Music

50 powerful and inspiring quotes by musicians for International Women's Day

Words of wisdom from Tanya Tagaq, Joni Mitchell, Lizzo, k.d. lang, Dolly Parton, and more.

Words of wisdom from Tanya Tagaq, Joni Mitchell, Lizzo, k.d. lang, Dolly Parton, more

'Embrace the quirkmeister that is inside all of us.' — k.d. lang (k.d. lang courtesy of the artist; Backxwash courtesy of the artist; Tanya Tagaq by Rebecca Wood; design by CBC Music)

Words are power, and there's nothing more provocative or inspiring or daring than a woman speaking from her lived experiences. 

From making records to motherhood, pioneering to producing, censorship to survival, and shredding to sexism, CBC Music is proud to present 50 quotes by 50 incredible musicians.  


"We allow each other so little enjoyment or even tolerance for our individualities, our uniquenesses, and yet to me, that's what it's all about. For me, the hip word is mutate. We're ripening all the time." — Buffy Sainte-Marie


"First you dream and then you lace up your boots." — Portia White


"I don't like being too looked up at or too looked down on. I prefer meeting in the middle to being worshipped or spat out." — Joni Mitchell


"Moving throughout the industry, my outlook now is this experience has given me much more confidence not to ever conform to the music machine," she says. "If I'm making honest art, the final message is very important. The advice I'd give any trans person making music now is don't second-guess yourself and don't listen to what the machine says. Make music the way that you want to." — Backxwash


"I had no idea if I was even going to be accepted in the music world. I wasn't sure — there were a lot of uncertainties at the time. I just knew that I wanted to make a mark, make an impact. I wanted my music to influence and be inspirational." — Deborah Cox


"If you get it and you achieve this [success], don't waste your mic. Because you never know what kind of impact you might have on someone's life. You never know who's watching it." — Jessie Reyez


"Women have to work much harder to make it in this world. It really pisses me off that women don't get the same opportunities as men do, or money for that matter. Because let's face it, money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define our values and to define what's sexy and what's feminine and that's bullshit. At the end of the day, it's not about equal rights, it's about how we think. We have to reshape our own perception of how we view ourselves." — Beyoncé


"It wasn't until after high school that I started realizing that the reason why it took me a while to find my path and find where I wanted to be was because I hadn't seen myself represented in that way. It just didn't occur to me that I could start a band or start a musical project, and be successful." — Luna Li


"When I was recording, I recorded for us girls. I didn't record for men. I fought for the women and I recorded for the women." — Loretta Lynn, as told to CBC Music in 2016


"I mean, I've always used songwriting as a therapy, of course, but it's the first time that I actually had knowledge that I guess the trauma within myself and my own demons, and the reason why I'm always in these types of situations, is because I actively searched them, in a way." — Coeur de pirate


"I enjoy that wild and reckless exhilaration that comes from naming my truth as best as I can; it is what Nina Simone might have called a 'boon.' The truth is that I was not groomed for stardom and watered down for your enjoyment. As a transgendered artist, I have always occupied a place outside of the mainstream. I have gladly paid a price for speaking my truth in the face of loathing and idiocy." — Anohni 


"I was allergic to making scenes and did everything possible to maintain an identity as an individual within the band. I had no interest in just being the female half of a couple." — Kim Gordon


"I'm interested in going to the places that scare me, in terms of personal growth but also as an artist." — Basia Bulat, as told to CBC Music in 2016


"It's amazing how being diagnosed as terminal changes what you care about. A lot less about what people think, for one. It's freeing, after a career based primarily on that very thing." — Erin Wall


"An open heart and curious mind creates miracles." — Abigail Washburn


"What tools do we have? What can we count on? You can count on yourself." — Patti Smith


"If you stick to your integrity and your goals, eventually somebody will appreciate what you are doing on a wider scale." — Bonnie Raitt


"I spent so much time thinking about what would happen when I got there that I didn't spend enough time in the right now. That's where life was happening." — Melissa Etheridge


"What can I say about being 40? I have learned that kindness has bright speed when you want things done. I have learned that the world is as hard as it is beautiful, and you must keep your teeth and claws sharpened. I have learned our flaws contain our power. Our frailties hold the dark matter keeping us together. Mysteries and bravery keep us curious, comparisons keep us dark and envious. The only way to receive is to give, but if that f--ker is using you, cut 'em out." — Tanya Tagaq 


"I used to tolerate not being heard, I used to put up with it, but it made me depressed to know that I was voiceless. But now absolutely in no area of my life do I tolerate not being heard. I'll give somebody two or three chances and then I'll just walk away and say, 'Listen, there's something wrong with your ears, there's nothing wrong with me.'" — Sinead O'Connor, as told to CBC Music in 2014


