Alix Dobkin, who has died aged 80 from a brain aneurysm and stroke, was an American folk singer and lesbian activist who coined the term “women’s music,” which morphed into its own genre.
A performer in the New York folk scene of the 1960s, Dobkin had come to feminist activism after hearing the writer Germaine Greer interviewed in 1970 by Liza Cowan, then a radio host, during a pivotal moment in the women’s liberation movement. As a result, Dobkin began talking with other feminists in consciousness-raising groups about male supremacy and women’s oppression.
The following year she was a guest on the radio programme Electra Rewired, which was produced and presented by Cowan. The two women claimed it was “love at first sight”, both came out as lesbian and set up home together with Dobkin’s daughter.
Dobkin’s debut record, Lavender Jane Loves Women, was released in 1973, and was arguably the first lesbian album. Because it proved impossible to find a record label willing to invest in someone who wanted to perform only for women, Dobkin formed her own music production company, Women’s Wax Works.
In 1975, the album Living with Lesbians was produced and engineered entirely by women, another first, and was followed by Xx Alix (1980) and These Women Never Been Better (1986), featuring her first rap song. During the 90s, Dobkin produced live albums and various collections. The power of her music, according to her friend the playwright Carolyn Gage, a fellow touring performer in lesbian communities over many decades, is that it compels women “to embrace our lesbian realities”.
Alix was born into a Jewish and communist family in New York, where she grew up before moving to Philadelphia. She was the daughter of Martha (nee Kunstlich), an amateur musician and housewife, and William Dobkin, a fundraiser for Jewish universities and organisations, and went to various public schools in New York, Philadelphia and Kansas City.
In 1962, she graduated from the Tyler School of Fine Arts at Temple University, Philadelphia, and began performing on guitar, doing gigs there as well as in Greenwich Village, New York, alongside musicians who included Bob Dylan.
In 1965, Dobkin married Sam Hood, who ran the Gaslight Cafe in Greenwich Village. They worked together, taking the music to Florida, where they opened the Gaslight South folk club. After a move back to New York, their daughter, Adrian, was born in 1970. Dobkin then learned about the new women’s liberation movement and later the marriage broke down.
I saw Dobkin perform on occasion over the decades, the last time in New York in 2015. She epitomised solidarity between lesbians and feminists, while remaining keenly aware of the differences between us. Her Jewishness was as important to her as her lesbianism and she would always include a Yiddish song somewhere in her set.
Friends and colleagues credit Dobkin with helping build a solid lesbian feminist community by bringing women together with music; she was known as “the head lesbian” by her fans. Her early musical influences included Pete and Peggy Seeger.
Dobkin was the wearer of the original The Future Is Female T-shirt, captured in a celebrated photograph by Cowan, taken in 1975 outside a women-only bookstore. The words have since become a world-famous slogan among feminists, particularly after the photo resurfaced in recent years.
In addition to writing and performing music, in later life Dobkin was a board member and co-director of the advocacy group Old Lesbians Organizing for Change. Her songs include a humorous reworking of A – You’re Adorable (The Alphabet Song) with the lyrics A –You’re an Amazon, B coming Brave and strong, C Clearly and Consciously you, D you’re so Dykey, E how you Excite me, how Fortunate a Female Faculty. She published a memoir, My Red Blood, in 2009, which recounted her years growing up as a “Red Diaper Baby”in a communist family, and the early days of her folk music career.
For the later decades of her life, Dobkin settled in Woodstock, New York, where Adrian also lived. She had been single for many years, but enjoyed a large friendship network as well as being close to her daughter.
She is survived by Adrian, her three grandchildren, Lucca, Marly and Sammy, and by her brother Carl and sister Julie.