Flashy sequined dresses, scribbled personal notes, records, custom-made guitars and countless other effects of the women who have rocked and rolled through the decades line the walls.
Effects from the wedding ceremony of Sister Rosetta Tharpe sit inside one glass case, dresses of Tina Turner in another. Guitar riffs and drum patterns sound off in the background as a wall screen shows live recordings of hits from every stage of history since the 1920s.
These are the intricate parts of “Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power,” the latest exhibit on the second floor of the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) in honor of the organization’s 25th year in business.
The exhibit will be up until Jan. 6, 2013 and has already attracted a steady stream of visitors since opening on Sept. 7.
Shining light on some of the women who have been intricate threads of a business often dominated by men, the exhibit weaves an impressive tale of how the ladies in music have affected everything from suffrage rights to the civil rights movement.
"It's fantastic to see the respect they're being treated with,” said Georgine Muc, who traveled from Richmond, Va. to see experience the exhibit. “It's about the music and their accomplishments, not their backgrounds or their stations in life and I love that. I've seen a lot of men enjoying it, too. so it's not just for the ladies.”
Muc was more excited than most to see the show, as she had personally met several of the artists, including Melissa Etheridge and Pat Benatar. Etheridge will be receiving the NMWA Award for Excellence at this year’s benefit on Nov.4.
"There are a lot of artists here that were on my Ipod like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith- but there are a few songs from the Gordy Factory that I didn't realize were written by women," said Muc, who also had the opportunity to see Mavis Staples perform live last month at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.
Staple has been a force in gospel music for more than 60 years. Her voice, along with those of her sisters Cleotha and Yvonne, brother Pervis, and father Roebuck Staple created a wave of positivity and hope during the 70s. Hits like “I’ll Take You There” and “Respect Yourself” were among 12 Billboard chart-topping hits released while the group was signed to the Stax record label.
The exhibit focuses just as much attention on well-known groups, such as the Supremes, as it does on some of the more unsung voices in the music.
Darlene Love’s attire can be seen on display from a 1981 performance when she was singing back-up for the group, Solid Gold, and The Cash Box Award and sheet music for “Tweedlee Dee” can be viewed from LaVern Baker’s career which led her to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.
News of the event has spread all over Baltimore, according to attendees Dom Sanchez and Megan Yonych, who decided to see the show after reading information in a bus advertisement.
"You don't see too many exhibits focused on women music artists so it's cool to see the different spans of time," said Sanchez. "I didn't know too much about the key background people in the big bands, especially that they were women."
Visitors are able to look at the personal notes inside a day planner of Aretha Franklin from a June 9, 1981 meeting with Arista Records executive Clive Davis, as they move through four rooms of mementos, posters, and record covers.
Stage costumes of Cherilyn Sarkisian LaPierre, better known as Cher, are also on view along with those of the late Donna Summers.
"It's exciting because it covers a lot of genres in music,” said Yonych, who said she would definitely recommend the exhibit to others. "It's nice to see all the different stories."
The exhibit brings viewers right into the present with the infamous “meat dress” worn by Lady Gaga in 2010 at the MTV Video Music Awards and a guitar from Taylor Swift.
Drums played by Meg White are also on display along with highlights from the careers of Rihanna, Gwen Stephani, and Janelle Monae.