori Amos

"If I couldn't play, I've no idea what kind of
bitter person I would've become."

Tori Amos is my favorite singer, musician, wonder woman... you name it! She has a tremendous passion for music and you can sense its importance to her in everything she creates. "Playing is the only place where I've felt in touch with my sexuality, my spirituality, and my emotions, and never, ever, ever anywhere else. So my life is a bit tricky because when I'm not playing, I'm just trying to walk down the street." A child prodigy, Tori was playing the piano at age two and a half, and by four was composing her own songs. At age five she became the youngest student ever accepted to the prestigious Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. The idea was for her to become a concert pianist. That, however, did not happen. She was kicked out of the conservatory when she was 11 because she refused to be molded into a classical pianist. She wanted to play her own music. "Why would I want to play stuff written by some dead guy?" Soon her father, a Methodist minister, was chaperoning her as she played standards in local gay bars. At 21, the rebellious Tori moved to Los Angeles and had a brief stint as a hard rocker in the band Y Kant Tori Read, after being told repeatedly that the "girl and the piano thing" would never work. The album they recorded failed miserably, but Tori did not sulk. Instead, she returned to her first love and best friend, the piano. She began to write songs that were painfully personal, intimate, and honest stories about her life. One such revelation is "Me and a Gun," a song about being raped, which she wrote after seeing a movie: "I went to see Thelma & Louise, alone, on a whim, and my life changed. When Susan Sarandon killed the would-be rapist, I breathed for the first time in seven years." That song ultimately became a therapeutic tool for her to overcome her own experience of being raped, as well as a cathartic song in the lives of thousands of women who had had similar experiences. Tori eventually helped found RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, which was the first toll-free national hotline for survivors of sexual abuse. Tori continues to be an outspoken advocate for helping victims of rape, by giving interviews to TV programs about her experience, continuing to support RAINN, and performing "Me and a Gun" in concert before thousands of teary-eyed admirers. Her courage and honesty have helped countless survivors of sexual abuse deal with problems in their own lives, have raised awareness about the issue, and have made other survivors know that they are not alone.
It is clear that Tori's accomplishments and dedication with respect to this issue make her an amazing woman. But that is not the half of it. Aside from her public service, and indeed before she did any of that, there has been the music. When Tori returned to the piano, she finally listened to herself. She did not care whether the record executives liked her music, whether the public would like it, or whether it would be commercially successful or anything. She just listened to her heart and began to use music as therapy. She wrote about her true emotions and experiences, and she used the medium that had been with her virtually all of her life: the piano. The result of this emotional outpouring was Little Earthquakes, her first solo album. It steadily gained critical acclaim from people in the music business, and, more importantly, gained the attention of a loyal fan following that at first made her a cult figure but has over the years made her one of the most successful and beloved female singer/songwriters of the past decade. What has drawn so many people to her? Just listen to her music. Sure, some people can't stand her esoteric lyrics and style. Yes, she is "out there." She thanks the faeries on all her albums. She talks about reincarnation. That at first caused some critics to dismiss her as a new age flower child or something... but the truth is that it doesn't matter. The music speaks for itself. The meaning of her lyrics might not be crystal clear, but her words are beautiful nonetheless. She sings (and openly talks) about religion (being raised in a strict Methodist home, religion was always a major part of her life - whether she liked it or not), rape, friendship, relationships, sex, tribal female circumcision, masturbation - she holds nothing back. She is extremely honest. So there's the subject matter of her songs. Then there is her voice. That voice! And of course, first and foremost there is the piano. She does not treat the piano as mere accompaniment. She makes it her partner, her alter ego in a way. She lets it speak for her, much as the character Ada did in the movie The Piano, or at least that's how I feel. Her pianism is exquisite and rare in the world of pop music. She has tremendous respect and love and passion for the piano. Her second solo effort, Under The Pink, is perhaps the best evidence of this. On her next album, Boys For Pele, she added the harpsichord, clavichord, and harmonium to the mix. Believe me, you don't hear a harpsichord in a pop song every day! With each album Tori explores new sides of herself, adding more instruments, originality, and means of expression. On her next albums, From The Choirgirl Hotel and To Venus and Back, Tori added a band. Strange Little Girls was a concept album covering songs that were originally written by men. Her more recent efforts include Scarlet's Walk and American Doll Posse. She found great personal happiness when she married her sound engineer Mark Hawley in 1998, and in 2000 they had a daughter together. As Tori's style continues to develop, she becomes more and more unique and she continues to win over fans and critics alike. She did not compromise with the record company, she did not write songs that she thought would be played on Top 40 radio - she did her own thing. And it finally paid off. She has gotten the recognition she has always deserved as a bold, often rebellious, and truly unique voice of modern music.
