Sunday, March 8th was International Women's Day, an entire day dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women across the globe. Here at WUMB we are celebrating the contributions of women in music for the entire month of March. Today we highlight American songwriter, singer, poet, and multi-instrumentalist Ani DiFranco.
Ani DiFranco has been in control of her career from the earliest days. She is a maverick whose music defies genre and description, but which identifies with the truest spirit of folk music. Her songs are often laced with profanity on topics ranging from abortion and rape, to exploitation and sexuality. She formed a record label when she was 19, and released her first album at 20. Since then, DiFranco has grown a fierce following of fans through constant touring, performing, and recording.
Ani DiFranco was born in Buffalo, New York on September 23, 1970. She learned how to play guitar as a child, and played her first show at age 9. When DiFranco was 15, her mother moved to California. Rather than accompany her, DiFranco petitioned for emancipation and stayed behind in Buffalo, living on her own. By the time she was 18 she had played every bar in Buffalo, and after a year of art classes at college, she decided to move to New York City where she worked as a nude model, kitchen helper and house painter.
In 1990, DiFranco recorded a demo and approached some record companies, but received no interest. Instead she borrowed money from friends and looted her own bank account to finance the release of her debut Ani DiFranco. She produced 500 copies on cassette, which she sold at shows, and Righteous Babe Records was born.
As word of her music spread, DiFranco began to tour extensively around the country, building a grassroots following especially among college aged fans who identified with her ability to tackle personal subjects in her songs.
Throughout the 1990’s she released a number of albums including collaboration with folksinger Utah Phillips, which involved Phillips telling stories and DiFranco laying down music behind him. Like Phillips, DiFranco tooks pride in her independence as an artist, spurning offers from major labels as her popularity grew.
DiFranco maintains that although people often think that owning her own label is about retaining maximum profits, it is really her way of maintaining her artistic freedom and control over her music. Though this may be the case, her royalty rate per album sale is often more than twice the industry standard.
Although DiFranco refers to herself as a folk singer, she's also frequently categorized as belonging to the alternative-rock genre. Her influences are broad, and her songs often incorporate elements from other musical styles, including punk, funk, classical and electronic. Many of DiFranco's songs are drawn from her personal life and experiences, but equally as often, her lyrics are feminist and political. Her music has tackled topics like war, corporate greed, sexual assault and gun control.