One of my favorite musicians, Ann Rabson, died recently. The reason I’m writing about this here is that she occasionally sang fat-positive songs (and was fat herself).
When I was a freshman in high school, my dad bought Saffire’s new (at the time) CD, Live and Uppity. Ann Rabson, Gaye Adegbalola, and Andra Faye were Saffire’s members at the time. (Fellow Saffire member Andra Faye also does a couple fat-positive songs, There’s Lightning in These Thunder Thighs and Too Much Butt. Gaye Adegbalola is not fat so, understandably, she hasn’t recorded any fat-related songs, but I really admire her.) It has probably influence my life more than any other CD or performance I’ve ever heard. That sounds a little over-dramatic but I’m being careful with my phrasing, because I’m not sure how much any one work of art has influenced me–and I was certainly predisposed to be influenced by this–but it definitely imprinted itself on my psyche.
Ann Rabson was not young and not slender when she started recording, and she had the stereotypical old lady hairdo: short, curly, and gray. She’s got a funny gap between her front teeth. Gaye Adegbalola and Andra Faye also did not resemble pop starlets. And here they all were singing about sex (and many other things) even though it seems to be taboo to hear about that from any woman who is not highly conventionally attractive.
A lot of Ann Rabson’s performances/recordings are covers of songs by other artists (not unusual for blues musicians), but she also wrote some good songs herself. Here’s one that I’ve always liked: Don’t Treat Your Man Like a Dog (yeah, it’s a little bitter). I guess I should put a sad serious song in here, too, so here’s one she wrote about domestic violence. (In the video I link to she talks about working at a shelter, but in the Live & Uppity version she also mentions that she’s “been there”.) I have to admit I often skip over songs like these because they’re depressing, even though it is definitely a good, well-written song. And to balance that out, here’s a song about her husband, He Really Makes It Hard For Me To Sing The Blues.
A cover of someone else’s song can also involve quite a bit of creativity. The lyrics had to be reworked a bit to sing Three Hundred Pounds of Joy from a woman’s POV. If you don’t normally listen to blues but the song sounds familiar, you may have heard the original Howlin’ Wolf version at the beginning and end of Joy Nash’s Fat Rant. She also really changes the context of Rick Estrin’s Dump That Chump by covering it as a woman and changing a line from “Lose that loser–come on, go with me” to “Lose that loser–you better listen to me”. Struttin’ My Stuff is another fat-positive song that Ann Rabson covers. In this case there aren’t any significant changes to the lyrics. Ann Rabson’s version doesn’t seem to be on YouTube, but here’s the original version by Lucille Bogan.
Ann Rabson is gone, but she will not soon be forgotten. Not in my lifetime.