I’ve always been something of a but when it comes to the space program. But even though I’ve read all the books, seen all the documentaries, watched all the movies and even visited space centers in both the US and Russia, I was still surprised to learn something new with the movie Hidden Figures, a 2016 film based on a book of the same name. It told the true story of black female mathematicians who worked at NASA during the hottest period of the space race in the 1960s.
These women were computers in the original sense of the word: people who calculated complex things like flight trajectories, re-entry vectors, and landing coordinates. They were even assigned to check and sometimes correct the calculation spit out by NASA’s big IBM mainframes. Their work was essential to the American space effort.
But this being the 1960s, these women were segregated from the other (white, male) scientists, meaning that their work was largely forgotten and unknown until the book and movie came out.
This got me thinking. Are there similar forgotten figures in music? I’m talking about women who did awesome and important things but have largely been omitted by the traditional history of rock? Sure, we all know about Deborah Harry, Janis Joplin, Stevie Nicks, Chrissie Hynde, and Courtney Love, but there’s a group of other women who were just as important but not well known at all.
We need to know more about them. Let’s do that now.
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