She Bop

It Didn't Start with Babes in Toyland: A Short and Eccentric History of Women in Local Music, 1931-Present

1970: Women's Auxiliary of the Minneapolis Musicians Association Vice President Dolores Del-Rae launches "Musical Instruments for Kids Week," an annual secondhand instrument collection for underprivileged youngsters. The jazz musician started out in the '50s, playing accordion and piano at the Sheraton-Ritz Hotel's Golliwog Lounge.

1970: Wanda Davis records a cover of Aretha Franklin's "Save Me." Over 30 years later, the U.K.'s Jazzman Records releases the song on a compilation called Midwest Funk, while the original 45 released by Project Soul is a hard-to-find collector's item fetching up to $500.

1974: Marilyn Sellars, who got her start singing at the Ambassador Motel in St. Louis Park, has a crossover hit with the Kris Kristofferson and Marijohn Wilkin-penned "One Day at a Time." The track peaks at #19 on the country charts and #37 pop. Although Lena Martel, Cristy Lane, and Willie Nelson later record the song, Sellars's version is the first and sells over a million copies.

1975: Accordion player Ruth Adams forms the World's Most Dangerous Polka Band. They begin a three-night-a-week stint at Nye's Polonaise that continues today.

1975: Sue McLean begins her event-planning career by booking the first Suicide Commandos show—at a high school prom ("It was an angry prom," she says). McLean works for the Guthrie Theater before starting her own booking agency in 1997. In addition to day-to-day club booking, Sue McLean and Associates are responsible for some of the cities' favorite annual events, including the Basilica Block Party and the Music in the Zoo concert series.

1980: Lipps Inc.'s "Funkytown" is the number one song in the country for four weeks, thanks in part to vocals by Cynthia Johnson, former Flyte Tyme saxophonist and Miss Black Minnesota 1976. Though Johnson leaves the group in '83, she continues to perform occasional solo shows at Rossi's Blue Note today.

1983: Tetes Noires play their first show, at the Pride Festival in Loring Park. The unconventional sextet (featuring bassist/vocalist Cynthia Bartell, pianist/keyboardist Angela Frucci, guitarist/vocalist Renee Kayon, guitarist Polly Alexander, violinist/vocalist Jennifer Holt, and vocalist/keyboardist Camille Gage) is the first all-female rock band in town. Their spiritual and protest folk-inspired sound encompasses violin, handheld percussion, children's toys, four-part vocal harmonies, and an unofficial seventh member—a 1950s drum machine. "I remember playing that show in the ugliest outfit you can imagine," says Gage. "I look at it now and wonder what I was thinking. We were all nervous. What we were doing was very unusual. The music was unusual. What was frustrating is that you reach a point where you want people to listen to the music and get past the novelty aspect and pay attention, which I think people did relatively quickly."

1985: Former First Avenue production manager Maggie MacPherson starts booking the Uptown Bar. Her 11-year run is considered something of a golden era for the club, which hosts the first local gigs by Nirvana, Oasis, and the Flaming Lips. "It was the formidable years of alternative music," says MacPherson. "The Flaming Lips would come in and do bubble machines and laser machines and light machines and every machine known to man. The room would be completely sold out, and there'd be people packed on the sidewalks staring in the windows."

1986: The Jets, an eight-member sibling act, hit #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 with "Crush on You." Elizabeth Wolfgramm was the second-youngest in the group.

City Pages:Whose idea was it to form a group?

Elizabeth Wolfgramm: We started performing a Polynesian revue show in 1977 as a family. Our mother was the lead singer, and we'd come out and do dances from the islands. We started in Salt Lake City, Utah, but we were on the road for years doing the revue wherever we could find work. We weren't making any money doing the Polynesian thing.

In about '82 we came to Minneapolis, where only the hotels took us in. Just to survive, we switched over to playing Top 40 music. We named ourselves Quasar. If it was a rock club, we'd play rock; if it was a country club, we'd play country music. We'd heard of Don Powell, who used to work for Motown and lived in Minneapolis. My parents kept pestering him to come and watch us, and finally he came out and liked what he saw. He made a big investment in our family and our group. Within the year, we switched our name to the Jets, recorded a demo tape with him, and did a couple songs where he was able to get Boy George to come out and produce some of the tracks for us.

CP:Was there a point when you realized how popular you'd become?

Wolfgramm: One of our first big shows was opening for Tina Turner in Iowa. I think I was 12 or 13, and I remember feeling like the hard work we were doing was paying off. We did about 250 shows a year, traveling nonstop. Being one of the younger ones, I just thought every kid did it. It wasn't work. It was fun. Instead of being in a classroom, I was traveling the world, seeing these places and working with really talented people, especially in Minneapolis itself where we recorded at Prince's studio. I don't think I realized our success until I got older. I look back and I see what we did and people who are familiar with our music and they still play the songs, which I'm amazed at, on lite stations.

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