Tori's amazing qualities don't end there, however. Her ideas on patriarchal religion are right in line with When God Was a Woman, and specifically relate to the false shame that women have been forced to feel since Christianity began to flourish. Growing up in such a stifled environment, Tori used music as a way to express herself. The piano became her outlet and refuge, and it remains that to this day. "If I couldn't play, I've no idea what kind of bitter person I would've become. Because that's where I was able to express some kind of freedom without guilt. Guilt for passion." Although she pokes fun at patriarchal religion in her songs, it is clear that religion is a big issue with her and always has been. Her Cherokee grandfather's beliefs are important to her. "He was the one that began to really kind of remind me of 'the old ways,' whether you talk about it in Celtic mythology or Egyptian mythology or Native American, the belief that it's the balance of male and female energy, that they are equal, that the word does not just pass through the patriarchy." Tori believes that Western religion has had a devastating effect on women's sexuality. This in turn has influenced her music. "If we were going to use a term to describe my music, it would have to be 'theology of the feminine.'" The root of her opinions centers around Mary Magdalene. The following is a compilation of quotes she has made that I have edited together to sum up Tori's thoughts on the matter. "Mary Magdalene had great wisdom. She wasn't just the 'Whore of Babylon.' Many scholars believe that Mary Magdalene was a high priestess who came from the cult of Isis. She was a peer to Jesus." Tori believes Magdalene to be a very passionate being and even a blueprint for women which, unfortunately, was never passed down. "Mary Magdalene is really someone who has made the church very uncomfortable. That is why you have two Marys in the Bible: one that is very sexual, and one that is virtuous and spiritual, cut off from her sexuality. In doing so, they take away all her wisdom. It should be about a wholeness, but it's about division. So instead of people having to align with one or the other, the Marys need to become married - joined together. In my own faith system, I've tried to marry the Marys together so that the Mother Mary's sexual being isn't circumcised from her any more and Mary Magdalene's wisdom isn't circumcised from her. If the bride [Magdalene] had been acknowledged, there would have been honor of the Feminine. There wouldn't have been patriarchy as we know it or matriarchy. There would have been balance." One of her songs, "God," deals with these issues. The refrain in that song is: "God, sometimes you just don't come through/Do you need a woman to look after you?" Tori explains: "The God-force must be feminized, perceived more as a God-Goddess. Jesus, his mother, 'his church' all must be redefined. Especially a figure like Mary Magdalene, who I and so many Christian women were taught to despise, because she was a prostitute. Because of that we had great problems coming to terms with the prostitute in ourselves, which again, is something the Church teaches us to deny. That whole song is about calling forth a Goddess. It was very liberating for me to write 'God.' To be able to say, 'Hang on a minute, buddy. Sit down here. You got to be held accountable.' The female Goddess who has been our role model has been the Virgin Mary, a sexless being. And people don't really think about how that affected an entire planet, to have the most populated religion worshipping a sexless being! Especially when it was such a turnabout from early religions of the Middle East where the Mother Goddess was worshiped as the life-giving ruler of creation. Women held the power until the myth of Adam and Eve was created with all its guilt-inducing nuances and suddenly the male-dominated religions made it the woman's fault that the human race lost paradise. Our ancestresses let them get away with upsetting the status quo and have paid for it ever since. There is a level where humans have been taught that they are so unworthy and incapable. What I try to inspire in my work is that we are capable. That energy force is within, and we're all connected to it. I believe completely in the great spirit. I'm not a part of institutionalized religion because it's a controlling force that just keeps you powerless, and it keeps you away from what's really going on. You're just plasma walking around making a lot of noise." Tori does make a lot of noise about all sorts of things, but trust me, there's a lot more substance to her than just plasma!


