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Women Who Rock: A Behind-The-Scenes Look At A Traveling Exhibit

Some of rock and roll’s most historical moments have happened on the road, when an artist is on tour. Considering that, it’s only appropriate that an exhibit chronicling some of music’s most influential women gets ushered around the country for the masses to see.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s exhibit “Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power” was a featured exhibit at the Cleveland, Ohio museum from May 2011 to February 2012 and has been traveling around to various museums around the U.S. since September 2012. 

I was fortunate enough to tour the exhibit at its last stop at The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. where Senior Manager of Program Operations Tom Varitek helped guide me through artifacts from over 70 different performers, from Janis Joplin and Tina Turner to Chrissie Hynde and Stevie Nicks.

While “Women Who Rock” starts at the 1920’s and travels through to the present, Varitek said that one “unusual” woman from the 1980’s is partially responsible for the exhibit’s existence.

On a visit to the Rock Hall, Cyndi Lauper took a tour of the museum, and she noticed that something was missing.

“She very simply said, ‘Where the women at?!,” said Varitek.

And from one simple comment, an exhibit was born.

A majority of the exhibit is comprised of various outfits, but as Varitek notes, they are often “’the’ outfit.”

Joan Jett’s iconic leather jacket and pink blazer?  Chrissie Hynde’s red moto jacket she wore on the cover of The Pretenders’ debut album?  That hat Aretha Franklin wore at President Obama's first inauguration?! They’re ALL here!

And while the outfits are a sight to behold, the “Women Who Rock” exhibit have a number of handwritten lyric sheets. 

“People ask every once and awhile, ‘Why would I go to a museum when I could Google Image everything?’” said Varitek.  “For me, standing in front of the lyric sheets is like ‘The Holy Grail.’ These artifacts do have a certain power.”

But perhaps the most powerful thing about this exhibit is how it bridges the gap between generations of music lovers, as Varitek mentions.

“You can have a family come in here, and you’ve got mom, grandma, the kids, and everybody has somebody in here.  Whether they love them, or whatever, they come in here and recognize it.  And what it does is create an entry point into a dialogue…Maybe mom knows Heart and The B-52’s and that creates a link to a conversation."

“Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power” runs now until August 17 at The Henry Ford, after which the artifacts will head back to the Rock Hall to their original place of enshrinement.  For more information about this exhibit and The Henry Ford, head over to