Women’s History Month: Female Artists on Why Their Moms are Simply the Best

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Moms are the greatest.

Not only would we not be here without them, but moms also tend to be the most supportive people on earth. I know, for me, my mother has shown me what it means to love and care for someone. Growing up, she showed me unconditional love. Through my highest highs and lowest lows, my mother has been a voice of reason, support, and appreciation. I love you, mom!

But, of course, I’m not the only one who feels this way about their mother. And given that March is Women’s History Month, we thought what better time than now to give a shout-out to moms all across the land? So, we did just that.

Below, you’ll find stories from artists talking about the important impact their mothers had, on not only their careers but their origins as artists. Hear from legends like Heart’s Ann Wilson to rising frontwomen like Julia Massey of Warren Dunes about how mothers have impacted their lives. (Get the Kleenex ready.)

Ann Wilson (of Heart): “My mother could have been a star herself. She was a trained concert pianist, and my early memories are of lying under the piano as she practiced. She turned me on to her favorite music, which she always had playing. Later on, when I was singing in bands, she instructed me on stage presence and what to wear, etcetera. She was very supportive up until the time Heart became international. She was scared of the temptations, darkness, and illusions of the music world. Stories of Judy Garland terrified her, and she scolded me often for being too wild when I was younger. She was a mother on steroids; dealing with two daughters in the tinsel world of entertainment!”

Brandy Clark: “Growing up, my mom was the music in our house. She not only had a vinyl record collection that took up an entire closet in our hallway, but she could figure her way around just about any instrument. We spent countless hours sitting at the piano. She would play and we would sing everything from the hits of Patsy Cline and Reba to the songs of Little Shop of Horrors. Thank God for her love of music that she shared with me.”

Debbie Gibson: “At the time I broke, nobody but my Mama would have been tenacious enough to help get me to the top of the charts! Diane Gibson was up against being the Mother/Manager—the OG “Momager”—but, she went toe-to-toe with execs in the primarily male-dominated music business and did so with humor and a fierceness, which has helped shape who I am today. She taught me that knowledge of my craft was power and to stay hungry and versatile, all while owning my power. She was truly a one-of-a-kind pioneer and my ultimate role model”

Julia Massey (of Warren Dunes):
“My mom’s impact on me as an artist has been from before I can remember. The songs she sang to me as an infant carried through into my childhood and evolved into improvised tunes that matched whatever the situation held. Her confidence and effortlessness with singing, melody, and lyrics showed me never to be afraid to do the same. Her more direct support of my creative endeavors has always been complete. I remember having piano recitals and watching her own stress-stricken face in the audience, feeling the same nerves I was, and the sweet relief of getting through it! Today I call her my east coast PR person because she’s always talking to folks about my musical projects and wearing our band shirts. Long story short: Thanks, Mom.”

Malina Moye: “My mother is one of the strongest people I know. She has been through so much and still wakes up every day and continues to forge a path for herself and our family. I definitely think I got my willpower, strength, and determination from her. She would often tell me you can do anything you set your mind to and to respect myself so that others would know how to respect me. She said when I was two, I would grab her microphone and sing with the band but no one could make out what I was saying. She said I was performing and commanding the stage like there were 50,000 people in the basement at their rehearsal and she said to herself, ‘Yep, Malina is going to be an entertainer.’ She always encouraged me. It’s amazing what belief can do for a person.”

Sylvia: “My mother, Shirley Kirby, was a steadfast supporter of my career long before it became a career for me. During my childhood, my mom worked for General Motors in my hometown of Kokomo, Indiana until she retired after 25 years. She is the first songwriter I ever knew. She sat day after day, year after year, writing songs and poems to the rhythm of the assembly line. On her 10-minute breaks, she would sometimes tear off a piece of her lunch sack to write down the words she was holding in her mind before she forgot them. No one taught her to write or even encouraged her. It was just something she did to express herself and save her sanity from the monotony of the relentless assembly line.

“This division of General Motors, Delco Electronics, made car radios. So, Mom was in the music business before I was, I often joke! When I arrived in Nashville to begin my career, I discovered to my surprise, that 99.9% of the songwriters in Music City were men. Very puzzling! But, I knew women could write songs because my mom did. She is my hero in so many ways. She has always encouraged me to sing, and I know any talent I have as a songwriter was passed down to me from my mom. She writes for the sheer joy of expressing herself, not for accolades or stardom. She instilled in me a desire to create music, and with her as an example, she gave me the confidence to make music my life’s work and joy.”

