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Music Essays


A Popular History of Women's Music and Culture

by (author) Connie Kuhns

Caitlin Press
Initial publish date
Mar 2023
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2023
    List Price

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When journalist Connie Kuhns approached Vancouver Cooperative Radio in 1981 to host a music program dedicated solely to playing music by women, there was some doubt at the station that there was enough music by women to fill half an hour—and besides, who would tune in?

Such was the underground nature of women’s music. Despite the doubters, Rubymusic Radio became a successful program, running for fifteen years, introducing listeners to countless artists through radio, magazines and newspaper columns and on stage at Vancouver’s annual Folk Music Fest, and serving as a powerful platform for the feminist movements taking place in Vancouver’s punk scene and throughout music history in the 80s and 90s. Rubymusic also served as the launching pad for Kuhns’ life-long passion—the preservation of the histories and stories of the women with whom she crossed paths on the airwaves.

Here is a time capsule of a pivotal moment in women’s music history, with special emphasis on the women’s music movement in Canada, including the only written history of the women involved in Vancouver’s punk rock scene. Rubymusic also includes over two dozen first-person interviews going back into the early 1980s, featuring a diverse group of women, including Ferron, Etta James, Roni Gilbert, Lillian Allen, Koko Taylor, Gloria Steinem, kd lang, Michelle Shocked, Amy Grant, Ellen McIlwaine, as well as essays on Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, and why Yoko Ono matters. Rubymusic: A Popular History of Women’s Music and Culture is a necessary reflection on fifteen years of radio history and forty years in music journalism that contains unparalleled stories of women who fought for the right to be heard.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Connie Kuhns has a forty-year history as an essayist, journalist, photographer and broadcaster. Her essays have been finalists for Canada’s National Magazine Award, Western Magazine Award and PRISM international’s CNF prize. Other essays have been finalists in the LA Review Literary Awards, the New York Times Modern Love column 13-word love stories, the Frank McCourt Memoir Prize, and named “Notable Essay” in the Best American Essay series. Her photographs have been shown in various formats, including the Washington Post and the Globe and Mail. She was a finalist for Canada’s Salt Spring National Art Prize, receiving the award for Outstanding Salt Spring Artist. For fifteen years, Kuhns was the producer and host of the groundbreaking radio show Rubymusic on CFRO, Vancouver, specializing in the history of women in music. She lives on Salt Spring Island, BC.

Editorial Reviews

“I was too young for the ‘Feminist Soundtrack.’ When I came into the women’s movement in 1981, ‘women’s music’ was already old hat. I was a fan of punk rock, not Meg Christian and Holly Near. But I was lucky. I worked at a feminist newspaper, Kinesis, and our best move was hiring Connie Kuhns to write a column about women in music called ‘Rubymusic.’ Connie showed me you can have a soundtrack for feminism that claims Joni Mitchell, Yoko Ono, Aretha Franklin and The Slits. I listened to the records and thanked my lucky stars.

In this book, Connie has created the ultimate feminist musical comprehensive reference. Tag along with her as she visits the unstoppable forces of feminist music, delighting in interviews with the likes of k.d. lang, Ellen McIlwaine, and Elizabeth Fischer. I didn’t get to all the concerts, but Connie did, and this is a gift.”

—Emma Kivisild, aka Lizard Jones, writer, activist, former editor of Kinesis

“As Canada’s first female major market radio rock DJ, I may have busted through that glass ceiling, but I didn’t really feel part of a community—until Connie’s Rubymusic show debuted on CFRO. With this timely book, Connie frames music by women through the past century through a feminist lens, rekindles so many memories, and delivers just the book I didn’t know I needed to put it all in perspective.”

—Ellie O'Day, Vancouver arts administrator, broadcaster and writer (retired)

There is living history that must be analysed and documented. And there are issues that are as urgent today as they were in the beginning. –Connie Kuhns

“Connie Kuhns’ Rubymusic is an act of loving social labour and a brilliant love letter to the ‘beginnings’ of Women’s music. From the epicenter of it all, Connie meticulously researched and created an encyclopedic archive that is gritty, insightful, moving, complex, and deeply rewarding. This is a story of how women, on the heels of feminism (with its limitations and its idealisms), dreamed and created new possibilities for women’s voices, gave us some great and glorious music, and built a movement that has and continues to transform our communities and music culture. Connie Kuhn’s writing reaches into the past and swirls us into memorable and surprising details, tussles, turns and intriguing accounts of this unfolding revolution of women’s voices in music, gloriously illuminating the ever-present spiritual, societal, and social legacy of this movement.”

—Lillian Allen, two-time JUNO Award winner, dub poet and university professor

“Reading Rubymusic is like walking downtown, arm-in-arm with a dear friend as she gestures toward the city around you both, pointing out buildings whose facades have changed, spaces where structures may no longer even stand but which still somehow form part of the landscape for having once been there. Kuhns guides us through this musical city, connecting us to it, with the pleasure and assuredness of the local she is. This is a book that asks you to linger.”

—AnnMarie MacKinnon, writer, publisher, former editor-in-chief of Geist