Home » Stories » History forgot these female composers. Laura Karpman is helping us remember / Los Angeles Times

Top 10 for Aug

History forgot these female composers. Laura Karpman is helping us remember / Los Angeles Times

Bookmark and Share

American composer Anita Owen wrote her biggest hit song, "Sweet Bunch of Daisies," in 1894. She was 20 at the time, a student at a convent outside Terre Haute, Ind. According to a 1910 article on female composers in the San Francisco Call, Owen self-published the song for less than $50. That investment paid off when the song became a hit, selling more than a million copies. According to the San Francisco Call, a "practically penniless convent girl" was transformed into a woman with "fame and fortune" whose bank account "fell only a little short of the hundred-thousand-dollar mark."

If you've never heard of Owen or any of the 200-plus songs she composed during her successful career, you're not alone.

"I don't want to call it a conspiracy, because I don't think it's done on purpose, but there is this falling away of women artists and artists of color that needs to stop and be corrected," says composer Laura Karpman.

History may have forgotten many of them, she says, but women and people of color have always composed music.

In what she calls a "small little act of course correction," Karpman is premiering an overture Thursday night at the Hollywood Bowl that incorporates melodic snippets from patriotic songs by Owen and two other early 20th century American female composers, Mildred Hill and Emily Wood Bower.

The new orchestral piece, commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and titled "All American," features percussion instruments crafted out of kitchen tools like baking sheets and meat tenderizers, a nod to the domestic work that historically defined so many women's lives.

"It's about amplifying women," composer Laura Karpman says of her new piece "All American," a Los Angeles Philharmonic commission to be performed Thursday at the Hollywood Bowl.   PHOTO: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times