Sandy Rapp didn’t plan on becoming a poet-laureate/troubadour of the local gay community, nor did she dream of becoming a vocal leader of women’s and gay rights. It just happened that way.
In fact, Rapp cut her teeth singing popular songs at local bars. But when Rapp began singing out against the treatment of women and for LGBT causes, the protest voices were few and far between. Rapp ties all the strings together with the release of a 44-song compilation, “Risin’ Song,” that is as historical as it is entertaining. The album collectively brings the listener back to the seminal moments in the decades-long fight for quality, including the March for Women’s Lives in Washington, DC, when Rapp performed for nearly one million people.
Growing up in Batavia, OH, Rapp wasn’t exposed to many alternative lifestyles. But she came from a musical family, started taking piano lessons at age three, and took up the guitar as a teen.
“My dad got me one in the gas station,” she said. “It was kept in the garage, like a piece of machinery.”
Outing herself was out of the question, but she listened intently to Pete Seeger, Josh White, and Nina Simone, and Rapp began to understand that music can be a tool for fomenting change.
After earning a Master’s at Aberdeen University in Scotland, Rapp migrated to London, then back to the States.
“I found myself in New York in interesting times,” she said. “I was half gay and half straight in that I had a straight job and a gay job.”
She was playing a bar called Chez Pat when a pivotal event in the LGBT movement occurred.
On June 28, 1969, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, a gay hangout. That kind of harassment was not new, but this time, a friend told her, “We fought back.”
“That made the difference,” Rapp said. “That turned things around.”
Rapp performs nearly every year on that date at the Stonewall Rebellion Veterans Reunion.
The singer had a guitar and stage presence, and in 1974, she took her act to the Hamptons and found steady gigs and a loyal following, first at The Grotto of the Purple Grape and then at Baron’s Cove Inn. “I was a juke box. I wasn’t writing many songs,” she acknowledged.
When Ronald Reagan became President, she began speaking up — and singing out — against his conservative policies.
She met Marilyn Fitterman, the president of the New York State chapter of the National Organization of Women, in 1988. Through Fitterman, she met influential feminist leaders like Betty Friedan. At Fitterman’s behest, she played and immersed herself in not only protests but in campaigns for political candidates.
“Risin’ Song” is broken into groups by topic: There are 10 tracks about feminist history, and campaign songs written for Linda Bird Francke and Hillary Clinton, as well as a section of tunes devoted to other issues. Bella Abzug sings on one track.
Though most follow the protest format, Rapp’s tunes are polished and varied. Her lyrics can be whimsical and are often tongue-in-cheek or downright laugh out loud.
Though she has never had a hit record per se, some of her best-known songs are indelibly etched in the hearts of fellow suffragists — the crowd sings along to some of the better-known tunes Rapp has performed at literally hundreds of events and at the 2004 March for Women’s Lives.
“I am, in a sense, a rapper” said Rapp. In fact, some of her songs, delivered rapid fire, or scat, fit that bill.
Rapp is also one of the only artists who updates her lyrics, as often as eight different times, as is the case with “Everyone Was At Stonewall.”
Though she points out 22 states have adopted LGBT rights bills since she took up the cause, she cautions, “a lot of work is still to be done” and under the current administration in Washington, “the Supreme Court is in profound danger. It is at great risk now.”
Rapp is grateful to see the #MeToo movement take hold. But she is cognizant too much censure isn’t always a good thing. “There is a very fine line between aspects of #MeToo and the First Amendment. We have to protect free speech.”
“Risin’ Song” can be ordered at Amazon or www.SandyRapp.com.