Music HerStory: Women and Music of Social Change

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the “Godmother of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” rose to prominence in the 1930s as a pioneer of mixing “secular sounds,” such as electric guitar, with sacred lyrics.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe performs at the 1967 Newport Folk Festival, Photo by Diana Jo Davies Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

June 22, 2022 – March 24, 2025
National Museum of American History
1300 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC
1st Floor

Women’s leadership in music and social change is central to the American story. From our earliest musical encounters to the formation of complex social identities, the American musical landscape would not be what it is today without the countless contributions of women changemakers, groundbreakers, and tradition-bearers.

Music HerStory explores these contributions through unique media collections from the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives, the Center for Folklife and Culture Heritage, and around the Smithsonian. Notable women featured include Ella Jenkins, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Lucy McKim Garrison, Queen Lili'uokalani, and Dolly Parton.