Lesbian singer-songwriter and feminist activist Alix Dobkin died May 19 due to complications from a brain aneurysm and stroke. She was 80.
Dobkinwho was known by many as the Head Lesbianwas born Aug. 16, 1940 in New York City into a Jewish leftist political family. Although Dobkin studied painting at Temple University's Taylor School of Art and Architecture where she received a bachelor's of fine arts degree, her love of music was so strong that she pursued that as a career.
Shortly after graduation, Dobkin began performing her folk music in Philadelphia and at various Greenwich Village coffeehouses, including The Gaslight Café where she met club co-owner Sam Hood. They got married and shortly afterward managed two clubsa Florida branch of The Gaslight Cafe and then opened The Elephant in Woodstock, New York. Their daughter Adrian was born while they were living in Woodstock.
Listening to Germaine Greer on the radio after they moved back to New York City was a catalyst to her joining a consciousness-raising group. This is also when she separated from Hood and resumed her music career.
Dobkin wrote a letter to music producer and New York City radio host Liza Cowan asking if she could perform on her show. Cowan said yes to the live broadcast and that meeting was love at first sight for the two women. Dobkin and Cowan came out as a couple in 1971 and moved in together with Adrian.
Throughout Dobkin's long career, she released seven albums and a songbook. She was also a founder of the women's music genre. With Kay Gardner, she formed Lavender Jane and from this came their first album, Lavender Jane Loves Women, featuring lesbian-themed songs. This was the first album produced entirely by women via Dobkin's own production company, Women's Wax Works. "Lesbian Code," "Amazon ABC." and "The Woman in Your Life is You" are some of her best-known songs.
In 1976, Ladyslipper Musica distributor and catalogue of women musician's recordingsstarted selling Dobkin's music and in 1979 became her official national distributor. This professional and personal relationship continued for 45 years.
During her long career, Dobkin toured across America and many countries around the world, becoming the first American lesbian-feminist musician to perform in Europe. Dobkin also performed at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival and other national and regional women's music festivals for many years.
In 2009, Dobkin's memoirMy Red Blood: A Memoir of Growing Up Communist, Coming Onto the Greenwich Village Folk Scene, and Coming Out in the Feminist Movementwas published by Alyson Books. Windy City Times/Outlines newspapers ran Doobkin's columns that were later re-worked into sections of the book. Additionally, Dobkin wrote columns for off our backs, Lesbian News and Rain and Thunder.
Dobkin was a member of a number of organizations including the Old Lesbians Organizing For Change steering committee and a Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press associate.
She is survived by Adrian (Chris) and their children Lucca, Marly and Sammy; brother Carl (Pat); sister Julie; nieces Allison and Loren; former partners; extended family and many, many close friends.
"As the last remaining member of the ultra-lesbian band Lavender Jane, I feel it will be my duty for the rest of my life to keep the legacy of Alix and Kay Gardner alive, without question two of the most influential women in the 50-year history of women's music," said HOTWIRE: The Journal of Women's Music and Culture publisher, musician and organizer Toni Armstrong Jr. "It is important to remember that starting in the 1970s Lavender Jane used musical and lyrical machetes to cut through the forests of misogyny and pervasive anti-lesbian culture. Alix in particular was relentless in her insistence that we say, sing and celebrate the word lesbian.
"Generations of women moved away from self-hatred and toward empowerment, thanks to this messaging. The political was personal and the music demanded that we not only raise our consciousness but also our cheerfulness about being lesbians. My heart is broken to say farewell to a friend of many decades, someone who was close to my mother too. I personally will be forever grateful to have played Carnegie Hall, Michigan Womyn's Music Festival Night Stage, East Coast Lesbians Festival and so many other dream gigs because of Alix and Kay. Our song Amazon ABCs will outlive us all, continuing to inspire and make women laugh. Few people can ever lay claim to having actually, tangibly changed the world. Thank you, Alix. Thank you."
"I am remembering the first time the Tenth Muse Production Company brought Alix to Kent State University in 1983," said Goldenrod Music Distributer Susan Frazier. "I had also been working full time at the YWCA for a few years and the organization's one imperative since 1970 was 'to thrust our collective power towards the elimination of racism, wherever it exists, by any means necessary.' I thought that was pretty radical for the time and the branch where I worked was always trying to do what they could for the imperative locally. When I saw that Alix and Denslow Brown were doing a workshop called 'Women Hating, Racism and Violence in the top 40," it seemed like a perfect fit. I suggested that the YWCA host them at the same time as the Tenth Muse was putting on the concert. They said yes, and it happened.
