Alexandra Apolloni

Alexandra Apolloni is a doctoral candidate at UCLA, where she is writing a dissertation on British girl singers in the 1960s, and issues of race and femininity. She is also editor of Echo: a music-centered journal, and contributes to Blogging.LA, a group blog about Los Angeles.



"Beat Girls and Dollybirds: Envoicing Swinging London"

In the mid-1960s, London was said to be swinging. A burgeoning youth culture transformed the city into a center of music and fashion, and the moment is remembered as a time of aspiration and renewal that followed a long period of post-war recovery. This climate of aspiration enabled young, white women to embrace new, sometimes contradictory, models of femininity, and to emerge as arbiters of culture. Music journalist Penny Valentine, television presenter Cathy McGowan, and designer Mary Quant, for instance, led public lives as ambassadors of young London. Meanwhile, singers including Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw, Dusty Springfield, Marianne Faithfull, and Lulu envoiced the sound of swinging London, and the new models of girlhood that it fostered.

This presentation focuses on three of these singers: Shaw, Faithfull, and Black. I will examine representations of these performers in music and teen magazines from the mid-1960s, and on television programs such as Ready Steady Go! and The Five O'Clock Club. Looking at how journalists narrated each singer's biography, I'll argue that these girls are presented as models of upwardly mobile independence, enabled by and emblematic of London's status as a center for youth culture, but were simultaneously bound to traditional gender roles and heteronormative institutions. I will consider the voices of these singers in performance, and I will argue that their vocal idioms and timbres, which borrow both from British vernacular genres and from American pop, further reflect changing understandings of femininity, caught between modernity and tradition in a rapidly changing city.