Eva Walker (of The Black Tones): “My mom has always been the best representation to me of a strong and caring woman. She has constantly supported me and all my whacky ideas, which she has also done for all her children. She’s always been a champion of our career choices, she’s a champion of our happiness. When I got into wanting to pursue music, she took me to my first concert: Bo Diddley. When I got into rock ‘n’ roll music, she bought me greatest hits rock ‘n’ roll CDs for me to further explore classic rock music like The Who, Jimi Hendrix, and The Rolling Stones. Music that still inspires my work now. She provided what she could to make sure we had what we needed to learn about our interest and then pursue it.

“When she saw my interest in picking up the guitar, she bought me my first one. I’ve seen my mom work long days, from dawn well into the night, all in the name of helping children in education. She’s such a giving and loving person. She really cares for the well-being of people. One of the moments I’ll always cherish was when her and I were talking and I said to her, ‘Hey mom, thanks for being so supportive of this rock ‘n’ roll thing. I know not everyone is thrilled when their kid drops out of college and starts a band!’ My mom then asked, ‘Are you happy?’ I replied, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’ She responds, ‘Well, that’s all that matters to me.’ That is why I’ve been able to be as successful as I am, I always had and will have the support of my mother. That’s it! That’s my secret.”

Hollis: “Early on in my career as a songwriter, I felt like I was a disappointment to my mom. She had always stressed high achievement—from straight A’s to being the lead in the school play—and writing my own poems, then raps, then songs felt like an act of defiance and frankly disobedience. As much as it felt liberating to express myself in music and pursue a life as an artist, it also felt like an affront to my ‘potential’ to be more traditionally successful and do my family proud, or even self-indulgent and selfish to make music instead of having a fancy title or degree. It was only much later in my career that I realized that my artistry was more of a continuation of her legacy than a rejection of it. 

“My mother is a first-generation immigrant who traveled to the United States by herself in her late teens, fleeing poverty and dead ends, with a type of independence and fortitude I can only barely imagine having at that age. So much can be said about the parallels of immigrants and artists, and how daring to create a life for yourself in a new country is in fact a work of art. My mom’s ambition, self-determination, grit, and hustle were all handed down to me, and I as her daughter have had the privilege to pursue creative expression instead of simple survival. I hope to do her proud in all I do, and I am so thankful for her support now: she’s always there in the front row or side stage whenever I invite her to a show.”

Chrystabell: “My mom’s impact on my lifelong dedication to music goes back to the very beginning: she sang to me when I was in the womb. I suspect something in me remembers receiving those soothing and loving vibrations from her voice even before I took my first breath because music has always been the safest place for me to be tender and vulnerable. The idea of providing for others that same profound comfort that music brings me in my most difficult moments has been the guiding light in my career.

“I often think of music as a portal to deeper emotions that may otherwise be inaccessible, a magic doorway to a different dimension that allows me to slow down and feel my feelings instead of bulldozing through my day. Maybe listening to music is how I find glimmers of those memories in the womb, that ultimate harbor of security and warmth, and my fondest hope is that music I make may give those glimmers to someone else as well.”

Shana Cleveland (of La Luz): “I remember hanging out in Kinko’s with my mom when I was a kid while she copied flyers for jam sessions and music festivals she was putting together and driving around Kalamazoo, Michigan hanging them up in shops around town. Both of my parents are musicians and I’ve learned a lot from both of them, but from my mom, I was lucky enough to get an early lesson on how to have a dream and bring it to fruition yourself.

“It’s hard to overstate how crucial that DIY spirit has been in my life. Before any record labels or agents were interested in what I was doing, I was booking nationwide tours by myself, teaching myself to screen-print so we’d have shirts to sell, and dubbing tapes at home for La Luz’s first release. My early years as a musician were pretty rough, countless nights sleeping on stranger’s floors, playing to a handful of people, constantly getting fired, or quitting day jobs to go on tour.

“But eventually I lucked out and got to the point where I could make music all the time, the beautiful dream I’ve been chasing all along. Seeing my mom go out and make her ideas come to life without a lot of outside support or funding, driven by her own creative vision definitely shaped the artist I am today.”

