“Our work should equip the next generation of Women to outdo us in every field, this is the legacy we will leave behind.” – Progress, by Rupi Kaur
We hope that this list will be a resource to highlight the accomplishments of women who came before us and paved the way to where we are now in the vinyl industry. There are even more women in areas of engineering, producing and music in general, our goal below is to focus on the road to vinyl as we now appreciate and know it.
1907: Frances Theresa Densmore was an American anthropologist and ethnographer born in Minnesota. She is known for her studies of Native American music and culture as an ethnomusicologist (someone who examines music as a social process in order to understand not only what music is, but what it means to its practitioners and audiences). Frances began recording music on wax cylinders for the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) at the Smithsonian Institution. She studied Native American music for 50 years and many recordings are in the Library of Congress. Densmore began recording music officially for the Smithsonian Institution’s Bureau of American Ethnology in 1907. In her fifty-plus years of studying and preserving Native American music she collected thousands of recordings which are now held in the Library of Congress. While her original recordings often were on wax cylinders, many of them have been reproduced using other media and are included in various other archives. Densmore was frequently published in the journal American Anthropologist, contributing consistently throughout her career.
1921: Juanita Stinnette Chappelle was a singer and vaudeville performer. She was the co-founder of Chappelle and Stinnette Records during the Harlem Renaissance era with her husband Thomas E. Chappelle. Their record label was founded around 1921 and is considered the second record company owned and operated by African Americans. They released six records, five of which they were on.
1927: Afro-Puerto Rican music entrepreneur Victoria Hernández opened the first Latin music store in New York City, after working as a seamstress. It was one of only sixteen businesses at the time owned by a Puerto Rican migrant women. The store was founded as Casa de Música, later renamed to Casa Hernández. The same year she also started the record label Hispano. Unfortunately the label closed because of the Great Depression, but her record store has been operating longer than any other music store in the city and is still operational today, now known as Casa Amadeo, antigua Casa Hernandez. Though Victoria was an accomplished violinist, cellist and pianist, she dedicated herself to the business aspect of the industry; it was a time when being a business owner was more respectable than being a musician, especially for women.
1929: Laura Boulton is known for many field recordings, films and photographs of traditional music and performances of practitioners from Egypt, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and Tanganyika. She was also an ornithologist (someone who studies bird calls) and her love of adventure and ornithology led her on expeditions around the world where she would record various traditional types of folk music and bird calls with a cylinder recorder. On these expeditions she was researching instruments, bird calls and traditional folk music of the cultures she was studying. For her work with the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) during the Second World War, she is recognized as being a pioneer for women who work in the film industry. Over 30,000 recordings (50 years of work) can be found at Columbia, Harvard University and the Library of Congress.
1934: Ursula Greville was a British soprano and folk singer, songwriter, and writer and editor of The Sackbut (a music magazine). She has been credited as the first female recording engineer. In 1934 she became part owner of the company Synchrophone, formed to make use of a vacant record factory in Hertford, England. The factory’s previous tenant was Metropole Record (who made Piccadilly and Melba records). That same year they started issuing under the label Octacros. Octacros recordings were single-sided 12″ records that were played along with short 16mm films. Cinemas would buy the records under a 12-month contract. The records were not sold to the public and are now considered rare. Ursula engineered records for the company until it was bought by Decca in 1937.
1936: Helen Oakley Dance was a Canadian-American jazz journalist, record producer, and music historian. In the mid 1930s she produced much of Duke Ellington‘s small band records in Chicago. In 1937 she started working for Irving Mills (Master and Variety labels) in New York. Variety, along with Helen, produced over 170 records during the label’s brief existence. Following the death of her brother during the Second World War, she joined the Women’s Army Corps and later did secret operations with the Office of Strategic Services.
1940: Mary Shipman Howard was one of the earliest female recording engineers and recording studio owners. Howard was a classically trained violist who started experimenting with sound recording in the late 1930s. In 1940 she started working for NBC in Manhattan and was promoted to engineer during the war. In 1947, Howard started Mary Howard Recordings studio and MHR label releasing her own commercial recordings. Artists included The Herman Chittison Trio, Ethel Waters, Lucille Turner and Dale Belmont. Some of the studio’s recording equipment included Van Eps lathe, Allied Cutting lathe, Presto 1-D Heads, and Langevin 101-A Amplifiers. She closed the studio in 1955 when she grew tired of being in the city, but enjoyed having had, at the time, one of the longest careers of any female music engineer.
