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Alison Fensterstock

Alison Fensterstock is a former music writer for the New Orleans’ Times-Picayune and program director for the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation. In 2011, she co-curated the companion symposium to Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ “She’s Got the Power” girl-group showcase, which featured interviews with the Exciters, the Angels, and Lesley Gore.

“I’d Much Rather Be with The Girls: Girl-Group Pop and the Voice of the Adolescent Girl”
In the late ’50s and ’60s, the explosion of girl-group pop sent a record number of female-fronted cuts to the pop charts. As Gerri Hirshey pointed out in the liner notes to the excellent “One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds, Lost and Found,” the time was ripe: Elvis was in the Army, Jerry Lee Lewis had been sidelined by scandal, a plane had gone down over Clear Lake, Iowa and the British Invasion was still marshaling its forces across the pond. The boys of rock were otherwise occupied, and into the breach, Rosie the Riveter-style, came the girls.

The American teenage girl had long been the object of pop: sung about and to, and on the business side, marketed to. The girl-group song boom gave her a voice, made her a subject. And she said a lot: girl-group records telegraphed sexuality, rebellion, aggression, and a roiling sea of teenage emotion that was often more visceral, passionate, and darker than what the boys sang about. Ronnie Spector’s voice was drenched in sexual promise; the Shangri-Las’ mournful, working-class-accented vocals split the difference between defiance and lament, tossed on a sea of hormones and black leather. (No wonder that the New York Dolls, looking to channel the gut-level core of hot-blooded, delinquent music 10 years later, looked to Mary Weiss and co. for inspiration.) Lesley Gore—a solo artist, but still considered to be of the girl-group oeuvre— declared “You Don’t Own Me.”

This presentation will dig deeper into what teenage girls said, when the girl-group sound created their voice, as well as who was behind it: Who wrote the songs? What voice did female songwriters, like Carole King and Ellie Greenwich, give to girls, and how did it differ from what male writers and producers had them say? How did race and class assert themselves in the genre (why, for instance, did the black Shirelles and the Dixie Cups sing from the point of view of married women when the white Angels and Shangri-Las, the same age, always had the voice of teens?). Additionally, it will include new commentary from Mary Weiss, Ronnie Spector, Toni Wine, and other architects of the girl-group sound.

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