Classical 91.5

Women in Classical Music

If you look at the listings of the major orchestras in America you will see two things in common; very few of them are programming major pieces by women composers, and almost none have a woman on the podium. Despite the abundance of wonderful compositions by women, the world of classical music has been, for centuries, a man’s world.

Classical 91.5 is committed to help turn things around by celebrating the achievements of women:  from Hildegarde of Bingen to Jennifer Higdon, performing, conducting, composing and more. You'll hear women highlighted every day, not just during Women's History Month in March, but year round.  It’s time.

There's lots more content online, from blog posts to videos, resources for research, a celebration of Women's Suffrage and even some Classics for Kids audio features and Quizzes on the right side of the screen.  Please explore the site to find out more.

Learn more about:

Marin Alsop, conductor

Amy Beach, composer

Hildegard von Bingen, composer and mystic

Lili & Nadia Boulanger, musicians & teacher

Francesca Caccini, lutenist and composer

Sarah Caldwell, conductor

Valerie Capers, pianist, composer & educator

Wendy Carlos, composer

Cecile Chaminade, composer

Lara Downes, pianist, arts advocate & broadcaster

Armenta Adams Hummings Dumisani, pianist & educator

Leonora d'Este, princess, musician & nun

JoAnn Falletta, conductor

Louise Farrenc, pianist & composer

Renee Fleming, soprano

Gabriela Lena Frank, composer

Evelyn Glennie, percussionist

Hélène Grimaud, pianist

Elizabeth Jacquet de La Guerre, composer

Kelly Hall-Tompkins, violinist

Jennifer Higdon, composer

Sharon Isbin, guitarist

Wang Jie, composer

Kiri Te Kanawa, soprano

Saint Kassiani, composer

Jeanne Lamon, conductor

Libby Larsen, composer

Marianna Martines, composer

Missy Mazzoli, composer

Fanny Mendelssohn, composer

Meredith Monk, composer

Jessye Norman, soprano

Alondra de la Parra, conductor

Florence Price, composer

Clara Schumann, pianist & composer

Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen, violinist & composer

Undine Smith Moore, composer

Dame Ethel Smyth, composer

Barbara Strozzi, composer

Marcelle Germaine Taillefesse, composer

Ruth Taiko Watanabe, pianist & music librarian


Wendy Carlos is best known for her electronic music and film scores. She studied physics and music at Brown University before moving to New York City in 1962 to study music composition at Columbia University.

Lara Downes, Pianist, Arts Advocate & Broadcaster

American pianist Lara  Downes began taking piano lessons at age five, and made her debut 10 years later at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. Throughout her career she has been passionately committed to seeking out and performing forgotten music by Black composers. In October 2020 NPR Music launched AMPLIFY With Lara Downes, a bi-weekly series of intimate video conversations with visionary Black musicians who are shaping the present and future of the art form.

Kelly Hall-Tompkins, Violinist  

Kelly Hall-Tompkins earned a Bachelor of Music degree with honors in violin performance from the Eastman School of Music and a Master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music. In 2016 she received an Honorary Doctorate from the Manhattan School of Music, and also delivered the Commencement address. She is also one of three 2017 recipients of the Sphinx Medal of Excellence, which was presented at the US Supreme Court by Justice Sotomayor. In addition to extensive touring in the United States and abroad with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, she appears regularly as concertmaster of the Festival Orchestra at the biennial Gateways Music Festival.

Armenta Adams Hummings Dumisani is a former Associate Professor of Music at the Eastman School of Music. She received both the Bachelor and Master of Science Degrees in piano at the Julliard School of Music, During her second year at Juilliard, she won the piano competition performing Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor with the Juilliard Orchestra.

Ruth Taiko Watanabe, Pianist & Music Librarian

Ruth Taiko Watanabe was a Japanese-American music librarian who ran the Sibley Music Library at the Eastman School of Music for 38 years (1946-1984). She attended the University of Southern California, where she majored in piano, earning her B.Mus. in 1937 and an M. Mus. in musicology in 1942. Her plan to earn a Ph.D. in English was interrupted by the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. when her family was involuntarily relocated to the Santa Anita Assembly Center.

Valerie Capers, Pianist, Composer & Educator

Dr. Valerie Capers was born in the Bronx and received her early schooling at the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The Juilliard School of Music, the first blind person to do so. For several years she served on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music. She was also a member of the faculty in the Department of Music and Art at Bronx Community College of the City University of New York (CUNY) where she introduced several jazz courses to the music curriculum. From 1987 to 1995 she served as department chair, where she is now professor emerita.

The Metropolitan Opera announced today (Sep 23, 2020) that the ongoing health crisis has resulted in the cancellation of the entire 2020–21 season, but the company also announced ambitious artistic plans for its 2021–22 season, which will open with the Met premiere of Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones. Blanchard’s opera is the first by an African American composer to be performed at the Met.

Musical Women of the Suffrage Movement

Feb 28, 2020
Portrait of Dame Ethyl Smyth by John Singer Sargent (1901)

As we prepare to celebrate Women's History Month, our minds are on trailblazing women of the past and present. Last month we celebrated Susan B. Anthony’s 200th birthday and our own Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra presented concerts on the music of suffrage and Susan B. Anthony herself. As I explored this music, I was drawn to suffrage songs and the women who created and inspired them. Many of these composers changed the game for women in music, but they are not often remembered today.

The granddaughter of slaves, Undine Smith Moore’s first musical memories were of the Morningstar Baptist Church in Jarratt, Virginia. She received a scholarship from the Julliard School to study music at Fisk University, and later studied composition at the Manhattan School of Music and the Eastman School. Undine was a co-founder of the Black Music Center at Virginia State College, and today she is known as the “Dean of Black Women Composers.”

Marianna Martines was an 18th century Viennese noblewoman who composed oratorios, masses and sacred choral music. She grew up in the same building as the young composer, Franz Joseph Haydn, and received musical training in voice, harpsichord and composition.