1940: Ethel Gabriel was an American record producer and record executive with a four-decade career at RCA Victor. She produced over 2,500 albums including 15 RIAA Certified Gold Records and hits by Elvis Presley, Perry Como, Al Hirt, Henry Mancini, and Roger Whittaker among others. From a record tester, where she had to listen to one out of every 500 records for quality, she went on to become the first female record producer for a major label. At RCA Victor, she was on the ground floor of the creation of the company’s famous Nashville studios. She was a leader in the experiments and methods of electronically improving and influencing the sound of music, experimenting with the use of an echo chamber, and was involved with RCA’s earliest disco record releases. Gabriel retired from RCA Records in 1984, after 44 years with the label.
1942: Evelyn Blanchard and Rose Palladino were radio engineers that worked for Radio Recorders in Hollywood, CA during WWII. They specialized in what Rose’s brother and fellow engineer, John Palladino called “armed forces deletion work” which was dubbing acetates of radio shows but removing the commercials. The acetates would be sent overseas to be played for the troops. Evelyn later married John in 1951.
1943: G.I. Jill (Martha Wilkerson) was an American disc jockey and host of GI Jive, a music program on the Armed Forces Radio Service during World War II. This was the time that the first female radio DJs emerged. G.I. Jill’s positive personality and music selections were considered morale boosting to U.S. troops, in particular contrasted with the anti-American propaganda broadcasts of “Axis Sally” and “Tokyo Rose”. By the end of January 1945 she had made 870 broadcasts. She never gave her real name on the air, nor did listeners know that she was married and had a young family. Jill’s rapport with listeners went beyond her broadcast. Servicemen wrote letters asking her to play certain records and she tried to respond to all the letters she received – 500 letters per week in which she included a photograph of herself with her letter. Interaction went both ways as some listeners sent Jill pictures of themselves, leading her to comment, “I think I was the only person in the world who had pinup boys.”
1945: Marie Killick was an English audio engineer who patented the truncated-tip sapphire stylus in 1945 for playing gramophone records. The trade name of her invention was Sapphox. During World War II, she worked for the army making sound equipment, specifically metal cutters for making recordings on the battlefield, as well as designing a portable recorder for them to use. Decca offered her £750,000 for her rights to the patent but she refused. She had invented a machine which produced 10,000 units a week. In 1945, she filed a patent for her Sapphire Lapping Machine and later raised £300 to start a business manufacturing sound recording equipment in Putney, London. In 1945 Marie filed a patent application for her stylus. She was granted the patent in 1948. In 1953 Pye Ltd. infringed upon her patent. Her lawsuit spent 10 years in court and while Killick won the case, she was never able to recoup financially from it.
1947: Miriam Bienstock was an American record company executive who co-founded Atlantic Records in 1947 with Ahmet Ertegun and her then-husband, Herb Abramson, and ran it for many years. She was influential in the early days of Atlantic Records, becoming the company’s vice president in 1958. Miriam took charge of the company’s finances and production, handling payments to musicians and negotiating distribution deals. As the company flourished with such artists as Ruth Brown, Ray Charles, the Coasters, and the Drifters, she expanded her role as the company’s business manager, and negotiated a distribution deal with Decca Records in 1955. A profile of her in Billboard that year was titled “Atlantic’s ‘Money Man’ Is a Woman,” and described her as “one of the few women executives in the record industry, a business heretofore noted for its lack of fem talent.” Ahmet Ertegun said of her: “Miriam was an important person in keeping discipline at Atlantic Records, and keeping everything on the up-and-up… She is unheralded, unrecognized, but if we hadn’t had her in those developing years, the company would have folded. She also had very good taste in music.” She left Atlantic in the early 1960s, selling her stake in the company.
