THE RED BERETS
The Red Berets was a grassroots women’s singing group based in Toronto in the 1980s that saw music as a powerful tool in the movement for social change. Following their first performance at International Women’s Day in 1981, the group began singing songs of solidarity and struggle regularly at rallies and benefits, on picket lines and demonstrations.
The distinctive red beret worn by members was “a stroke of inspiration” (Everywoman’s Almanac 1983). People recognized them immediately, even in a crowd, and the beret stood out well in all seasons and venues.
An early flyer explained that The Red Berets used both traditional and contemporary songs, often rewriting sexist lyrics or changing the words to fit a current issue. Members also wrote their own new songs. The repertoire covered a “wide diversity of social issues, workers’ rights, disarmament, anti-intervention, anti-racism, choice on abortion, and sexual orientation” with an emphasis on “integrating these issues with concerns of the women’s movement.”
The Red Berets welcomed audience participation. It was clear that many women wanted to sing and singing was a popular and joyful way to generate a sense of solidarity.
Listen to THE RED BERETS
A Si Katali
It’s My Body Medley
Oh Come All Ye Shoppers
We Will Not Be Denied
Women Walk More Determined
Other Photos of THE RED BERETS
… MORE SINGING FOR SOCIAL CHANGE
Many musical artists and songs empowered feminists and energized our struggles. One example was Rita McNeil who belonged to the Toronto Women’s Caucus in the early 1970s. In August 2008, CBC News reported that “RCMP spies infiltrated Canada’s women’s movement”. Their files included a mention of Rita, describing her as “the one who composes and sings women’s lib songs.”
On our website now:
- Learn about the Euphoniusly Feminist & Non-Performing Quintet, the singing arm of the women’s liberation movement in Vancouver
- Listen to Catherine Silverglen’s recording of Bread and Roses
- Check below for links to buttons, photos, and posters that start to tell the stories of how those such as Rita McNeil, Faith Nolan, Arlene Mantle, Mama Quilla II, and other artists brought songs of resistance and the power of music to feminist causes
- Search the publications on the Rise Up website for more on these and other feminist artists
Please help Rise Up! add to this important part of our feminist history.