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The MIM Presents Women Who Rock Exhibit

Martha Reeves, Wanda Jackson and Beth McDonald at the Women Who Rock benefit luncheon.

Painted in large letters on a bright pink wall at the new “Women Who Rock” exhibit at Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) is this quote by Tina Turner:

“I didn’t have anybody, really, no foundation in life, so I had to make my own way. Always, from the start, I had to go out in the world and become strong, to discover my mission in life.”

The exhibit, on loan from Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum through April 2014, pays tribute to Turner and more than 70 other women who have been rock and roll trailblazers.

Bessie Smith. Carole King. Billie Holliday. The Shangri-Las. Aretha Franklin. Janis Joplin. Bonnie Raitt. Chrissie Hynde. Joan Jett. Heart. Stevie Nicks. Kim Deal. Kim Gordon. Madonna. Meg White.  Those are just a few of those who are honored.

The display includes iconic costumes, such as the dress made entirely of raw meat that Lady Gaga wore to the 2010 MTV VMAs, album covers, handwritten notes and lyrics and instruments. The latter includes Hynde’s circa 1960 blue Telecaster, as seen on the cover of Get Close, and Tina Weymouth’s ’72 Musicmaster Bass.

“With decades worth of creativity, struggle, innovation and success represented in this single exhibition, guests will have a real opportunity to be entertained and moved, and to leave with the desire to contribute something of their own,” MIM curator Dr. Cullen Strawn told azfamily.com.

In celebration of the exhibit launch, the MIM held a Women Who Rock benefit luncheon on Thursday that featured two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members — the Queen of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson and Martha Reeves of the Motown girl group Martha and the Vandellas.

Emcee Beth McDonald of KEZ 99.9 FM hosted a Q&A session with Jackson and Reeves, as well as folk-blues singer Maria Muldaur, singer Tracy Nelson and Genya Ravan (aka Goldie of the groundbreaking all-female band Goldie and the Gingerbreads).

The artists spoke candidly about some of the challenges they faced as women in the music industry, and the men and women who inspired them along the way.

Jackson, who is credited with being the first woman to ever record a rock and roll song (“Let’s Have a Party”) cited her father, her husband and the King of Rock and Roll Elvis Presley as the three key difference makers in her career.

“Without Elvis’s encouragement – at that point, we didn’t have rock and roll,” recalled Jackson. “Elvis was encouraging me to sing this new style of music. I told him ‘I love it, but I’m just a country singer.’  He said, ‘No, I know you can sing this. Make me a promise you’ll try.’”

Muldaur, meanwhile, tipped her hat to Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bonnie Raitt for opening her eyes to all that woman can do.

“I was used to the women going to make tea for the rest of the band while the guys handled the stage setup,” explained Muldaur. “When I saw Bonnie having such a command of the stage, right in the middle of managing the arrangements and who should play what and when, I saw that having a command of what I was doing was a possibility.”

Ravan, who hosts two radio shows on Sirius/XM – Chicks and Broads, covering the often-forgotten music of female artists from the 1940s to the present, and Goldie’s Garage, showcasing new and unsigned bands – offered some sage and humorous advice to aspiring musicians.

“Don’t wait for someone to tell you what you can or can’t do,” said Ravan. “You want something, go for it. When you fell in love for the first time, didn’t you go after him?”

As if there weren’t already enough female pioneers to draw empowerment from, taking it all in from one of the front-row tables was retired United States Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to be appointed to the Court.

Women Who Rock, indeed.

The Musical Instrument Museum is located at 4725 E. Mayo Boulevard in Phoenix (corner of Tatum and Mayo boulevards, just south of Loop 101). For general museum information and a full schedule of events, visit MIM.org or call 480-478-6000.

Get a quick video tour of the exhibit in the video below.

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