1948: Mary Dee (Mary Dudley) is widely considered the first African-American female disc jockey and radio pioneer, breaking racial and gender barriers. On August 1, 1948, she went on the air at WHOD radio. Gaining national attention, Dee broadcast from a storefront, “Studio Dee”, in the Hill District of Pittsburgh from 1951 to 1956. She moved her show, “Movin’ Around with Mary Dee”, to Baltimore and broadcast from station WSID from 1956 to 1958. In 1958, she moved to Philadelphia and hosted “Songs of Faith on WHAT”, a gospel show, until her death in 1964. She combined coverage of community affairs, news and music by the latest African American artists, introducing local talent, and interviewing national celebrities. Her shows started at 15 minutes but after just six months it was expanded to an hour, two years later to two hours, and around 1954 her show was expanded again to four hours, which at the time was “Studio Dee”. Despite the reception range of the time, at 250 watts during the day, Dee garnered a large following, receiving over 150 fan letters per day. Her fans crossed color lines, particularly with her gospel music segment, and she had both black and white sponsors which was rare for the time. Mary Dee lent her time to numerous charitable causes raising money for schools and mentoring young musicians like George Benson to help them start their music careers. Every month she gave away records to community centers, youth homes, and veteran centers, often totaling 200 LPs per month. Dee was one of the first two black women admitted to the Association of American Women in Radio and Television, the other being Alma John. Campaigning together, they succeeded in obtaining a pledge from the organization to refrain from holding meetings in segregated facilities.
1950: Lillian McMurry born in Purvis Mississippi created the Diamond Record Company and served as producer for its Trumpet label, releasing blues records. She strongly influenced the development of modern blues with the label which ran until 1955. Just as Trumpet was achieving success, the label began losing artists to larger companies that could offer more money. She then created the short-lived Globe Records, which had its final recording in 1956. Many Trumpet songs have been reissued by Arhoolie, Acoustic Archives, Alligator, and other record labels. In 1995 Lillian McMurry donated the business files for the Diamond Record Company to the Blues Archive at the University of Mississippi. For her work with Trumpet, McMurry was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1998.
1952: Barbara Holdridge and Marianne Roney, recent college graduates and friends, started Caedmon Records. As an entirely female-owned company Caedmon stressed gender equality and focused on many women’s writings. Caedmon was the first company to market and sell audiobooks, offering a convenient alternative to traditional reading and paving the way for audiobook companies today. The label’s first release was a collection of poems by Dylan Thomas as read by the author. The label is still alive today and owned by HarperCollins.
1953: Dorle Soria was an American publicist, producer of classical music recordings, and journalist. With her husband Dario Soria, she co-founded Cetra-Soria Records and Angel Records. They produced nearly 500 recordings and left the label in 1958. Cetra-Soria label was created to distribute opera recordings from the Italian Cetra label in the United States. Taking advantage of what was available in Italy, the label distributed rarely performed operas in America for the first time. Angel Records, producing and distributing acclaimed classical recordings as a subsidiary of EMI. During her time with Angel records, Dorle Soria used her promotional skills to spotlight their roster of artists.
1953: Tennessee native Marion Keisker was a radio show host for WREC after college where Sam Phillips worked as an announcer. She became a station manager and later Phillips’s assistant – the “Jane of All Trades” at the Memphis Recording Service and Sun Records. Keisker is noted to be the first person to record Elvis Presley, on July 18, 1953. She was alone in the office of Sun Records, which also served as office for the Memphis Recording Service, when Presley came there to record two songs. “I said, ‘What kind of singer are you?’ He said, ‘I sing all kinds.’ I said, ‘Who do you sound like?’ He said, ‘I don’t sound like nobody.” She went on to be involved with WHER Radio, the all-female radio station that was started by Sam Phillips. Keisker left Sun Records in February 1957 and joined the U.S. Air Force. She went on to be a founding member of the Memphis Chapter of the National Organization For Women. In 2009, she was posthumously inducted into The Source Hall of Fame. You can visit her exhibit at The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee.