"You never give up your faith. That's something I'd tell any young person. You have a dream, you follow that. You don't let anybody get on your dream! It might not be going the way you want it, but you have to stay focused. Sometimes you've got to let go and get rid of things, drop everything, go clear your head out and start fresh. But you stay focused on what you want to do. If you've got that talent, go for it. No one sat me down and taught me how to sing, how to do anything. I learned. I listened. I would sing along with Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin and James Brown and Otis and Tina Turner and Gladys Knight. Any of them. You couldn't tell me I wasn't Michael Jackson!" — Sharon Jones


"For the most part when you're a writer and your friends are other songwriters as well, I think there's an unspoken rule: you're not allowed to say anything. You're really not. Because we all write about each other and we have been for years. There are moments, sometimes, in my friends' songs where I'm like, 'Wait a minute. Is that about me? Am I that big of an asshole?' And then I'm not allowed to ask! The work exists on its own, and I think when you're a songwriter you're pulling from your own feelings but you're also creating characters. The luxury of being able to put it off on something that isn't true is necessary." — Jenny Lewis


"When I go to the theatre, I don't care what someone looks like as long as they move me, and I think most people would agree with that. I have, however, been in the audiences for friends of mine for wonderful performances, where I can't even speak after they were so beautiful, and I hear someone as we're leaving the hall go, 'Oh, it's a shame about her weight.' Some people can't see past it, but that's a reflection on them. If we start pandering to that mentality then we're only going to get in our own way and we're only going to regret it when great voices are lost or never heard of because they happen to be bigger than a size 2." — Simone Osborne, as told to CBC Music in 2015


"In 1951 we [Indigenous people] weren't allowed to practise our culture from the potlatch ban. For me to be able to practice my culture, my songs and my language and to bring forth stories that people do want to hear, it's my duty as a young person to capture the different moments, the victories but also the hardships and the injustices and talk about that through hip hop. It's so engaging for young people and I want to empower other young people to do the same, through hip hop or through their own art." — JB the First Lady


"So I am here to tell you, my friends and my countrymen, that it is OK to be you. It is OK to let your freak flags fly. Embrace the quirkmeister that is inside all of us." — k.d. lang


"Don't hang out with people who don't love you. Don't try to impress people who aren't worth it. Don't try to win people over who aren't worth it. Focus on yourself, and focus on the people who are really awesome and who love you. Don't hang out with people who make you feel like shit. Don't spend your energy on them. There is so much pressure to be part of the right thing; well, you should create the right thing. If you don't see it, create it. If you don't see what you want, be the change you want to see." — Beth Ditto


"I have absolutely encountered sexism in the music industry. I don't look at myself as a victim, I just think some people are not taught any better. Certain behaviour has been passed down and been accepted, and I think it's up to us as women not to accept it and lead by example. That's what I've always tried to do with music or the way that I dress. I won't allow myself to be oppressed. I won't allow myself to be a slave or controlled ... my message is to rebel against sexism." — Janelle Monae


"It sounds f--ked up, but having an abortion was one of the best things I ever did. It was one of the first things I did on my own; I worked at McDonald's, raised the money and did it. I'm really, really passionate about pro-choice, because I wouldn't be here talking to you right now if I'd had a kid at 15." — Kathleen Hanna


"Sometimes I think of Sheila Copps, and I remember her getting up in Parliament and saying, 'I'm nobody's baby!' I've got that quality about me. I want to understand how things are done, I want to understand why they're done this way or that way. I like transparency and accountability and the more I knew about the music industry and business, the more I realized there wasn't any." — Loreena McKennitt, as told to CBC Music in 2013


"Sometimes you have to let everything go — purge yourself. If you are unhappy with anything — whatever is bringing you down — get rid of it. Because you will find that when you are free, your true creativity, your true self comes out." — Tina Turner


"I grew up in a world that told girls they couldn't play rock 'n' roll. My parents taught me I could be anything in the world I wanted to be. That made me confused. I figured out it was a social thing, what women were allowed to do. At a very young age, I decided I was not going to follow women's rules." — Joan Jett


"I don't want to have to compromise my morals in order to make a living. I don't want my words to be taken out of context. I don't want to be infantilized because I refuse to be sexualized." — Grimes


"I was outside of race and gender. I considered myself energy that had not been classified." — Grace Jones


