Joanie Leeds has proven to be a versatile singer-songwriter. Whether penning personal songs, educational albums centering around Judaism, or fun sing-alongs for kids, she always shines a spotlight on social issues. Her new album, All the Ladies, appeals to all ages, and it was written, performed, produced, and recorded entirely by women. Her honest approach to deconstructing the patriarchy is courageous and infectious, but she admits to being quite unsure early on if she should even attempt such a bold move.
“I had slight hesitation that boys and men would think the album is only for girls and women. I also didn’t want to alienate the trans community by writing a collection of songs so gender specific,” she tells Audiofemme. “The thing is, though, this album is needed right now more than ever. We live in a country where female rights are being taken away by old, white men. When women are still on average getting paid less than men, and we still haven’t had a female president, we are living and trying to survive in a patriarchy ─ plain and simple.”
With a song called “RBG,” a plucky dedication to Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Leeds takes determined care to celebrate one of the most important figures in U.S. history. “I wanna be just like RBG / Fighting for our rights and shining truth / I wanna be just like RBG / Glorious, notorious Ruth,” she sings, a choir of children coming to aid in backing vocals.
The song’s accompanying visual, premiering today, centers on Ginsburg’s cross-generational impact, as Leeds herself and many children don Ginsburg costumes. “One of my daughter’s friends is an RBG super fan, so I knew right off the bat she was going to have a large role in the video and help to tell the story through visuals while helping to act out the lyrics,” explains Leeds of the clip. “She even had her own costume… it was perfect. As soon as I mentioned to a few friends that I was making a video, pretty much everyone and their daughter wanted in, including mine – and a few boys, too.”
The DIY video was filmed in early March, mere days before COVID-19 severely crippled the states. “I hadn’t heard much about this strange flu that was potentially coming to the U.S.A. But just to be safe, I brought the glasses, costumes and some rubbing alcohol so I could clean the glasses between filming each child,” she notes. “If I had waited just a few days longer, we would have all been quarantining, so the video may not have even happened.”
As one might imagine, “RBG” carries immense personal significance for Leeds, whose separation from her husband at the time proved a monumental turning point. “Something happened that I can’t explain ─ only that I felt stronger than I ever had before. My feminist stance of yesteryear was sizably emboldened,” she says. “I knew I wanted to take that new feeling and funnel it into my writing, which is partially why I wrote the songs for [this album].”
Initially, Leeds began thinking “about the most inspiring and influential woman living today,” she says. “Ginsburg was the first person that came to mind. I’ve seen all of the documentaries and films about her life, but I wanted to give Ruth her very own song and at the same time, teach kids (and grownups) more about her life.”
Leeds was first introduced to Ginsburg when President Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court in 1993. Then in high school, she did not fully comprehend what an occasion this would prove to be, but she knew something was brewing on the horizon. “As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned a great deal about her upbringing,” Leeds explains. “She went against societal norms, and it was a constant uphill battle. Instead of each challenge or roadblock stopping her, she used it all as fuel to consistently keep climbing, all the while fighting for all of us. I like to channel her strength when I am feeling defeated, as well as teach my daughter never to give up on what is right and just.”
“RBG” begins with Ginsburg’s early childhood and travels through motherhood and her law school studies. In writing, performing, and recording such a timely tune, Leeds soon found renewed strength she couldn’t quite define at first. “I sometimes feel like I have Ruth’s super power living within me. So many young girls and women have reached out to me about how the tune has touched their lives and has taught their kids about RBG,” she reflects. “Not only that, the call to action to take part in the filming of the music video in just a few days was overwhelming. It turns out there are a lot more little RBG fans out there than I even knew. Both their energy and channeling Ruth keeps me going, even on the hardest days.”
Those hard days come with an unavoidable inner-struggle, too, as she continues pushing forward and forging her own path amidst sexism, racism, antisemitism, corporate corruption, and environmental destruction. Her children’s music, from 2008’s City Kid to her most recent record, has often been a vehicle to address such topics, but offstage, she uses other tools to move the needle. “I often try to speak out with adults when I have the strength, sign petitions and attend marches (prior to COVID-19). I have definitely been known to get in a Facebook quarrel or two after posting my liberal political views, but I try to block out the ignorant and do my best to feel compassion for the blind and unaware.”
Largely, it comes down to building a sense of “empathy, strength, and kindness in our youth,” she remarks. While we often cannot change adult minds, ones unwilling to see another perspective, we can start by “teaching young girls that they can be anything they want to be, as well as teaching our young boys how to treat girls with kindness and as equals from the beginning,” she continues. “We might have a fighting chance to be a civilized society once the current administration is squelched.”
Leeds’ All the Ladies is a glorious example of employing one’s natural gifts for change. As we continue navigating the pandemic, and a disastrous administration, may we all call upon the sheer power, will, and determination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.