Tori Amos Tori Amos Tori Amos Tori Amos
Tori Amos Tori Amos Tori Amos Tori Amos Tori Amos

Olga Kern (1975- )

Olga Kern

"I like everything about music.
I like everything!"

Olga Kern is the newest addition to Amazing Women. Not long ago, she was a struggling single mother in Russia trying to make a living as a pianist. But now she's come to worldwide attention and has a busy concert career, a steady income, and legions of fans. It all happened after she won a gold medal at the Eleventh Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. The Cliburn Competition, widely regarded as the top piano competition in the world, is a rigorous 15-day festival that examines all aspects of a classical pianist's musicianship. It's often called the Olympics of piano playing. As a result of her success at the competition, Olga embarked on a worldwide tour during the 2001-2002 concert season. In addition to her extensive performance schedule, she has released several excellent recordings. The media attention thrust upon her since the competition has been intense. "Suddenly, I'm kind of a hero, and it even feels, sometimes, like I'm a bit of a star. But inside, I'm exactly the same as before the competition."
Yet things used to be very different for Olga. She was born April 23, 1975 into a family of musicians and began studying piano at the age of five. "I was crazy about the piano." She made her concerto debut when just seven years old and by the age of 17 she had 15 piano concertos in her repertoire. She is a laureate of several international competitions and has toured throughout her native Russia, Europe, the United States, South Africa, and Asia, performing in many of the world's most important venues. But Olga still hadn't left her mark on the music world. She competed in the 1997 Cliburn Competition, but did not advance past the preliminary round. After that, she went home to Moscow and began the task of changing her life, because she says she was very unhappy. A marriage to a fellow 1997 competitor, the birth of their son, their divorce, and lots of practicing ensued. As she got older and more professional, she began to undergo several transformations, small and large. This included a new look (she used to have rather plain long brown hair) and a name change (from her maiden name Pushechnikova to her mother's maiden name, Kern). Yet when asked about the reason for these changes, Olga doesn't offer much of an explanation. One major transformation for her was the birth of her son in 1998. "I realized my son's birth was the most important moment in my life and his presence somehow made it so much more easy to put myself inside the music, to understand it." So another transformation was her playing, which now is more musical and mature. One imagines that an artist of such high ability must spend all her time practicing, but it's not the case with Olga. After all, she is a single mother of a young son. "The first year was absolutely terrible. I can't practice at all. Now it is more easy, because I can ask my mother to take care of him sometimes... I can practice more now, because my son is bigger and smarter and likes music. I love him so much I can't imagine life without him."
So Olga returned to the Cliburn in 2001 a new woman. Though not particularly viewed as a top contender coming into the competition, her stunning technical ability and warmth of playing won over audiences and jury alike. Her fiery performances and distinctly Russian energy launched a phenomenon described in local newspapers as "Olgamania," and audiences couldn't seem to get enough of her. She got standing ovations every time she played. Critics loved her as well: "...almost superhuman power and endurance;" "ferocious and relentless at the keyboard;" "voluptuous charisma" - these are some of the phrases they used to describe her. She has incredible stage presence and a sensuality that enforces her performance appeal. On top of that, she is an extremely gifted musician who has the keyboard totally at her command. So how did a poor single mom from Moscow end up winning the richest prize in the world of piano competitions? Certainly some of it has do to with her dazzling rendition of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 in the final round of the competition, a performance that caught attention not only for Olga's volcanic playing, but also for the slinky fire engine red dress she wore. So she won the Cliburn gold medal and became a force to be reckoned with in the classical music world - a world that is dominated by men. Female pianists rarely rise to stardom, so when they do, it's something to celebrate. Olga Kern captured the top prize at an event whose winners are usually men. In fact, she was the first woman to win the Cliburn gold medal in over 30 years. Her athletic style of playing has been described as mannish, but she considers that a compliment. "It is very good for me. I play strong like a man, but I feel like a woman. If I have these two things, it's only the better for me." She exudes great power yet also has a feminine elegance which, combined, makes her a very distinctive performer. Olga also has an overflowing personality and infectious good humor and is rarely seen without a huge smile on her face. "I'm always in a good mood." A dedicated artist, her newfound success and busy schedule do not bother her. "I like to play concerts. It's my life... I like concerts. I like recording. I like everything about music. I like everything!" The only thing she doesn't like is traveling. And the main downside is that with so many performance dates, she doesn't get to see her son very often. To help fill the emptiness this causes her to feel, she dedicates her concerts to him. Now a confident, successful, and widely-admired pianist, Olga has every reason to keep on smiling.


Olga Kern Olga Kern Olga Kern Olga Kern
Olga Kern Olga Kern Olga Kern Olga Kern Olga Kern

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This site is about amazing women;
their brilliance, talent, and passion;
and the power of all women
to be amazing.

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Amazing Musicians Links:

Official Madonna Website
Official Tori Amos Website
A Dent in the Tori Amos Net Universe
Here. In My Head (Tori Amos)
Olga Kern
Olga Kern's records
Back to Amazing Women

Amazing Musicians Must-Haves:
Madonna: Greatest Hits Vol. 2
Madonna: Truth or Dare
Tori Amos: All These Years by Kalen Rogers
Tori Amos: Little Earthquakes
Olga Kern: Cliburn Competition

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