Lady Gaga and Britney Spears are just two of today’s many female superstars who patterned their careers after Madonna when she basically ruled MTV during the 1980 and 90s. By constantly reinventing herself and challenging established social roles for women at the time, Madonna inspired millions of women around the world to express themselves freely.
Her legacy extends far beyond her staggering volume of hit songs.
These are the kind of things you learn at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix, where we visited recently to check out the Women Who Rock exhibit. The museum is the largest of its kind in the world with a mission to show the commonalities among all cultures through their love for music, and it’s available for group buyouts.
The ground floor hosts temporary exhibits like Women Who Rock, which is traveling around the country on loan from the Rock & Roll Museum in Cleveland. Over 50 influential female musicians and singers are profiled, spanning from Bessie Smith, “The Empress of the Blues” born in 1897, to Lady Gaga today.
For each artist, there is a short history of their accomplishments and authentic examples of costumes and accessories they wore on stage. Taken together as a whole, you start to see the common threads among the artists, combining both passion for their art and an unwavering professional drive to be their best.
Next to that, the Artist Gallery is a permanent exhibit highlighting the personal lives and professional accomplishments of iconic singers around the world. Some of the most popular seem to be the concert footage of Elvis, Santana and Eric Clapton. Our favorite showcases Dick Dale—the “King of the Surf Guitar.”
Here’s a video of Dale at MIM discussing his thoughts about music and performing:
Dale has always played with intense emotion, explaining that, “Some people feel that instrument is their body,” he says. Strangely, what you would think is basically happy music for surfers, is actually full of pathos and yearning that Dale tried to communicate through his music.
“I’ve had elderly people tell me from other countries that have watched, and they say I look like I’m exorcising the devil out of the instruments, or I’m chopping down a tree with it,” he says. “When I play that instrument it becomes part of me, and then a lot of times the faces they’ll see that I make when I play is not show business. It’s pain coming right from the abdomen going straight through my arms and into my fingers.”
Next door, the Experience Gallery is filled with musical instruments ranging from Native American drums to Burmese harps. As you can imagine, this room is especially popular with kids.
Upstairs, the range of musical instruments and the countries they come from is breathtaking in their scope and variety.
One of the exhibits in the Latin American gallery discusses the children of Cateura, Paraguay, who play orchestral music with instruments created out of trash. They were profiled recently in this 60 Minutes video.
Iconic musical instrument manufacturers are also profiled. We spent the most time at the Steinway exhibit with a deconstructed grand piano showing all of the various parts. The Steinway video presentation is especially good, featuring the men who build the pianos—some who have worked there all of their lives—discussing their passion for precision craftsmanship and how every single piano has its own personality.