There’s no way our Women of Memphis Music playlist is definitive – even though it is literally three and a half hours of songs written by and featuring Memphis women music-makers, inevitably there are so many more that we missed. That’s the impact Memphis women have had on our music scene – since the beginning!
We’d love to hear from you if your favorite artist isn’t represented on this list – head over to IG and let us know! We’ll keep adding songs and look to spotlight more artists Memphis music lovers need to know. (And if you’re like, hey! Where’s the hip hop?? We’ve got a dedicated mix coming your way later this month!)
We couldn’t pick favorites – we love every track in this mix! – but we pulled out a few that just feel like essential listening. Here they are:
“I Can’t Stand the Rain” by Ann Peebles
An absolute classic from an absolute queen, “I Can’t Stand the Rain” was originally released in 1973 but its story has a beautiful thread through to Memphis music in 2021. Ann Peebles co-wrote the song with her husband, a multi-talented singer and songwriter in his own right, Don Bryant. It was Peebles’ biggest hit, reaching No. 38 on the U.S. pop charts and No. 6 on the R&B charts, and she and Don Bryant actually got hitched a year after its release. He spent most of the next 10 years writing for her, but you’ll find his own take on “I Can’t Stand the Rain” on his 2020 Grammy-nominated album You Make Me Feel. Ann Peebles released 10 albums in her career (we also recommend you check out “99 Pounds” and “(You Keep Me) Hangin’ On”) – seven of which were on Hi Records. She was inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2014.
“B-A-B-Y” by Carla Thomas
Carla Thomas is often called the Queen of Memphis Soul, and with good reason. There are so many songs we could’ve picked from Ms. Thomas for this mix – the King and Queen album she did with Otis Redding is a must-listen, must-own, must-play-repeatedly – but we had to go with the ultimate, “B-A-B-Y.” Carla was just a b–a–b–y herself when she snuck into the Teen Town singers, a young people’s vocal group sponsored by WDIA, at the tender age of 10. She knew she had to share those pipes with the world from the beginning! We respect the hustle. There’s basically no way you haven’t heard this song before, so after you sing every word and want to explore more Carla, check out her 1961 album Gee Whiz.
“After Laughter Comes Tears” – Wendy Rene
If you didn’t know about Wendy Rene until recently, you’re not alone. Ariana Grande sampled this song for “Fake Smile” on her 2019 album Thank U Next – we can’t say if Ari is a vinyl head or not, but maybe she discovered the magic of Wendy Rene like we did on Light in the Attic’s fantastic 2012 compilation of her hits, After Laughter Comes Tears: Complete Stax & Volt Singles + Rarities 1964–1965. It’s a stunning collection of songs, made more incredible by the short period of time over which they were released, and will undoubtedly leave you wondering why Wendy Rene never hit it big.
“Faith Healer” – Julien Baker
There’s so much to love about Julien Baker but we’ll start here: even with her massive success, she hasn’t turned away from the musicians, collaborators and spaces in Memphis that helped to make her the artist she is today. Her latest album, the lush Little Oblivions, was largely tracked at Cooper Young studio Young Avenue Sound, and has gotten rave reviews everywhere from Pitchfork to Rolling Stone. This track, “Faith Healer,” was the first single from the album and gave us our first taste of this richer sound from Julien, who in spite of leaping to fame as a singer-songwriter came up playing in bands in Memphis. One thing hasn’t changed: her gift for writing songs that slay you, every single time.
“A Wild One” – Talibah Safiya
It’s no secret that we stan the South Memphis Angel. Naturally, we struggled to pick just one track of Talibah’s for this playlist, but “A Wild One” is a perfect starting place for her music. It’s smart and funny, a little raunchy, a lot playful and just straight up neosoul magic. Talibah is a native Memphian who spent time in NYC stretching her creativity as a singer, songwriter and artisan-entrepreneur (have you checked out her jewelry line Pretty Bull or latest venture Mama’s Sundry?) and came back home to take it to the next level in 2016. She’s been prolifically releasing music ever since and we can’t get enough.
“Can’t Stand U Anymore” by River City Tanlines
Is it really a mix of Memphis women in music if you don’t include at least one track from the indomitable Alicja Trout? Let’s be real, there should be 10 or 12 on here – we narrowed it down to two: this favorite from River City Tanlines’ 2012 album Coast to Coast and “Shadow Hills,” which was a track from her Alicja Pop release Rats (Home Recordings 2009-2013). From Lost Sounds to Alicja Pop to RCT and Sweet Knives, Alicja has long shown she can shred while also bringing through a pop songwriting sensibility that crafts melodies and choruses that stick in your head. Alicja was also a Crosstown Arts Resident Artist Fellow in 2018.