"Over the years, music put a weapon in my hand and words in my mouth, it backed me up and shielded me, it shook me and scared me and showed me the way; music opened me up to living and being and feeling." — Carrie Brownstein


"People are more used to seeing men who are masters at an instrument than women. When people say, 'Oh, she plays like a dude,' it's usually dudes who are the ones saying it. They're saying, 'Oh, she's as good as us.' Of course, that's a stupid statement. It's totally stereotypical to say, 'We have an advantage on this, and if anyone else can do it well, it's only because they're like us.' I think more men are starting to learn that this attitude is totally hollow and based in imagination. As more women are involved in music, this kind of thing gets said less and less." — Esperanza Spalding


"And there's a lot of women in hip hop who aren't 'out.' It's a personal choice, whether you decide to tell people about your sexual orientation, and you don't have to offer that. I appreciate all the woman musicians and woman rappers and singers and everyone who have come before us. And there have always been queer Black women doing music. There's always been queer Black people doing music, always, always, and there always will be." — Catherine Harris-White (THEESatisfaction)


"That whole phrase, '[If you want to make ratings in country radio] take women out,' is so damaging to not just country music and to the genre itself, but to women in general and equality. I mean the fight's not over for women in equality. We're still fighting. And maybe when that fight's over, then there could be a trend of 'only men in music' and it could go for a certain number of years or whatever, but that fight's not over so I think we can't afford to perpetuate that message." — Lindi Ortega, as told to CBC Music in 2015


"I don't let anyone's insecurities, emotions or opinions bother me. I know that if I am happy, that's all that matters to me. And it's OK to be selfish like that sometimes, when it comes to your well-being. Do what makes you happy, and don't care what others think." — Demi Lovato


"Women are the real architects of society. Women have to harness their power – it's absolutely true. It's just learning not to take the first 'no.' And if you can't go straight ahead, you go around the corner." — Cher


"Just don't give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don't think you can go wrong." — Ella Fitzgerald


"Tejano music was hard for us because I was a girl. My dad had a lot of problems while trying to set up shows for us or presentations because there are a lot of men who don't think that women can get the attention of the public. But ... wrong!" — Selena


"Feminists are oftentimes misunderstood as man-haters. And I knew that what I was saying ['I'm not a man-hater, I enjoy them like cake' from the song 'Miniskirt']  had undertones of feminism within it, and so I'm just stating that I'm not a man-hater. I enjoy loving men. I enjoy having sex. And that's basically what it's saying, I enjoy them like I do cake." — Raphaelle Standell-Preston (Braids)


"People can look at me and my life and they see themselves in me. They see somebody who's not perfect and somebody who is kind of the outsider in this industry, really. We all have insecurities … but we are who are are and we have to accept it. No, I'm not a size 2, I don't have blond hair and my voice isn't high. I am who I am and that's good enough, that's beautiful." — Jazmine Sullivan


"Who decides in radio that a woman at a certain point in her life no longer becomes viable? Women and men of all ages have something interesting to say but what I have struggled with is the complete ostracisation of a woman at a certain age.... Keep doing what you are doing, and keep doing what you do best ladies because we will decide when it's time for us to stop." — Tina Arena


"I've come to a place of understanding in the last of couple of months where I've realised I'm apparently a lot stronger on my own than I think. I will strike from the record every time I allowed my ego to get the better of me; every time I thought that something someone said about me would be the end of my career or something I did would make people hate me." — Meredith Graves (Perfect Pussy)


"I really believe in completely being naive and having high hopes when meeting someone new. I can kind of re-do my stupidity or my naivete. It pisses me off to think that we're conditioned to push away bad feelings and to think that anything that's uncomfortable is something to be avoided. When things are really bad nowadays, I recognize the value in it because it's me filling my quota— it's going to make my joy more intense later." — Fiona Apple


"I'm actually so grateful just to feel so alive. Honestly, I'm feeling everything so much and that's great. The sadness, the happiness, the extremes are really extreme right now…. I love a lot of work, because it makes me just feel like so much is happening. I want to be alive." — Gwen Stefani


"I had this weird confirmation in the eighth grade that floats around in me, reverberates in my mind sometimes when I'm out working, and so I knew since then no matter what I decided to do, it would have to do with music, and it would be a platform, whether that platform was small, medium-size, large, or extra large. I knew that I was gonna have to carry an important message and do it through music." — Lizzo


"I still believe that women should get paid equal and should be treated with respect. I'm all about that. I don't get out and have to preach it or march in the streets, I write about it." — Dolly Parton


"Man, woman, who cares? We are all semi-gods and goddesses in lowercase."— Concha Buika, as told to CBC Music in 2013

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