Local Current Blog

Women’s History Month: Minnesota’s soul, gospel, and jazz icons

Gwen Matthews (photo by Mike Zerby, courtesy MNHS), Cynthia Johnson (photo by Charles Chamblis, courtesy MNHS) and Jeanne Arland Peterson (courtesy Peterson family website)

Previously: Women’s History Month: Minnesota’s earliest pioneers

Previously: Women’s History Month: Influential ’80s and ’90s rock bands from Minnesota

For the third installment of this month’s ongoing Women’s History Month series on Local Current, I wanted to take a closer look at some of the pioneering women from Minnesota’s jazz, gospel, and soul communities. These are three genres that have distinctly different sounds, but many of the artists on this playlist dabbled in at least two, if not all three of these styles over the course of their careers.

Take Wanda Davis, for example. In a conversation I had with Wanda over the phone this week, the Minnesota soul icon talked about growing up listening to her mother sing gospel and performing in her church choir. She later went on to record one of the most highly sought-after soul recordings from the Twin Cities.

Many other women on the playlist also crossed genre lines and defied boundaries, combining soul, gospel, and jazz influences with hints of rock ‘n’ roll to help shape what would eventually become the Minneapolis Sound. And that tradition of blurring boundaries is still alive and well today—the last artist on the playlist for this episode is a new band called Gospel Machine, who blend gospel, soul, and garage rock to create a catchy, new-old sound.

  1. Listen Local Current celebrates Women’s History Month, Episode Three


Jeanne Arland Peterson, “Rainbow Medley”
Shirley Witherspoon, “Satin Doll”
Gwen Matthews, “Dancing in the Street”
Wanda Davis, “Save Me”
Wanda Davis, “In the Pines”
Mount Olivet Baptist Church Celestial Choir feat. Cynthia Johnson, “Wings of a Dove”
Cynthia Johnson, “Let It Be”
The Sounds of Blackness feat. Thelma Buckner, “Certainly Lord”
Jearlyn Steele, “Natural Woman”
Debbie Duncan, “I Can Let Go Now”
Laura Caviani, “Monk’s Dream”
Sophia Shorai, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”
Prudence Johnson, “I Get Along Without You Very Well”
Davina and the Vagabonds, “Lipstick and Chrome”
Gospel Machine, “Just Call Me”