1953: Vivian Carter was an American record company executive, radio disc jockey, as well as owner of Vivian’s Record Shop opened in 1950 at 1640 Broadway in Gary Indiana’s Midtown district. She co-founded Vee-Jay Records with her future husband, Jimmy Bracken. The name came to be by using their initials, and was one of the earliest African American-owned record companies releasing original music from artists of the 1950s and 1960s in a variety of genres, including R&B, doo-wop, pop, and gospel. Vee-Jay quickly became a major R&B label, with the first song recorded making it to the top ten on the national R&B charts. Because of their success with The Four Seasons, Vee Jay was approached by Transglobal Music Co., Inc. to carry Frank Ifield’s single, “I Remember You”. As part of the package they obtained the rights to The Beatles’ “Please Please Me” and “Ask Me Why” which were released in 1963. Contract loopholes and lawsuits caused the company to lose them to Capitol Records later on. Meanwhile, Carter continued to work as a radio deejay, attracting musical talent to the label. Vee Jay Records was among the most successful independent labels of its era making Carter a notable businesswoman.
1954: Ruth White was an American publisher, educator, and an electronic music pioneer, most notably for her early explorations of sound using the Moog synthesizer. In 1954 she was commissioned by the Los Angeles Board of Education to record music for the Physical Education department for all of Los Angeles County Schools. These recordings called ‘Folk Dances from the Round’ were 5 box sets in total. In 1964 she built her own studio and through the 60’s was commissioned for projects like work for local Los Angeles chapter of The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS), with which she remained active in for years. In 1969 she recorded Flowers of Evil, a record based on French poet Charles Baudelaire’s volume of poetry Les Fleurs du mal, which she accented with eerie “electroacoustic” music using the Moog synthesizer. The work was noted as being dark and uncompromisingly obtuse. Her music was published on Limelight Records. These recordings were followed by “Short Circuits” (on Angel Records), and its French reissue “Klassik o’tilt” (on EMI), released respectively in 1970 and 1971. The back cover of her 1971 release Short Circuits stated that “Ruth White is considered among today’s most gifted arbiters of what is termed ‘the new music’”. Around this time she took a different turn forming a film company through Cartridge Television properties and worked on educational children’s content into the 1980s. Ruth White started the production company Rhythms Productions to produce records and educational materials for the Los Angeles city school district. She did many albums of folk music as well as albums for the physical education department.
1958: Alabama native Johnnie Matthews was an American blues and R&B singer, songwriter, and record producer. In 1958 she started the Northern Recording Company in Detroit with $85 she borrowed from her husband’s paycheck. She was the first African-American woman to own and operate a record label. She was one of the artists on the label as well, known as the “Godmother of Detroit Soul”. Motown Records founder Berry Gordy has often credited Matthews with teaching him the ropes of the recording industry. Northern Records closed in the 1960s and as the 1970s were beginning, Matthews turned her attention to Black Nasty, an up-and-coming funk group that featured two of her children, producing the band’s only album, Talking to the People, which was released on the Stax record label. Black Nasty was later renamed the ADC Band. Inspired by their success, Matthews revived Northern Recording Company. However, in the 1980s she closed the label for good.
1958: Estelle Axton, was an American record executive and co-founder of Stax Records, with her brother Jim Stewart. In 1958, her brother asked for help to develop Satellite Records, which was formed to issue recordings of local country and rockabilly artists. She remortgaged her home and, in 1959, joined Satellite as an equal partner renting the Capitol Theatre and turning it into a recording studio and record shop. They began making hit records with predominantly black artists. In 1961 Satellite was forced to change its name due to a Los Angeles label being named as such, and it changed its name to Stax, taking its name from Axton and Stewart’s surnamesm – Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton. Axton was actively involved with selecting and developing the artists on the label, who included Rufus Thomas, Otis Redding, Booker T & the MGs, and Isaac Hayes. She sold her interest in the company in 1970. After a noncompete agreement expired, Axton formed Fretone Records whose biggest hit, “Disco Duck“, by Rick Dees, was licensed for distribution by RSO Records.
1958: Florence Greenberg, an American record label owner, music executive and a record producer. Greenberg was the founder and owner of Tiara Records, Scepter Records, Hob Records, and Wand Records. She is most known for her work as a record producer and music executive In 1958 at 45 years old, wanting to escape the suburban housewife life, she started Tiara Records signing her first artist, The Shirelles, who she discovered at her daughter’s high school talent show. A year later, she created Scepter Records after selling Tiara Records to Decca for $4,000. Scepter was a successful independent label through the 1960s. Under Scepter Records, Greenberg re-signed the Shirelles, becoming their manager once again. In 1961, Greenberg launched another record label, called Wand Records, as a subsidiary of Scepter Records. Florence retired in 1976.
