Brittany Howard Says Women Are Rock and Roll
The singer on her Grammy nominations, and her upcoming performance honoring George Clooney.
Despite what we've seen in the movies, or splashed on the front pages of magazines, rock music is not about a "look." Popular culture certainly wants us to believe that a rock band is a group of white men wearing leather and holding guitars, but this year, we are finally beginning to see a long-awaited shift. The Grammy Awards recently released their 2021 nominations and among them was the first-ever all-female Best Rock Performance nominees.
Brittany Howard, who was among that group for her performance of "Stay High" off her debut solo album, Jaime, thinks it's about time we all start recognizing the people that made rock and roll: women. "As far as I'm concerned, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was the originator of what we know as rock and roll," Howard tells me on a phone call just a few days after the nominations were announced. "I think some rock critics in the '60s and '70s forgot to include women in the history of rock and roll. I think it's about time."
Music, she explained, is about expression, and women have so much to give in that way. "We hold so much all of the time and we're told to act a certain way, dress a certain way, look a certain way. So of course, I mean, women are rock and roll," Howard says declaratively.
She's also speaking ahead of another exciting career moment coming next week — Howard was asked to perform in George Clooney's honor at the Museum of Modern Art’s 2020 Film Benefit, presented by CHANEL. This year, the event, which will benefit MoMA Film and Artist Relief, is being held virtually on December 7th. Still, Howard has met Clooney and has some extremely crucial insight on the Academy Award winner. "George is everything you think is. He is well-spoken, he's charming, he's funny, he smells good, his hair looks great," she says.
"I don't know everything about George Clooney, but I do know that he was a human that had a lot of abundances and he's definitely trying to share that. And I think that should always be celebrated, whether you're George Clooney, or whether you're anyone who wants to help anyone else with what you have."
Of course, the follow up here is obviously something we're all dying to know: What does he smell like? Though she didn't ask because that would probably be weird, she did indulge my question. "It was like a refreshing sort of scent, like a desert with pine trees," she explained.
Howard's now five-time Grammy-nominated album was released in September of 2019 just ahead of the worldwide pandemic, which meant that she never got to tour or share the album with fans in the way she initially planned. While this was certainly disappointing, it allowed space for many of the songs on her album to take on a new meaning — particularly, "Sound and Color" a song about isolation, and "Goat Head," a song about the racism her family experienced.
"I released my record a while ago and it surprises me even though it wasn't intentional, how prophetic it seemed to be in the times that we're in. Who knew?" she explained. "But I think about that sometimes when I'm performing."
Speaking of performing, something that has made Howard into the rock star that she has become today is her presence on stage. Her powerful voice reverberates throughout the room and the emotion is felt in every single word she sings. Add to that her ever-evolving style (which sometimes includes a bright red suit and electric blue hair, or a brightly patterned dress with long necklaces) — something she says she doesn't really think about and just "goes with" — and she is truly a force. Tyler the Creator once called her "an alien" in an interview with the New Yorker, and it's fitting. She's otherworldly.
Ticketing options for the film benefit can be found on moma.org.