By Myki Angeline
June has long been recognized by the LGBTQ Community as Gay Pride Month, commemorating the Stonewall riots, which occurred at the end of June 1969. Several cities including San Francisco, CA, Sacramento, CA, Columbus, OH, Bend, OR, and Asbury Park, NJ host Pride celebrations in June to recognize the impact the LGBTQ people have had around the world.
Grammy-award winning folk legends and long time D.C. human rights activists Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer are celebrating with music by releasing their first single “SHOUT AND SHINE” from their new album of the same name set for release June 16, 2018. This album is a collaboration with notable singer-songwriter, and fellow LGBTQ advocate Sam Gleave.
They have given the WiMN an exclusive peek of the title track here:
You can order SHOUT AND SHINE on their website: www.finkmarxergleaves.com
As feminist revolutionaries in the world of roots music, Cathy & Marcy have always placed emphasis on inclusion in the genre, regardless of sex, race, or sexual orientation. In 1980, Cathy became the first woman ever to win the West Virginia State Old Time Banjo Contest and subsequently held the title until 1984. In ’89, she created the first female bluegrass supergroup and released the legendary album Blue Rose.
Just as they have experienced triumph in the music industry, the openly gay duo have also encountered their share of obstacles along the way. Back in the 1990’s Cathy and Marcy tried to record their song “Everything is Possible” with a children’s choir. But gay and civil rights was a much tougher battle back then. Because two parents had threatened to walk off the project unless the song was struck from the record, the track would wait several years before appearing on their 2015 release Dancing In The Kitchen. You can read more about that album here.
To date, they’ve won the Grammy for “Best Traditional Folk Album” not once, but twice — and have been nominated 9 more times. They’ve toured worldwide, playing on stages in Japan, New Zealand, Vancouver, and New York; performed at hundreds of bluegrass and folk festivals; and appeared on NPR and CBS. Their accolades include an impressive list of signature instruments from some of the top names in the manufacturing industry like Martin Guitars, Gold Tone Company, and Kala Ukuleles.
In addition to being master musicians and multi-instrumentalists, Cathy and Marcy have produced endless albums and frequently travel to teach camps and workshops to spread the love of folk music. Located in Washington D.C. area, they are also lifelong activists for children’s healthcare, the advancement of women, preventing family violence, unions, and performers’ rights.
Cathy and Marcy took a moment from their intense schedule to chat with the WiMN and share the details of what life has been like for them in the music industry, the changes they have seen, and what inspired SHOUT AND SHINE.
WiMN: Happy Pride Month to you both! As openly queer, female musicians you have had a double-standard working against you from the beginning. Were you both always ‘out’ as musicians?
C&M: In our 35 year career together, we have neither hidden or advertised our relationship. We let our musicianship and our music stand for itself. Of course, we’ve written songs and sing other people’s songs that speak to issues of social justice, gender equality, women’s rights and inclusion.
WiMN: Where do you both currently reside? Where did you two grow up?
C&M: We split our time between Silver Spring, MD and Lansing, NC when we are not on tour. Marcy grew up in Michigan, in and around the Detroit area. Cathy grew up in Baltimore.
WiMN: Was there ever a time in your career when being female, queer musicians kept you from getting a key performance gig, a label signing, etc?
C&M: If we have lost gigs due to being gay, we are not aware of them, we simply weren’t hired for them. We released three albums with Sugar Hill Records, over twenty albums with Rounder Records and have done numerous recorded projects for a variety of companies and corporations. As record producers, we have been very lucky to have had some amazing mentors who taught us both the art and science of studio engineering and production techniques. Most of these folks were men. But we have worked with other men in studios who discounted our abilities because they were not prepared for women to be knowledgable or in charge. We have also produced recordings for over 50 different artists, both male and female, gay and straight. People hire us for our skill, the heart and soul we bring to a project, and the relationship we can develop during the process. If we are uncomfortable with the people, or they are uncomfortable with us, it is the wrong fit and we move on.
WiMN: How do you two identify yourselves as?
C&M: Best friend, wife, spouse, partner, mutual admiration society.
WiMN: Was bluegrass/folk your first genre? Or, did you play a different style of music in the beginning of your careers?