1959: Jean Walton who worked for Cosmocord, an audio manufacturer, filed a patent for a gramophone pickup.Some research is published under the name “John Walton” and makes more on her very difficult to find.
1970: Gladys Hopkowitz was a mastering engineer in the late 60s and early 70s. She was the owner and operator of Sound Technique, a mastering and lacquer cutting studio in New York City until she retired. Sound Technique closed in 1992. The following runout etches that can help identify lacquers they cut: SOUND TECHNIQUE NY, S.T., SoT, Soc, 5oC (S often looks like a 5). Gladys cut countless records including Sun Ra ‘Cosmos’, The Heptones ‘On The Run’ and more.
1971: Roberta Petersen was an American influential A&R executive with an eye for the eclectic, helping launch the careers of artists like the Flaming Lips, Jane’s Addiction and Devo. She was the sister of record producer Ted Templeman and married to drummer John Petersen. In 1971 she joined Warner Brothers Records and by 1977 had risen to the general manager of A&R. In 1995 she joined Geffen Records as senior director of A&R where she released commercial hits like Beck’s `Odelay’ and Counting Crows ‘Recovering the Satellites’.
1973: First called the “Olivia Collective,” Ginny Berson, Cris Williamson, Meg Christian, Judy Dlugacz, and six other women borrowed $4,000 and founded lesbian run Olivia Records; a women’s record label out of the Washington D.C. area that promoted music to validate and celebrate women’s and lesbian’s experiences. They named the label after the heroine Olviia in a novel by Dorothy Bussy, who fell in love with her headmistress at boarding school. Artists on the label often addressed personal and local problems to raise an acute awareness and share a radical political message within the label. With emerging feminist movements in the 1970s there was a countercultre focus on the discrimination of women within gay rights groups, shining a light on the heteronormativity of the 1960s. Labels like Olivia contributed to the lesbian sub-culture by providing a public platform to address topics that were lacking in dominant political venues, helping to develop strategies to cope, organize, and articulate their experiences. As a functioning label Olivia Records sold more than one million records and produced over 40 albums during its twenty years of operation. In 1974 the label moved to California which caused financial problems and their ultimate demise. Unable to reinvent with the changing musical landscape for women, from riot grrrl to Lilith Fair, Olivia could no longer sustain itself as a record label. In 1988 Olivia stopped putting out records and instead performed a series of 15th anniversary concerts however it wasn’t enough and they eventually restructured to become a broader women-centered social business with Olivia, a lesbian travel company. As an independent label, Olivia Records cultivated a fan base through music festivals, coffee houses and bookstores, and mail order catalogs; they favored apprenticeship.
1979: Sylvia Robinson was an American singer, record producer, musician, and record label executive. She helped introduce hip-hop to the world by co-founding Sugar Hill Records, releasing SugarHill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” widely acknowledged as the first modern rap single. Robinson is credited as the driving force behind two landmark singles in the hip hop genre; “Rapper’s Delight” (1979) by the Sugarhill Gang, and “The Message” (1982) by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five; which caused her to be dubbed “The Mother of Hip–Hop”. Later acts she signed included the all-female rap/funk group The Sequence, who had a million-selling hit in early 1980 with “Funk U Up”. The company was named after the Sugar Hill area in Harlem, NYC, an affluent African-American neighborhood known as a hub for creatives in the early and mid-1900s. In 1985, due to changes in the music industry and the competition from other hip-hop labels such as Profile and Def Jam, contributed to financial issues and the label folded. Robinson received a Pioneer Award for her career in singing and being the founder of Sugarhill Records at the 11th Annual Rhythm and Blues Awards Gala in 2000.
