Bessie Smith to Lady Gaga is a wide swath in modern music, and “Women Who Rock” includes them and many in between Friday on PBS.
“Rock 'n' roll is a very wide river,” filmmaker Carol Stein says. She and Susan Wittenberg “wanted people who represented various eras,” Stein says.
“We were trying to figure it out by categories,” Wittenberg says. “It's a big tent.”
Though there's a chasm between Mahalia Jackson and Madonna, and both are featured in the film, the common denominator is music with attitude.
The documentary opens with James Brown singing, “This is a man's world.” It soon cuts to Christina Aguilera belting the same song, and the irony is lost on no one.
Women are the top grossers in music in the 21st century, the documentary notes. But women's rock roots go back to the beginnings of the genre.
The catalyst for the film was an exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, which helped the filmmakers decide who should be in the documentary. Darlene Love was finally inducted in 2011, and though her legions of fans had been asking about her inclusion for years, Love was sanguine.
She, of the voice that never stops and who has been hitting the charts since 1961, is completely at peace with how long it took for her to be recognized in the museum.
“It bothered me at first, and then I didn't think about it anymore,” she says. “You know what? I will be in there, in time.”