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By Henry Branham Jr.

 The playing field of male to female rock stars is pretty much 50 / 50 these days, but it wasn’t always like that.  Although female singers and musicians were around from the beginning, they were far and few between.  Some used their tortured paths to play the expected roles of suffragettes and victims.  Others demanded respect and stood strong in the storm of sexism.   And on occasion one would turn everything upside down and create an entirely new feminine mystique.  These trailblazing women are now being honored at The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio with a must-see exhibit entitled “Women Who Rock”.

Located on the top two floors of the pyramid shaped museum, the journey begins with the pioneering women of the music industry.  Blues legends Ma Rainey and Billie Holiday are given their proper due, as is Maybelle Carter who gave way to the Carter Family musical dynasty which continues today with country singer Carlene Carter.  And don’t forget the gospel singing icon herself, Mahalia Jackson.  Their legacies are told through vintage sheet music, stage costumes, and other fun memorabilia.

The spotlight also shines on the beloved songstresses of the 1950’s like teenage vocal powerhouse Brenda Lee, and soul legend Ruth Brown.  One can even view her outrageous bumble bee dress from the 1988 film “Hairspray” upon entering the display area!  The 1960’s part of the exhibition is a real treat as costumes and artifacts ranging from girl groups, country legends, and rock icons take center stage.  The Shangri-Las, The Supremes, and The Ronnettes receive their due, as does Loretta Lynn, Aretha

 Franklin, Tina Turner, Janis Joplin, and Grace Slick of The Jefferson Airplane. The top floor showcases the groundbreaking rockers of the 70’s, 80’s, & 90’s.  Iconic outfits from album covers are a true joy to behold.  Witness Cyndi Lauper’s red dress from “She’s So Unusual”, Chrissie Hynde’s red leather jacket from “The Pretenders”, and Joan Jett’s blazer and leather pants from “I Love Rock & Roll”!   A Deborah Harry stage costume from 1979 highlight’s Blondie’s glory days.  Costumes, wigs, instruments, and awards by the likes of Madonna, Heart, Steve Nicks, The B-52’s, and Pat Benatar make the trip extra fun!

The fact that more recent female pop stars like Queen Latifah, Gwen Stefani, and Lady Gaga are represented will assure all visitors that every generation is remembered.  The only obvious omission is The Go-Go’s, but they are not totally forgotten.  Their “Beauty & The Beat” LP is featured on a giant banner that circles the entire top floor and features art work from classic album covers.

In addition to the extraordinary artifacts on display, there is a continuous video that plays mini-biographies of female rockers.  The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame worked with The Biography Channel on this aspect of the exhibit.  “Women Who Rock” is a true celebration of women and should definitely be enjoyed by all.  It runs until February 26, 2012.  For more information, check out the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s website – http://rockhall.com/