"I was a young, just barely out to myself lesbian, and was tasked with doing the promotion for the talk and concert. I sent a press release to the local paper, followed up and was thrilled when they called me to set up an interview. I drove Alix and Denslow to a local restaurant to meet with the reporter and while I wish it were not true, I must admit that I was just a tad freaked out when pretty much the first words out of Alix's mouth were, 'I am a lesbian.' Somehow, I did manage to hold it together and it turned out to be a successful interview alas the word lesbian never made it into the article. Hearing her say those words, a simple statement of fact that should be accepted without judgment, along with her music and that of many other artists I have had the privilege to work with made it way easier for me to speak those same words out loud to my family, friends and yes, total strangers. I am so thankful that she was in my life to help lead the way."
"Alix represents the heart, soul and spirit of women's music, defined as 'by, for and about women'," said Chicagoan Kathy Munzer, a producer from the now-defunct Mountain Moving Coffeehouse. "She was proud to be a lesbian, and her visionary music reflected the joy and pride in being a lesbian. Alix was always generous in sharing her talent, her wisdom, her stories, herself. Whether performing, or chatting with the community, at a potluckshe was happiest, just being with other lesbians. Alix was fun, funny, charming, insightful, compassionate and beloved to her family and friends, as well as to the Lesbian Nation, at large. She will always be, 'The Head Lesbian,' an honor well deserved, and bestowed with lesbian love, affection and gratitude."
"Alix truly changed lives, thereby changing the world," said musician, writer and former Chicagoan Jorjet Harper. "In her heyday she was the head lesbian, the outest of the out, fierce warrior for lesbian space, the firebrand, the magnet and the linchpin of lesbian culture and community in the United States. This is a very sad day indeed. My thoughts, love and deepest condolences go out to Adrian, Retts, Bonnie, Liza and everyone who loved her and to all those who ever appreciated her work. At a time when many did not dare to come out, Alix was a shining beacon of encouragement. When lesbian culture was just beginning to explore its possibilities, Alix was a hub and an inspiration of that creativity. Thank you, Alix."
"For years and years in her onstage concerts, Alix always performed a Yiddish song third in her set," said author and festival herstorian and Professor Dr. Bonnie Morris. "It was frequently 'Ut a Zoy,' a seamstress labor song about the plight of overworked tailors and their determination to go on strike. Alix would introduce this fierce piece of heritage with the caveat 'Jews, like lesbians, were never meant to survive, and it was harder for me to come out as a Jew than as a lesbian.' I probably tape recorded this statement-at-the-microphone more than 25 times, drinking in my role model's early demonstration of intersectionality. No other performers coming from the Greenwich Village folk movement, some of whom referenced the Jewish working class and Yiddish song traditions, had made such a direct connection to lesbian empowerment and lesbian anthems of resistance.
"In the women's music cultural movement packed with Jewish lesbians as producers, sound and light technicians, sign language interpreters, distributors and fans, Alix was one of first and few artists daring to signify as a Jew onstage. Though she once joked in concert that while onstage, her stories and views were about 'me, me, me,' that was not so. Inevitably, onstage Alix would credit so many others as she spoke of recording that first-ever full-length lesbian album, Lavender Jane Loves Women. The oft-told story always began with knowing someone who had the keys to a recording studio, 'and we went in there with a gang of women.' The setup of that true tale left listeners thrilled to the possibility of what a gang of women could accomplishin this case, a revolutionary breakthrough in music production."
A memorial service is in the planning stages for late summer. Details TBA.
Some Dobkin lyrics:
A you're an Amazon
B coming Brave and strong
Clearly and Consciously you see
D you're so Dykey
E how you Excite me, how
Fortunate a Female Faculty, oh
G I Guess it's Good for me
H How Heavenly
I never knew how butchy I could be
J for sweet Justice
K for sweet Kisses
L e-s-b-i-a-n for Letting go of
Opression is no longer Over me, oh
P is Political: Power to the Personal
Q for the Queer you fear you are
R Remember you gotta Respect your
S -Sential Sensibility (Sexuality)
T beTween us is a Tie
V is for Vagina, the Virgin, now you can
W experience until you can get through to
X -actly what (where) you want to X-ist
Y let them drive you cra
THE WOMAN IN YOUR LIFE
The woman in your life
Will do what she must do
To comfort you and calm you down
And let you rest now
The woman in your life
She can rest so easily
She knows everything you do
Because the woman in your life is you