Under strings of twinkle lights on the clear, chilly night of Friday, March 3, Claremont students gathered on Pitzer College's clock tower lawn to hear student and local musicians perform blues, funk, R&B, garage pop, and hip hop.
Hosted by the Grove House and Pitzer students, “Funk the Patriarchy” aimed to highlight performances by “female, gender non-conforming, and queer fronted bands,” according to the event's Facebook page. Headliners included Leandra & the Dream, Poppy Jean Crawford, and Janelane, along with notable performances by R&B singer and Pitzer student EMEKA and rock icon Claudia Lennear.
Lennear is not new to Claremont. She attended Pitzer in the early 80s, then returned for her degree in French literature and organizational studies in 2007. In the time between, Lennear graced the stages with some of the biggest names in rock 'n' roll, including The Rolling Stones, Ike and Tina Turner, and Joe Cocker. She was featured in the 2013 Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom, which shines the spotlight on the backup singers of the 60s and 70s.
For her Friday performance, Lennear was accompanied by an acoustic guitarist whose blues and rock melodies followed her voice through original hits and covers. The modest crowd swayed to the ballad “Sweet Angela,” which she wrote for scholar and activist Angela Davis, who taught at Pitzer in 1975. Davis’s seminar on black feminism that year raised controversy among a community of 5C donors, alumni, and faculty who sought to restrict Davis’s influence on campus.
After the show, Lennear reminisced fondly on her time at Pitzer and reflected on the same “activist spirit” that she feels drives the student energy on campus as it did when she was a student.
The event also highlighted some of the reasons why this activism is still needed. “Funk the Patriarchy” was organized to agitate the history of exclusivity and lack of diversity on campus. After reflecting on some of her own experiences of getting involved in the male-dominated campus music scene as a first year, Eliza Schmidt PZ ‘20 sought to create an event that made more space for women and gender non-conforming artists on the stage.
“I wondered why it was that I was seeing the same mostly white male musicians performing at campus events,” Schmidt said. “So I wanted to collaborate with people on making a space where more artists felt comfortable playing.”
Seeking collaborators, Schmidt reached out to Emeka Ochiagha PZ ‘18, who got involved in transforming the event’s political message into a larger, intersectional scope.
“I thought that it was great that we were talking about the male dominance in this space,” Ochiaga said, “but I felt that we weren’t talking enough about the white supremacy of the music scene, and I felt like talking about one and not the other didn’t feel right to me.”
Ochiagha looked for tangible ways in which “Funk the Patriarchy” could spur change in the lack of diversity both in the music scene and within the school. In an email, Ochiaga, Schmidt, and the rest of the organizing team invited representatives from the Admissions Office to come support the event and hear their message.
“There is a lack of diversity on the campuses and that is an issue that needs to be dealt with through the institution,” Ochiagha said. “In terms of who’s creating these events, it’s a diversity problem and it’s always going to be that way until it feels like an institutional problem that more people want to solve.”
“Funk the Patriarchy” organizers created an online survey which encouraged attendees to give feedback on the event. Respondents have voiced concerns about the lack of performers of color in the lineup, and over 50 percent answered that they would like to continue having similar events with some changes.
Closing out the show, Leandra & the Dream rapped candidly about identity, relationships, making art, and their home in Brooklyn, New York. With a sound and style similar to that of Princess Nokia and Syd tha Kyd, they invited people of color to the front of the crowd in celebration. They covered Nas’ New York rap anthem “If I Ruled the World” and lit up the audience with “Juice,” an original hit.
“Funk the Patriarchy” and similar events use the power of music to push for dialogue, amplifying student demands to see more diversity both on stage and in classrooms. In organizing the event and inviting representatives of the institution to attend, the organizers hope to spur a deeper investigation into the barriers that prevent Pitzer's campus from being more inclusive.