Ani Difranco

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Ani DiFranco (born Angela Maria DiFranco; September 23, 1970) is an American singer, guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, poet and songwriter. She has released more than 20 albums and is widely considered a feminist icon. DiFranco has received positive feedback from critics for much of her career.

Although DiFranco’s music has been classified as both folk rock and alternative rock, she has reached across genres since her earliest albums incorporating first punk, then funk, hip hop, and jazz influences. She was one of the first independent musicians to create her own record label (Righteous Babe), a move that has given her significant creative freedom.

From the earliest days of her career, DiFranco has lent her voice and her name to a broad range of social movements, performing benefit concerts, appearing on benefit albums, and speaking at rallies. Through the Righteous Babe Foundation, DiFranco has backed various grassroots cultural and political organizations, supporting causes ranging from abortion rights to gay visibility.

Life and career

DiFranco was born in Buffalo, New York, the daughter of Elizabeth (Ross) and Dante Americo DiFranco, who had met while attending MIT. Her father was of Italian descent, and her mother was from Montreal. DiFranco started playing Beatles covers at local bars and busking with her guitar teacher, Michael Meldrum, at the age of nine. By fourteen she was penning her own songs and playing her original material at bars and coffee houses throughout her teen years. DiFranco graduated from the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts high school at the age of sixteen and began attending classes at Buffalo State College that same year. She was already living alone, having moved out of her mother’s apartment after she became an emancipated minor at age 15.

In 1989 at the age of 18, DiFranco started her own record company, Righteous Babe Records. Her self-titled debut album was issued on the label in the winter of 1990, shortly after she had relocated to New York City. In New York she took poetry classes at The New School where she met poet Sekou Sundiata who was to become a friend and mentor. She toured vigorously for the next 15 years, essentially pausing briefly only to record albums. Appearances at Canadian folk festivals and increasingly larger venues in the U.S. cemented her growing presence on the North American folk and roots scene.

In September 1995, DiFranco participated in a concert at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland Ohio, inaugurating the opening of the Woody Guthrie Archives in New York City. She later released a CD on Righteous Babe of the concert entitled “Til We Outnumber Em” (featuring artists such as DiFranco, Billy Bragg, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Arlo Guthrie, Indigo Girls, Dave Pirner, Tim Robbins, and Bruce Springsteen) with 100% of proceeds going to the Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum educational department.

DiFranco toured solo throughout the early and mid 1990s and also as a duo with Canadian drummer Andy Stochansky. Bassist Sara Lee joined the touring group in 1996. Their rapport during live shows is showcased on the 1997 album Living in Clip. DiFranco would later release Lee’s solo album Make It Beautiful on Righteous Babe.

In 1998, Stochansky left to pursue a solo career as a singer-songwriter. A new touring ensemble consisting of Jason Mercer on bass, Julie Wolf on keyboards, and Daren Hahn on drums, augmented at times by a horn section, accompanied DiFranco on tour between 1998 and 2002.

The 1990s were a period of heightened exposure for DiFranco, as she continued playing ever larger venues around the world and attracted international attention of the press, including cover stories in Spin, Ms., and Magnet, among others, as well as appearances on MTV and VH1. Her playfully ironic cover of the Bacharach/David song “Wishin’ and Hopin'” appeared under the opening titles of the film My Best Friend’s Wedding.

Beginning in 1999, Righteous Babe Records began to release albums by other artists including Sekou Sundiata, Michael Meldrum, Arto Lindsay, Bitch and Animal, That One Guy, Utah Phillips, Hamell on Trial, Andrew Bird, Kurt Swinghammer, Sara Lee, Buddy Wakefield, Anais Mitchell, and Nona Hendryx.

On September 11, 2001, DiFranco was in Manhattan and later penned the poem “Self Evident” about the experience. The poem was featured in the book It’s a Free Country: Personal Freedom in America After September 11, edited by Danny Goldberg, Victoria Goldberg, and Robert Greenwald. The poem’s title also became the name of DiFranco’s first book of poetry released exclusively in Italy by Minimum Fax. It was later featured in a book of her poetry published in the U.S. by Seven Stories press, entitled Verses. DiFranco has written and performed many spoken-word pieces throughout her career and was showcased as a poet on the HBO series Def Poetry in 2005

Her father died early in the summer of 2004. In July 2005, DiFranco developed tendonitis and took a nine-month hiatus from touring.

On September 11, 2007, she released the first retrospective of her career, a two disc compilation entitled Canon and simultaneously released a retrospective collection of poetry book Verses. Red Letter Year was released on September 30, 2008.

DiFranco performed a live webcast from Ex’pression College for Digital Arts on June 24, 2010. She debuted a selection of new material, including the songs “Which Side Are You On?” (a reworking of the Florence Reece song with different lyrics penned by DiFranco), “Life Boat”, “Unworry”, “Promiscuity”, “Splinter”, “Amendment”, “See See…” and “Hearse”.

DiFranco’s touring band and recordings have featured the bass player Todd Sickafoose since her 2005 release Knuckle Down (co-produced by Joe Henry) and in turns other musicians such as Allison Miller, Andy Borger, Herlin Riley, and Terence Higgins on drums and Mike Dillon on percussion and vibes.

In 2009 DiFranco appeared at Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden, debuting her revamped version of the 1930s labor anthem “Which Side Are You On?” in a duet with Bruce Cockburn and also duetting with Kris Kristofferson on the folk classic ” There’s a Hole in the Bucket”.

DiFranco released an album of new material on January 17, 2012, titled “¿Which Side Are You On?”. It includes collaborations with Pete Seeger, Ivan Neville, Cyril Neville, Skerik, Adam Levy, Righteous Babe recording artist Anaïs Mitchell, CC Adcock, and a host of New Orleans-based horn players known for their work in such outfits as Galactic, Bonerama, and Rebirth Brass Band.

Activism

From the earliest days of her career, Ani DiFranco has lent her voice and her name to a broad range of social movements, performing benefit concerts, appearing on benefit albums, speaking at rallies, and offering info table space to organizations at her concerts and the virtual equivalent on her website, among other methods and actions. In 1999 she created her own not-for-profit organization; as the Buffalo News has reported,”Through the Righteous Babe Foundation, DiFranco has backed various grassroots cultural and political organizations, supporting causes ranging from abortion rights to gay visibility.”

 

Artist information provided by WikiMedia

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