1980: Liz Dunster established the heavy metal-focused vinyl label Erika Records. In 1981 Liz founded Erika Records Inc. in Southern California, becoming the first-ever female owner of a vinyl record manufacturing plant. Erika Records is capable of pressing everything from standard 12” black records to any color combination you can imagine. Under her leadership, the business has grown from 2 record presses to 40 and is still expanding. The company is the largest manufacturer of custom records and picture discs in the US due to Liz’s innovative spirit and commitment to re-imagining music’s oldest medium. She has pushed Erika Records to be the first record manufacturer to only use 100% lead-free vinyl material and she has influenced the industry as a whole to become more ecologically mindful. Dunster has been keeping vinyl alive for 40 years and hopes to inspire a whole new generation to do the same.
1980: Lisa Fancher established the independent record label Frontier Records in 1980 in Sun Valley, Los Angeles. She was a former employee of Bomp! Records and writer of the liner notes for the first album by The Runaways. Lisa first found success with the release of the Circle Jerks album Group Sex. The label went on to put out records by such bands as Suicidal Tendencies, Heatmiser, Christian Death, and more. She continues to release vinyl by the artists on her roster to this day.
1982: Suzanne de Passe is an American businesswoman, television, music and film producer. In 1967 she began working at Motown as Creative Assistant to founder Berry Gordy. Early on de Passe developed The Jackson 5‘s wardrobe when they were on the road and was integral to the development of them, Lionel Richie, Rick James and other acts during her decades at Motown. In 1982 de Passe started her new role as president of Motown Productions, she was instrumental in taking the record label to television with the Emmy-winning “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever,” where the Supremes reunited and Michael Jackson premiered his “Moonwalk”. When Motown was sold, she partnered with her mentor in Gordy de Passe Productions and subsequently established de Passe Entertainment in 1992 where she is co-chairwoman today.
1982: Marsha Zazula along with her husband Jon launch the American independent record label Megaforce Records to release the first works of Metallica. The couple had humble beginnings in their music career, as they started out selling vinyl imports and picture discs at New Jersey flea markets. After starting Megaforce, the duo was instrumental to the development of thrash metal, having signed such acts as Metallica, Anthrax, Overkill and Testament. The label is distributed in the United States by RED Distribution, having previously been distributed by Atlantic Records while Anthrax‘s recordings from 1985 to 1991 were marketed by Island Records.
1992: Former Atlantic A&R executive Bettina Richards founded Thrill Jockey Records, an American independent record label in 1992 with $35,000 of family and personal capital, while working at a Hoboken, New Jersey, record store, and ran the label from her apartment in New York City. In 1995 she moved the label to Chicago and has since gone on to release dozens of influential albums in the Indie rock, heavy metal, experimental rock, and electronic genres.
1994: Sylvia Rhone is an American music industry executive. She is the chair and CEO of Epic Records, a label owned by Sony Music Entertainment. Rhone is regarded as the most influential female executive in the history of the music business. In 1994 she was appointed chairman and CEO of Elektra Entertainment Group, becoming the first woman, and first African-American in the industry, to hold the title at a major label. She was named chairman and CEO of Epic Records in 2019 a division of Sony Entertainment and has held senior positions at all three major record companies, being the first woman to be named CEO of a major record label owned by a Fortune 500 company. Rhone served previously in senior positions at Vested In Culture, Universal Motown, Elektra Entertainment Group and Atlantic Records.
1995: Missi Callazzo, former radio director, began an internship at Megaforce in 1989 and has been there ever since. When MRI was founded in 1995 as Megaforce’s sister company to help flourish the business, Missi was at its helm. The label went on to acquire the acclaimed blues / jazz label, Palmetto Records in 2009 and Missi continues to work there today.
1998: Judith Spotheim Koreneef is of Israeli descent and lives in Eindhoven, Holland. Spotheim designed an audiophile masterpiece with her La Luca turntable which she describes as a precision measuring instrument and manufactured to extremely fine tolerances from materials chosen to ensure neutral and accurate playback. It has low energy-storage, direct-coupled, non suspended design driven by a stand alone motor and a belt of elastic thread. The turntable’s transparent, 2” thick platter is machined from a solid block of acrylic and has a row of stainless-steel cylinder weights embedded in its outer edge. The handmade bearing assembly is snugged inside an attractive black chrome, hardened steel spindle shaft. It has been difficult to find more information on Judith than this, but people continue to marvel at her turntable design which retails for $18,500.
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