Molly Sides (of Thunderpussy): “Moms! Am I right!? Wow. As I get older I can’t help but think of how resilient womxn are. How incredible mothers are! Don’t get me wrong, dads are awesome too. But I grew up with a badass single mama who still blows my mind at the amount of space she can hold. MamaBarb is the OG Thunderpussy. The way she moves through obstacles with such grace and compassion is mind-blowing. She’s truly extraordinary. I wouldn’t be the woman or the artist I am today without the unconditional, unwavering love and support she continues to show. Recently, we were on a hike in the snow-covered mountains and I looked over to her as the sun outlined her silhouette. I was reminded that she truly glows—she’s constantly putting out positive light wherever she goes. My hope is that I, too, can spread that light she shares so willingly.”

Silvana Estrada: “My mom is by far my favorite woman in the world. She is the strongest and also the most caring. She taught me that to be strong you have to be vulnerable. That strength alone sometimes sparks pain but strength and vulnerability combined create flexibility that helps you navigate through problems with grace. She also taught me to live with a willing and attentive mind in order to learn day by day through plants, books, music, and people. Being close to her is like being close to the light because her soul is so wise that sometimes I think that she is from the age of the sun and that she comes from him.”

Laurie Berkner: “From the time I was very little, my mother always worked. She started out as a librarian and ended up doing marketing for publishing companies. I remember looking around when I was a kid and noticing that many of my friends’ mothers were stay-at-home moms, while my mom had a full-time job. She was the bigger breadwinner in our house, and when I was about seven years old we even moved across the country from southern California to central New Jersey for her to take a new job. After that move, she spent many years commuting and going on business trips that took her away from home—which I didn’t like—but I knew she loved her work. She loved the people, the challenges, the traveling.

“She loved thinking about it and talking about it, and she loved being the first woman to have many of the positions she held and paving the way for other women to come after her. I remember thinking that when I grew up, I was going to love my work, too. When I graduated from college, and it was clear that there was nothing I loved more than making music, she and my father paid my rent for a year while I lived in New York City and tried to figure out what to do. After getting my first job as a pre-school music teacher and realizing I loved to write songs for the kids I worked with, I saw a direction. It was scary sometimes, but I knew I could do things that didn’t necessarily come with a road map, just as my mother had. Ultimately, I ended up making a career out of being a children’s musician and starting my own small record label to do it. Thanks for the inspiration, Mom. I still love what I do.”

Anna Sofia: “I could talk about how amazing my mom is for hours and hours. She is not only the most beautiful, kind-hearted person on this planet, but she is also the most inspiring woman I have ever known. My mom is a woman that built her own success. She went from a little kid moving from Greece to Canada with no word of English in her to a successful businesswoman in Canada that owns all her own business. But what blows my mind is that she did it on her own. She made her own name, she made her own money, she made her own power, and I really admire that.

“My mom taught me that nothing is too hard. She’s shown me that even a young woman like myself can be the most powerful force. She always tells me, ‘Life isn’t a dress rehearsal. You have one chance to do what you want in life, so do it, and do it right.’ Because of her, I developed the work ethic, dedication, and the power to succeed in not only my music but whatever else I choose to do. She reminds me each and every day that no one else is going to work as hard as I will for my business. If I want success, I’m going to get it myself. Let me just say, too: she is a fashion ICON goddamn. Love you mom, I know you’re going to hug me and cry after reading all this!”

Nicki Nicole: “The impact my mother had on my career was key to my life. At first, I had doubts about dedicating 100% of myself to music, but I decided to talk to her about it. We sat down to chat, and I said, ‘Mom, this is the path I want for my life.’ Her response was, ‘Nicki if that’s what you want, I 100% support you.’ As I reflect today, her receptiveness to my goals is something that has been vital to the progress of my career. That was the start of it all and I owe it to her.”

Rebecca Black: “Ever since I was little, my mom never stopped encouraging me, and telling me about the importance of not letting the limitations others cast upon you dictate your own potential. My mom is an immigrant, coming to the U.S. from Mexico City when she was in her early 20s. She faced underestimation in society, school, and her workplace due to her gender and heritage time after time—yet somehow she kept hold of her own personal guiding light, which kept her on her chosen path to chase down her hopes and dreams of the life she believed she deserved to live. She consistently found ways to believe in herself when so many others wouldn’t, and that has always been what’s helped me lift me out of my own depths when I’ve needed courage the most.”

Photo by Suzi Pratt/WireImage.

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