Last year, during the 2020 Vice Presidential debates, when Kamala Harris silenced Mike Pence with the measured reminder, “I’m Speaking,” three Oregon-based songwriters – Kristen Grainger, Beth Wood, and Bre Gregg – all had the same epiphany. “All three of us felt the lightning-bolt force of those two little words,” Grainger says. “In that moment, one indisputable truth hit home hard: women’s voices matter.”
Stirred by this feeling that women were finally having a moment—and that people were listening—all three individually brainstormed ways they could get their own voices out there. Grainger approached Gregg with an idea for doing a music festival in honor of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who’d just passed away. Wood had just written a song called “One Step at a Time” honoring the late Supreme Court Justice, and when she reached out about an idea she’d long been brewing, Gregg thought they all should do something collectively, in the vein of Wood’s lilting, melancholy RBG tribute.
“I was inspired by not only her life… She was a tiny woman, she was quiet, she wasn’t an extrovert, but she quietly calculated what she wanted, the change she wanted to see in the world, and she made it happen,” says Wood of Ginsburg. “The song is centered around a quote of hers where she says that real change, enduring change, takes place one step at a time. And I look at her life and — that’s what she did.”
Together, Grainger, Wood, and Gregg decided to meld their ideas into one YouTube channel dedicated to women musicians performing original songs about women that have inspired them. The channel, which they aptly named “She’s Speaking,” officially launched on March 8 with a live, pre-recorded virtual show featuring blues artist Lady A.
Wood, who is credited by the other two women for first proposing the YouTube channel idea, says she’d been considering starting something like this for a year or so. “I can’t believe how many amazing women artists there are in the world and how many I’ve had a chance to meet over 20-something years of touring. So I had this thought, like a year ago, like what could we do to bring attention and lift up women’s voices?” says Wood. “And then I was like, what if we write songs about women who inspire us? And all these things just came together at once.”
“She’s Speaking” is essentially a highly-curated video playlist including material from some of the best women songwriters in a variety of genres, from bluegrass and folk to blues. Along with contributing their own songs and videos, Wood, Grainger and Gregg garnered much of the channel’s content by reaching out to friends they’ve made during their decades in the music business.
“One of the really fun things about this is that each of us operates in a different world,” says Wood. “I’m in the folky singer/songwriter world and Kristen is more in the bluegrass world that overlaps with the folky world, and then Bre is somewhat more in the jazz world – they all overlap, but they all have their own separate orbit so we each made a huge brainstorm list of who could we reach out to.”
The response was tremendous. In a little more than a month they received more than 50 submissions of original content for the channel. Most of the songs are packaged as a video of the artist performing their tribute in a simple, straightforward way, much like how they would appear in a small, intimate house concert.
After one song ends, the next begins, forming this great, endless train creative, celebratory songs about every woman imaginable—from women’s right’s activist Susan B. Anthony to inaugural poet Amanda Gorman to many of the artists’ own mothers and grandmothers.
In the description of each video, listeners can learn information about the songwriter and the inspiration behind the song. As well, ways to support each artist are linked, and Gregg says many are taking advantage of the opportunity to support these independent, women artists.
“I was so heartened by the number of donations we got that there were from men. Probably 50%. And people who watched. This was not all women who were watching and giving,” she says. “So part of me thinks when we talk about how women are ready, this is our time to be heard, I think there are a lot of men who believe that as well.”
Though the playlist already contains more than 50 video performances of original songs from professional women musicians, currently—all three of them hope to continue to add more and more videos to the channel as time goes on, from any woman who wants to contribute. In fact, Gregg says her seven year-old daughter is working on a song she hopes to submit.
“We talked about doing this initial launch with artists that we know and curating it; the hope is to put out the call to anyone, any woman who wants to write a song and have her upload it to her YouTube and then let us know about it and we can add it to a playlist on our channel,” says Wood.
After all, Gregg, Grainger, and Wood hope this channel can be a more inclusive platform for women artists—one that generates visibility for all women musicians, regardless of their youth or appearance, and also a platform that exposes more listeners to more variety and talent than what they might hear on the radio.
“There’s frustration associated with the Americana charts and the country charts in seeing how few women’s voices are represented consistently. It can’t be that they’re not writing as good of songs as these men,” says Grainger.
“She’s Speaking” is also designed as a platform where women musicians can come as they are. No need for high heels and sexy costumes, just bring authentic yourself and submit a good song.
“It’s really great to glorify women artists on based on something other than their beauty. No offense to all the beautiful women, but I mean, there is also beauty in the things that [women] create,” says Grainger.
“These are not produced videos of people wearing fancy makeup and clothes,” adds Wood. “These are just people sitting down and being like, here’s a song. And that’s intentional. We want this channel to be about the song and about the artist.”
Gregg, Grainger and Wood also emphasize how much they want this platform to function as a source of role models for the next generation of women—to show them that they can be in the music industry, and in every other corner of the world.
“You can tell people that they can do anything they want to do, but if nobody like them is doing the thing, it doesn’t mean they can’t do it, but it means it is astronomically more difficult for them to think of themselves in that role,” says Gregg. “And if you think of yourself in a role, that’s where it all starts – it’s all about being able to visualize that even as a possibility.”