Radically Righteous Babe

walk in stride with people
much taller than me
and partly it’s the boots but
mostly it’s my chi
and i’m becoming transfixed
with nature and my part in it
which i believe just signifies
i’m finally waking up

From “Evolve,” by Ani DiFranco, 2003
ani Difranco
photo courtesy Danny Clinch/Righteous Babes

There are artists whose work is creative—and then there are artists so charged with creative power that it's impossible to find the seam between the art and the life.

Surely singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco's individual approach to her craft, her crowd, and her causes has earned her a berth with the latter.

DiFranco was 14 in 1984, the year she began composing songs, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar. She was just 15 when she left her family home in Buffalo, New York, to move in with friends and play solo gigs in local clubs.

DiFranco's reputation for percussive guitar work and pointed lyrics began to build. Patrons who came into the noisy bars to drink and schmooze would turn their chairs around to watch the kid with the shaved head and all the piercings who could really put a song across. DiFranco's influence began to extend beyond the region as she toured in her Volkswagen van. After gigs, people would ask for tapes, and so she made a demo.

As she emerged onto the larger music scene, DiFranco made a decision that would shape her professional life and help forge a path others would follow.

Making an end-run around the recording-distribution apparatus of the music industry, DiFranco founded her own record label, Righteous Babe, in 1990. She took charge of getting the word out about her work by enlisting “street teams,” cadres of volunteers to publicize her tours and releases.

Control of the sounds and the sales gave DiFranco freedom to hone her aesthetic, a sometimes raucous, often poig?nant melding of folk and rock. She penned blunt lines in the first person, lyrics for songs rooted in her own experience.

But if autobiography is the common stuff of song, few songwriters have a resource like DiFranco's protean intellect. Her vision can take a 360-degree turn to illuminate subjects ranging from the vagaries of love and loss to the state of the nation and the plunder of the natural world.

Her Righteous Babe Foundation supports an impressive range of grassroots organizations addressing such issues as reproductive rights, gay and lesbian causes, and anti-nuclear protest. DiFranco has also lent her voice and presence to events like last year's March for Women's Lives in Washington, DC, and has toured Thai and Burmese refugee camps, tangibly demonstrating her belief that the personal is, now and forever, political.
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