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  • Writer's pictureAmy Burvall

Women Rock!: Women’s History Month via History for Music Lovers


It’s been a while since I was part of one of the major things that changed my life (besides my daughter and breast cancer)…the History for Music Lovers project on YouTube! I miss working with Herb Mahelona, my creative partner, and of course writing, recording, and performing. You can hear more about the background of our project here:

March is Women’s History Month, and I thought why not spotlight some of the videos we did about famous, influential women in World History?

Rather than doing a strictly chronological list, I’ve broken it into themes.

The Rebels, The Rulers, and the Risqué

nota bene: all three of these labels demonstrate how women are quite marginalized in our history books – they are either:

wives of kings or, by chance, rulers in their own right through “bloodline luck”

rebellious troublemakers going against the norm (and usually meeting an unpleasant end)

or promiscuous, sultry things who use their feminine charms to ameliorate their situation

Any true historian will tell you this is far from true. I used to have my students read Plutarch’s “Cleopatra Seduces Antony” when we discussed bias in contemporary accounts. For the most part, my lyrics try to tell their story in a brief but hopefully balanced way. For some, like Marie Antoinette, I went full-on empathetic and put myself in the shoes of the doomed queen, speaking in the first person (a type of bias in itself, admittedly).

I hope you enjoy these. Perhaps you will disagree with my categorization, and if so I’d love to hear about it. Indeed, some of these women are perceived as all 3 categories, if not at least two. I’ve tried to organize them in chronological order within the category as well.

My one disclaimer is to remember that there is only so much one can do in the lyrical constraints of a pop song, so many nuances are left out. In this project we hoped to spark interest in further study, or provide an overview for revision.

The Rebels

Nefertiti (d.1331 BC)

Trashed Egypt’s polytheism, ruled as equal to her husband, famed for being possibly the most beautiful woman the world has known (lyrics: Herb Mahelona)

Joan of Arc (AD 1412-1431)

can we just say teenage military leader extraordinaire and savior of France? #burnedatstake (lyrics: Amy Burvall)

Mary Queen of Scots (AD 1542-1587)

what a dramatic life! Queen at 6 days old! Plots galore! Vying for power with cousin Elizabeth I #beheaded (lyrics: Herb Mahelona)

The Rulers

Eleanor of Aquitaine (AD 1124-1204)

Queen of England AND France..went on Crusade, locked in a tower by second husband! Watch “The Lion in Winter” (lyrics: Herb Mahelona)

Wives of Henry VIII (various but in Henry’s life: AD 1491-1547)

3 Catherines, 2 Annes, and a Jane; divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived (lyrics: Amy Burvall)

Elizabeth I (AD 1533-1603)

Some think the greatest ruler who ever lived – triumphed over a very difficult early life; also a rebel for refusing to be married and share throne (lyrics: Amy Burvall and btw my personal fav video production-wise)

Catherine the Great (AD 1729-1796)

Longest-ruling female ruler of Russian history – went to a new culture and basically took over; also a philosophe (lyrics: Amy Burvall)

The Risqué

Cleopatra VII (69-30 BC)

probably not as “seductive” as she is made out to be, but definitely ultra powerful AND hot and heavy with the two most powerful men in the world at the time; side note: poetic-as-hell suicide (lyrics: Amy Burvall)

Helen of Troy (myth? though images of her start at 7th c BC)

the most beautiful girl in the world / face-that-launched-1000 ships…known for “starting” the Trojan War with her elopement with her lover Paris..thanks, Homer (lyrics: Amy Burvall)

Empress Theodora (500-548 AD)

former exotic dancer who made it big catching the eye of the emperor…later proves stronger than him in the Nika Rebellion (lyrics; Amy Burvall)

Lucrezia Borgia (1480-1519 AD)

her name is synonymous with intrigue and illicit sex (particularly of the incestuous kind)…did she or didn’t she? (lyrics: Amy Burvall)

Anne Boleyn (d. 1536 AD)

famed for holding out until he put a ring on it…oh yeah, and completely causing Henry VIII to break away from the Catholic Church and create a new religion resulting in years of civil strife (lyrics: Amy Burvall)

Marie Antoinette (1755-1793AD)

major victim of bad press and an upbringing not based in reality…sadly, accused of inappropriate affection with her son #mostfamousregicideever (lyrics: Amy Burvall)

The Missing Ones:

Lady Jane Grey (1537-1554 AD)

You can listen to the track here, though our video got pulled from YouTube #becausePrince …It’s a great story and I love the film with Helena Bonham Carter

Queen Isabella of Spain (1451-1504 AD; I have since lost the full recording)

Perhaps this will be released as a video someday, as we did film it with me playing both the parts of Isabella and Columbus. 

Classroom Idea

I encourage students to write poetry in the first person, talking about the events in famous women’s (or even not so celebrated women’s) lives…

If you want to create a music video, I suggest finding the song you want to cover first, then using the original lyrics as a rhyme template for your new ones. so that your parody is truly transformative and meets the fair use requirements. We re-created all the music from scratch, but you can purchase karaoke versions of a lot of pop songs.

#women #womenshistory #history #parody #YouTube #musicvideo #historyformusiclovers #historyteachers

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