An Open Letter: The End of the "Female Bassist"

I would like to issue a challenge for the future: Let 2016 be the year we terminate the usage of the term “female bassist.” The best thing we can do for both genders and, for that matter, trans musicians, is to cease any reference to reproductive organs as they pertain to the production of low notes and refocus on dropping the funk on The One, just as Bootsy Collins would want us to do.

The idea of female musicians taking primacy in the bass chair is not new, as the name Carol Kaye ought to indicate. If you did not immediately understand this reference, stop reading, click that link and learn about her career immediately. Humans equipped with female reproductive organs have succeeded at the highest level of the music industry, from Tina Weymouth with the Talking Heads to Grammy-winning Meshell Ndegeocello, to Rhonda Smith with Prince — The Great Purple One, He Who Knows What Funky Bass Is. And yet, even as new figures emerge, such as the masterful Tal Wilkenfeld — bandmate to Jeff Beck, Ryan Adams, Herbie Hancock and the next opening act for The Who — as well as the artistically-triumphant Esperanza Spalding, one can still, bewilderingly, hear the term “female bassist” employed.

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In comment fields one can see everything from frank sexual harassment to jealousy, as the physical attributes of the musician in question are given greater analysis than the musical content on display. Let us start from the assumption that women are not the ones obsessed with gender and turn this request over to the gentlemen:

Guys, it’s time to end the term “female bassist,” because it has finally become so irrelevant as to sound stupid.

Revolutions tend to happen as the result of a critical mass of small events. For me, I think it was seeing an absolutely killer video featuring Mohini Dey, followed by seeing an advertisement for Aguilar effect pedals featuring Alissia Benveniste in print, right after watching Nik West in the “GOT BASS CHOPS !?” video by Bass the World.

It occurred to me that thanks to the Internet and a change in the masculine notion of “rock star” musical success — something made irrelevant for the most part by economic realities — women were getting more of a chance to project their music onto the public consciousness without the obstacle of the media business itself. Or perhaps gender roles are getting decreasingly rigid, as we can see more broadly in laws related to marriage equality around the world. Either way, if you turn on YouTube, you’re going to see some chicks rocking and funking your face off on the low end of things. And, if you’re going to have your face rocked off followed by a thorough face-funking, is there any reason other than pure juvenile insecurity to then point out that the bassist in question may, in fact, have a uterus?

Tina Weymouth

Tina Weymouth

Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spalding

Meshell Ndegeocello

Meshell Ndegeocello

Tal Wilkenfeld

Tal Wilkenfeld

When the roof is being torn off — in a manner that George Clinton would recognize — is there a need to identify that the bassist in question as a woman? When a bassist is ripping a crazy solo with that Jaco-esque bridge pickup tone nailed, is there something about the lack of a Y-chromosome that is particularly germane to the discussion of the aforementioned stanky J-bass single-coil midrange-y goodness?

If, by way of personal reasons, you find it important to identify one person as the member of a gender group — say for the purposes of filling out the roster in a women’s softball team, or because you are a heterosexual male and are considering asking the person on a date — then by all means, bring gender into the mix. But for all other low-frequency discussions, there is another, more useful term: Bassist. And as we know, bassists stick together and support each other. Therefore, starting in 2016, there should be no reason to create subgroups among us.

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Except for those who play with a pick.

*ducks head*


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