C&M: We grew up and started playing separately, Marcy in Michigan, Cathy in Baltimore and then Montreal. We were both drawn to folk, bluegrass and acoustic roots music from the start. Marcy also has a theater background and Cathy grew up loving choral music and Broadway classics. We both heard a lot of influential music on the radio during the 60’s folk “scare.”
WiMN: Congratulations on all of your signature instruments with Martin Guitars, Gold Tone Company, and Kala Ukulele! Which of these instruments do you perform the most with?
C&M: Easy answer- ALL OF THEM! A signature instrument is more than a great honor. It needs to be an instrument we want to play, tour and perform and record with. Our Martin Guitars are amazing and Marcy helped to design them. The Marcy Marxer model Gold Tone CELLO BANJO is the only cello banjo being made in contemporary times. It is a mainstay of our duo performances, and trio shows with Sam Gleaves. Marcy’s Kala Ukulele model is a workhorse- sounding great, recording beautifully and traveling well. We love these instruments.
WiMN: Also, congratulations on the release of your new album SHOUT AND SHINE. What was the inspiration for this album and why now? Do you have a favorite song from the album?
C&M: Five years ago, we were teaching at a music workshop and met Sam Gleaves. At the time, he was a twenty year old Appalachian musician with a huge repertoire of ballads, fiddle tunes, banjo songs and country tunes. We were most taken with his original songs, particularly the title song of his CD “Ain’t We Brothers”, which Cathy produced. The song tells the story of a gay coal miner who was harassed at work, sued the coal company and won. During the week-long workshop, we played a lot of music together, sang harmonies together and planted the seeds for a friendship.
Over the past five years, we’ve performed together and worked on several more projects. We organically built a repertoire that we love to perform together and these are the songs on “SHOUT AND SHINE.” The title song was written by Cathy in honor of the “SHOUT AND SHINE DIVERSITY SHOWCASE” hosted by The Bluegrass Situation and Pinecone Arts during the week of the International Bluegrass Music Association trade show and conference. That event was created to recognize a broader background of the roots of bluegrass music as well as to make everyone feel welcome in this musical genre. Our trio debuted the song, “SHOUT AND SHINE” there, with the 60-something Cathy & Marcy standing on either side of the 25 year old six-foot tall Sam.
WiMN: Which artists/mentors have inspired you and influenced you over the years?
C&M: This is a huge and long list. Here are a few of the artists and mentors who we have been inspired and influenced by: Pete Seeger, Mike Seeger, Peggy Seeger, Mother Maybelle Carter, Patsy Montana (first woman in country music to sell one million records-we toured, performed and recorded with Patsy), Barry Luft (Cathy’s first banjo teacher), Si Kahn, Holly Near, Lily Mae Ledford, Ola Belle Reed, Jean Ritchie, Frank Vignola, Django Reinhardt, Tom Paxton, Roy Smeck, Joni Mitchell, The Boswell Sisters, Alice Gerrard & Hazel Dickens…..so many more!
WiMN: Your career has spanned over 35 years. What changes have you seen for women and queer artists?
C&M: We are really happy to see a new generation of artists who are comfortable with being themselves on stage and on recordings. Twenty to thirty years ago, many of these artists would have had fewer opportunities outside of women’s music festivals and concerts that catered to that audience. Listen to Crys Matthews and Kipyn Martin as two excellent examples. They are out, proud, inclusive, awesome songwriters and playing a wide range of concerts and festivals.
We’ve seen the “coming of age” of women in Bluegrass. In 1988 we produced an all female bluegrass album, “Blue Rose”, along with Laurie Lewis, Sally Van Meter and Molly Mason. The album drew national attention and planted seeds for a larger role for women in Bluegrass music. In 1980, Cathy became the first woman to win the West Virginia State Banjo Contest. In 2017, Molly Tuttle became the first woman to win the International Bluegrass Music Association’s “Guitar Player of the Year” award. As the commercial said, “You’ve come a long way baby.” With each year, the talent and opportunities increase.
We are seeing more support in the music world for women and queer artists. As the song “Shout And Shine” says, “Doors are opening and that’s a good sign.”
WiMN: Let’s end with a favorite quote from each of you.
Marcy: “Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” – Mary Oliver
Cathy: “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” – Maya Angelou
Below is the video for the title track,”Dancing In The Kitchen” from the 2015 album: