Rubymusic: A Popular History of Women’s Music and Culture By Connie Kuhns, 256 pgs.

Sep 22, 2023

Rubymusic was a pioneering radio program that played women’s music and only women’s music. When I say “women’s music,” I mean music of all genres—pop, punk, rock, folk, country, soul, R&B, what have you—performed by women, starting in the 1960s with artists like Lesley Gore, Patsy Cline, and Aretha Franklin. When Rubymusic first went on the air in 1981 as part of Vancouver Cooperative Radio in British Columbia, Canada, the station wasn’t sure there were enough women artists to fill a one-hour time slot. Connie Kuhns, the creator and broadcaster behind Rubymusic, proved the station wrong. For the next fifteen years, every Friday night, Kuhns delivered two hours of the best of women’s music. Rubymusic the book, published in March 2023 by Vancouver-based Caitlin Press, is about Kuhn’s experience putting on that long-lasting and much-loved radio program and about the women whose music she played on air, with some now more obscure (or at least lesser known) to U.S. listeners.

Among the women’s music that Kuhn played on-air were songs by Michelle Shocked, Joni Mitchell, Etta James, Janis Joplin, Fanny, k.d. lang, and Ferron. In several instances, she interviewed these artists as a journalist, writing for Canadian literary journal Geist; the in-house feminist monthly for the organization Vancouver Status of Women, Kinesis; and other publications. These interviews and additional profiles that Kuhn wrote are included in Rubymusic, along with her remembrances of doing the same-named radio program and her telling of the history of women’s music, women’s music festivals, and the culture they emerged from and helped shape, with a particular focus on Canada but with divergences on the San Francisco and West Coast music scenes of the 1960s and ’70s and the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. Kuhn reveals how she came to a life in music, starting in childhood when she rode her bike to look at records at a local dime store and listened to a turquoise transistor radio late into the night.

Briefly, there was a time in my life when I entertained the idea of working at a college radio station; from that perspective, reading about Rubymusic the radio program is interesting. I found enjoyable Kuhn’s interviews with and profiles of Yoko Ono, Bricktop, Koko Taylor, k.d. lang, Michelle Shocked, and Joni Mitchell. I was less into the more Canadian-specific content, but if you’re a Canadian reader or are specifically interested in the women’s music scene in Canada from the 1960s through the 1980s, then Rubymusic is the book for you. –Gina Murrell (Caitlin Press, 3375 Ponderosa Way, Qualicum Beach, BC V9K 2J8, Canada, caitlinpress.com)

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