ISIS of Indiana: empowering female musicians 

Heather Ramsey
  • Heather Ramsey
In this era of equal opportunity when only presidents of Harvard maintain that girls can’t add good, we may find it a little cognitively dissonant to hear vocalist Heather Ramsey say something like, “I can't think of a band I have performed with locally in any genre that hasn't consisted of all men on the back line.”

And male instrumentalists certainly do dominate the local scene: greasy, hairy, guitar-toting men who will corner you to talk about Stevie Ray Vaughn or Townes van Zandt when you’re just trying to have a drink. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Earlier this year, Ramsey and keyboardist Monika Herzig created ISIS of Indiana, an organization with a mission, according to Ramsey, to “promote the wealth of female involvement in music creation…and mentor future generations of women musicians.” ISIS hosted its first event this March — a show celebrating Women’s History Month — and will return this Friday with a festival at the Athenaeum Theatre devoted to women, the blues and women singing the blues.

The lineup for the concert: vocalists Brenda Williams, Deb Mullins, Nancy Moore and Ramsey, guitarist Kara Barnard; bassist Jennifer Kirk, drummer Jordan West and Herzig. A trade show will run concurrently in the atrium below the theater.

We spoke with Ramsey this week about ISIS and gender (in)equality.

NUVO: Why did you and Monika create ISIS?

Heather Ramsey: We realized there is a need to celebrate women in music. In our own musical careers, we rarely have had the opportunity to work with other women. We both also teach (Monika teaches jazz piano at IU and I teach voice and performance in Carmel), and we've found there are not many positive women role models choosing to make music their career. We wanted to provide more opportunities for local girls (and women) to see women musicians in a positive, collaborative musical environment.

NUVO: Do you think there's a gender bias in the Indianapolis or Indiana music scene? If there is, is it specific to Indiana, or to a specific genre, or do problems exist across genres and state lines?

Ramsey: Absolutely, but it is certainly a national bias reflected in the local arts community…
From the perspective of the vocalist, while women are more often put in the spotlight, it is much harder to do business in the general marketplace because of certain stereotypes. There's a general image perceived by society of the hard-drinkin', hard-smokin', hard-livin', hard-rockin' man vs. the demure, delicate, perhaps over-dramatic diva on the front of the stage...
The ultimate goal is to change old stereotypes so women are chosen by bandleaders for their merit and the musical skills they bring to the table, regardless of gender. By showcasing women's abilities, we feel we can begin to change the picture for future generations.

NUVO: How has Isis facilitated communication between female musicians (or women working in music) across the state?

Ramsey: Specifically, the groups brought together for the March show and for this Friday are comprised of musicians who have never before all worked together. We are all beginning to become aware of more women in the music marketplace, and are beginning to work more with women as a result. I have become more aware of my "first call" roster for band mates and am sure to have the women I've worked with on that list in an effort to change the gender makeup of groups I hire. We are working with David Andrichik at the Chatterbox to start a "Girls Night Out" there to bring more women artists together to jam and collaborate.

Femmes Blu Festival
Athenaeum Theatre, 401 E. Michigan St.
Friday, Oct. 1, 7 and 9 p.m., $10 advance, $12 door, all-ages

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