Hilarie Ashton

Hilarie Ashton is an English Ph.D candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center. Her dissertation, "Unsung Heroines in Black and White: Sixties Girl Groups as Radical Sonic Rebellion," positions the Ronettes, the Shangri-Las, and the Chiffons as at the forefront of rock and punk. She has written for the Millions, the Los Angeles Review of Books' blog, Style, and the South Atlantic Review, and has presented her work at a range of conferences, including MoPOP and the American Studies Association.

"Sonic Femmes: How the Ronettes Reshaped Rock 'n' Roll"
In this paper, I critically examine the rock canon, still so persistently white and male, pointedly ignoring (and then re-setting) its rules for who gets to be included. I argue that a pop reading of the Ronettes' sound leans too heavily on the contents of the lyrics they sang (which they didn't write) and the musical layer behind their voices (which they didn't produce)—it ignores the influences of their formation, vocal techniques, and presences as celebrities. In fact, I think they were rock and proto-punk, inspiring the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Ramones, and the New York Dolls, among others, but it's not who they inspired that makes them rock. Their vocal style, in which you could hear their New York accents, prefigures the more free, less trained and restrained version of song that rock vocals would take up in the next couple of years—gravel rather than velvet, and untrained rather than classically molded. I focus on lead singer Ronnie Spector's use of the Gold Star Studios bathroom as both a staging area and a rehearsal space explodes the private/public notions that get caught up in performance and recording, and brings them back to the purest reality of private spaces. I see an analogous move in the way the Ronettes constructed their image against the grain of demureness expected of women; that too-muchness in their look that Alison wrote so beautifully about was something they crafted themselves backstage at Murray the K's shows. The Ronettes made their mark as Black and biracial teenage girls in a world that didn't think much of those identities other than as fodder for white male music, and that's rock 'n' roll in and of itself.