A Vibrant Collection That Provides A Unique Insight

Women Singers in Global Contexts Reviewed by the Journal of World Popular Music


Highlights from the Book Review by Sheila Whiteley


Women Singers in Global Contexts: Music, Biography, Identity, edited by Ruth Hellier, with an Afterword by Ellen Koskoff. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2013.


“…the ten women featured in this vibrant collection are celebrated for their vocal stories, which provide a unique insight into both their private and performing lives.



… the impact of Women Singers in Global Contexts lies in the sensitive and thought-provoking relationship between the biographer and the singer; and the often uncomfortable yet inspiring revelations about how and why repressive and, at times, tyrannical environments can empower rather than subdue.


The volume “…is augmented by an underlying feel fro poetic and experimental writing.”


What is unique to Women Singers in Global Contexts is that each chapter offers ‘narratives that invoke the interface of the literal singing voice and the metaphorical voice, exploring how relationships between a singing voice and voice as agency, and how a singing voice enables voice as power to be enacted’”


…the volume can be read as a source of inspiration, with each chapter focusing on one individual who has been selected through each author’s personal contact and interest in the person as both woman and singer.


The special relationship between author and singer is, for me, what shapes the integrity of the biographies and, as such, Part Two of the Introduction creates both a feel of ‘getting to know’ and, more importantly, trust: the sharing of experiences whereby a research relationship can be transformed into a friendship.


What is exhilarating about Women Singers in Global Contexts is the insight gained into the relationship between singing, belonging, identity and empowerment, including that of making money.


The legacy of each woman is profound, not only for those who follow her, but also for the reader. As such, I thank Ruth Hellier for her thoughtful editing, the individual authors for allowing me to share in their relationship with their iconic singer, and the singers who have introduced me to different genres of music and the ways in which their voices relate to the experiences, tensions and life choices they have had to confront.


I  warmly recommend this beautifully produced book both to specialists in the field and to the general reader who, I am sure, will find inspiration and delight in getting to know both the singer and her biographer. 

Read the entire review here.


About the Book

Women  Singers in Global Contexts: Music, Biography, Identity


Afterword by Ellen Koskoff

Exploring and celebrating individual lives in diverse situations, Women Singers in Global Contexts is a new departure in the study of women’s worldwide music-making. Ten unique women constitute the heart of this volume: each one has engaged her singing voice as a central element in her life, experiencing various opportunities, tensions, and choices through her vocality. These biographical and poetic narratives demonstrate how the act of singing embodies dynamics of representation, power, agency, activism, and risk-taking.

Engaging with performance practice, politics, and constructions of gen- der through vocality and vocal aesthetics, this collection offers valuable insights into the experiences of specific women singers in a range of so- ciocultural contexts. Contributors trace themes and threads that include childhood, families, motherhood, migration, fame, training, transmission, technology, and the interface of private lives and public identities. Essays range across musical genres encompassing jazz, rap, traditional, folk, devotional, and classical, and the collection’s geographical range encom- passes Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, Cuba, Cyprus, Germany, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Poland, South Africa, Torres Strait Islands, Turkey, and the United States.

Contributors are Shino Arisawa, Katelyn Barney, Gay Breyley, Nicoletta Demetriou, Veronica Doubleday, Ruth Hellier, Ellen Koskoff, Carol Muller, Thomas Solomon, Amanda Villepastour, and Louise Wrazen.


“An ambitious collection of essays on women singers by leading schol- ars in ethnomusicology and related fields. The volume will be welcomed by students of a variety of disciplines including ethnomusicology and women’s studies.”

Anne K. Rasmussen, author of Women, the Recited Qur’an, and


RUTH HELLIER is on the faculty

at the University of California Santa Barbara, where she teaches ethno- musicology, performance, dance, and theater studies.