Women of Piano Pop
Throughout the modern music era, there have been many women who composed or sang classic hits, with piano as their main or only instrument. This article reviews several of the great female piano players of the last 60 years, all of whom happen to have great singing voices, as well.
Carole King is widely considered to be one of the greatest songwriters in history. She paired up with husband Gerry Goffin as a songwriting team in the early 1960s, and soon had their first hit with “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles, which hit #1 on the pop charts. Dozens of hits followed: “Up On the Roof” by the Drifters, “The Loco-Motion” by Little Eva, “Chains” by The Beatles, and “Pleasant Valley Sunday” by The Monkees, among many others. As musical tastes changed and internal struggles began to take their toll, Goffin and King would end their marriage and their professional relationship in the late 1960s.
No one could have predicted King’s immense success as a singer, songwriter, and performer in her own right. With the release of the album WRITER in 1970, she began a solo career. Her sunny singing style and simple arrangements were perfect for the emerging singer-songwriter movement of the early 70s, and it culminated in the landmark album TAPESTRY, containing many songs that are considered standards, among them “I Feel the Earth Move,” “So Far Away” and “It’s Too Late.” She has been an inspiration to many women (and men) who want to become songwriters.
Born into a musical family, this talented piano player with an evocative voice was granted a music scholarship to Howard University at the young age of 15. Eventually signed to Atlantic Records, her career stalled for a time until her gorgeous cover version of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” was used by Clint Eastwood in his hit film PLAY MISTY FOR ME. This recording received the Grammy for record of The Year. The following year, she won again for “Killing Me Softly with His Song,” making her the first of only 2 acts who have accomplished the feat of winning this award twice consecutively. (The other was U2.)
In addition to her solo work, she recorded many well-received songs with the late R&B singer Donny Hathaway. Her most recent release is a collection of Beatles covers.
After starting out as a model, Grace Slick and her then-husband started a band called The Great Society in 1964. They were heavily influenced by the Beatles, as well as an impressive new Bay Area band called Jefferson Airplane. Two Great Society songs on which she provided vocals, “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love,” were later recorded by the Airplane after she joined that band. She was a key element in Jefferson Airplane as well as their successor bands, Jefferson Starship and Starship, until her retirement from the music business in the 1990s. Most of her compositions were done on the piano and she also played keyboards on many of the band’s recordings as well as on her own solo work.
In a future installment, we will look at the careers of Alicia Keys and Lady gaga, among others.