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Women's history for the ears: WUWM's favorite songs sung by women!

There are just some vocals by women that make you go "wow!" WUWM's staff weighs in.
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There are just some vocals by women that make you go "wow!" WUWM's staff weighs in.

For decades, countless people have been able to turn to anthems sung by women to revive their “up and at ‘em” spirit. Think: Aretha Franklin’s RESPECT, or Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive.

For Women’s History month, WUWM’s Maayan Silver, Xcaret Nuñez and Nadya Kelly wanted to highlight catchy and powerful tunes sung by women that have inspired them, so they sat down to talk about them.

Xcaret immediately thought of Selena Quintanilla’s Bidi Bidi Bom Bom  

“It just takes me back to sitting in the back of the car, with my mom, singing at the top of our lungs to the song, and it just makes me want to get up and dance and twirl around feels like so good. And so empowering,” Xcaret describes. She notes that [Selena] passed away when she was 23. “And I'm 23. And, so, it's really crazy for me to think that you know, this, I only feel like I'm just starting, you know, I'm just starting out at the moment in my life. And she was just starting out. And she's already on such a high end of her career and just for it to end, that is very sad.”

Nadya picked Sade’s Kiss of Life

“I think everyone knows her from Smooth Operator, which is a song that I knew growing up, and just kind of knew, but recently, I was in an Uber, and this Uber driver was just playing through her discography and I just thought how lovely her voice is. She's British Nigerian. I am Nigerian, and so she's representation to me. I feel like she really broadens the representation of like African people in mainstream music,” Nadya says.

“Her music is a mix of soul, funk, jazz, Afro-Cuban rhythms,” says Nadya. “And her voice is just so uniquely distinct and lovely and rich and velvety. She means so much to me because she takes all the most unique parts of herself and shares it with other people.”

Maayan’s first track is Gracia Divina by Celia Cruz.

"[Cruz, who is known as 'the queen of salsa'] just sounds so powerful. She sounds so in charge. She sounds like such a nice calibration to the, to the salsa rhythms that are being played by the instruments. So I think they just work so symbiotically, like they work so well together."

Lorez Alexandria, Send in the Clowns

"I've always known of the original melancholy [Send in the Clowns] that made me sad. And I don't know who these clowns are. I don't know why they're going to be sent. I just know that the song had an emotional pull for me. But then when I stumbled on this version... The baseline is just so groovy. And it's so kickin', and it feels like it could be like a modern jazz singer. It turns out that [Alexandria] was born in 1929. She died in 2001. She was actually born in Chicago," Maayan says.

Rickie Lee Jones, The Horses

“My mom and I used to dance around the living room to this song when I was a little girl. As an adult, I hear the song and am transported back to our living room, but I also hear it now through her ears as a song of unconditional love and support that encouraged her daughter to feel free to follow her heart in all areas of life,” says Anna Stratton, WUWM marketing manager.

Indigo Girls, Land of Canaan

“My initial response was Closer to Fine by the Indigo girls. I heard it first when I was a freshman in high school. But it was really this one — that I love the most,” says Becky Grandone, vice president of operations.

“I love women who let it all go and rock out — music from Bonnie Rait and the Indigo girls, any 80s or 90s ballads (did someone say Joan Jett?!), pop punk and rock. They remind me and reflect the wide range of emotions and experiences I have - and sometimes help me let it all out. I love the Indigo Girls as an example of the wide range and because they were my first.”

Dolly Parton, Jolene

“Did you know that Dolly Parton wrote Jolene and I Will Always Love You in the same day?! Two songs that are both heartbreaking, relatable and empowering. Also, Dolly is just an absolute legend,” says Becky Mortensen, Lake Effect executive producer.
Becky Motensen’s second pick is Lesley Gore, It’s My Party

“I loved the song It's My Party by Lesley Gore when I was a kid and when I got some of her records, I heard this song for the first time and couldn't stop listening to it. It's also extremely relatable and empowering.”


Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt singing Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush

Song starts at 1 minute in.

“Beautiful harmony from three women. Any one of whom would have done a fine rendition as a soloist,” says Chuck Quirmbach, WUWM reporter.

Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now

“I love it because it’s the earliest song that I remember hearing as a child and so it has imprinted on me. Even as a child, I was struck by its melancholic wisdom,” says David Lee, WUWM president and general manager.

Neko Case, Hold On, Hold On

"It’s a clever but sad song, about disbelief in love … a lot of songs are about the heartbreak of a broken relationship, but this is about the maybe even bigger heartbreak of not even having hope for love. Neko Case so beautifully and poetically writes about this relatable feeling among many women at some point in their lives, I think. I hope this isn’t too depressing, I do believe in love, I swear!" says Erin Frank, corporate sponsorship sales representative with Market Enginuity.

Wynonna Judd: No One Else on Earth

“I loved this song from the first time I heard it. Wynonna is a POWER house with that raspy voice and heartfelt delivery. Plus, this song is a great sing along. And that bass line and kick drum! It hits you right in the chest. This particular performance is special — she takes some liberty from the original version. And it's brilliant!” says Lauri Jones, operations director and Here & Now host.

Waxahatchee, The Eye

"I love Waxahatchee, an Alabama native like me! This album came out in March 2020. I can’t listen to it without remembering all the time I spent at home with my mom and sister during the early months of the pandemic. I love the imagery of storms and hurricanes, (she is a brilliant writer!). It makes me think of home," says Lina Tran, WUWM reporter.

Fleetwood Mac, Silver Springs (live)

“Stevie Nicks is so intense in this performance. I just love watching and listening to the power she holds while singing this song ... I really think she might have cast a spell on Lindsey Buckingham during this performance,” says Michelle Maternowski, digital manager.

Carla Morrison, Te Regalo

“I love this song because the lyrics capture the love that humans have for one another so intensely that even if you are not in a point of your own life that feels this way, the song helps you feel it,” says Valeria Navarro Villegas, digital editor.

Lake Street Dive, Linger (The Cranberries cover)

"Most of the music that I listen to are by female artists or female-led music groups so this assignment was a little overwhelming and nearly impossible to choose just one song! However in the end my mind kept circling back to this track (which I played on repeat for a good long while after I first discovered it): Linger (The Cranberries cover) by Lake Street Dive," says Audrey Nowakowski, Lake Effect host and producer.

"First, it’s a cover of a great band led by another strong female lead vocalist, Dolores O’Riordana, and I love that it’s familiar yet a completely new spin on a classic. Good covers are hard to do, especially when you successfully capture the magic of the original song while making it new, funky, and absolutely infectious. Rachel Price’s voice is clear, powerful, and amazing. I saw Lake Street Dive when they came to Milwaukee recently, and Rachel doesn’t even need a microphone to make her voice fill an entire theater. The energy that she and the band bring to this cover has me always hitting ‘repeat’ to linger on this track."


Maayan is a WUWM news reporter.
Nadya is WUWM's sixth Eric Von fellow.
Xcaret is a WUWM producer for Lake Effect.