The Life and Songs of Jolie Rickman

"Joe Hill would be proud. Great singer and organizer." — Pete Seeger

The Musician

Jolie Rickman was a critically acclaimed musician and cultural activist with a nationwide community of support. Over a five year period Jolie was welcomed into colleges, festivals, cafes and clubs, community centers, PCs, rallies and radio stations across the United States.

Jolie took pride in the fact that listeners and critics had a difficult time categorizing or defining her eclectic sound. Comparisons included Bjork (The Willamette Weekly), Joni Mitchell (Chicago Reader), ani difranco (Syracuse Herald American), Billy Bragg (the Peace Newsletter), Tori Amos (Philadelphia City Paper), Buffy Sainte-Marie (Davis Enterprise, CA), the Violent Femmes (The Davis Enterprise, CA) and Laurie Anderson (The Davis Enterprise, CA). However, all agreed that Jolie took a fiercely independent approach to song writing and performance, willing to experiment freely with sonic, lyric and social innovation.

She appeared at over 100 colleges and universities as well as prominent North American music festivals including the Great Hudson River Clearwater Revival, Ladyfest East, North By North East (NXNE), the National Women's Studies Annual Conference, and Club Passim's "Cutting Edge of the Campfire Festival". Whether experimenting with acoustics in a cozy cafe, redefining the edges of an alternative club, or stomping out political anthems for a rallying bunch of students, Jolie's crowds claimed this hard-working girl as one of their own.

As a predominately self-tought musician with a visual impairment (Jolie developed macular degeneration as a child and was legally blind) and as consequence formulated a unique guitar and songwriting style often commented on by her musical peers. Of course a unique guitar style may be an equal result of her quirky personality, but guitarists often learn technique by watching other players and this option wasn't really open to Jolie. Jolie leaves behind a too-small but remarkable body of songs many which she recorded herself. However, since her passing there have been a series of annual tribute concerts in honor of her songs and memory. Also, other performers have begun performing or recording her songs which is one of the ways we hope her music will stay alive and relevant. Recordings so far include:

The Organizer

Jolie was a leader among artist-activists. She created, co-created or participated in a number of successful, nationally-touring road shows including Sing It Down, a multi-media event to close the US Army School of the Americas, and ARTCAR!, a feminist tour that encouraged women to pick up instruments and take to the streets. Jolie was briefly the music coordinator for Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now and—when she was diagnosed with cancer—was working to create HEN, a nonprofit providing small grants for performers who align their work with movements for justice.

Jolie's events often included dynamic daytime workshops which reflect her experiences. These workshops include:

  • The News: An interactive recording project documenting the work of local artist/activist/participants.
  • Creative Careering: Thinking outside of the box and dreaming up a practical reality.
  • Artists Against CAFTA & the FTAA: Aligning the arts with movements to stop corporate globalization.

If anyone is interested in recording one of Jolie's songs, or knows of other artists performing or recording her music please contact us here so we can keep a record for Jolie's music, and for permissions if planning to record.

The Recordings

Jolie recorded three full-length cd's. Her last, Suffer to be Beautiful (2000), honors beauty in untraditional forms. The album occupies an autonomous zone where folk, rock and punk merrily mix and mingle. Sing It Down: Songs to Close the School of the Americas (1999) was a collaborative writing project with fellow singer songwriter Colleen Kattau, and was used as a foundation for multi-media tour that criss-crossed the country raising awareness and inspiring action to close the SOA. Her first full-length cd, Sublime Detonation (1998) has a more traditional folk married to unconventional song writing and unexpected lyrics. Cuts from Suffer, the collaborative, Sing It Down: Songs to Close the School of the Americas, Sublime Detonation have received widespread airplay including the nationally-syndicated programs The Midnight Express (WFMT Chicago) and Pacifica's Democracy Now, and awards including Song of the Year by the Syracuse New Times.


Raised outside of Chicago, Jolie began vocal training at age ten. She studied guitar at the Old Town School of Folk Music in the early nineties before moving to Sydney, Australia where she formed her first band. Returning home she studied with Marcia Turner and Coretta Scott King at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, GA. She then moved to Syracuse, NY to pursue a PhD in Music and Social Movements, eventually settling in Brooklyn, NY.

It was during her time in Brooklyn that Jolie was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer which eventually claimed her life after a year-long struggle. As with anything Jolie set her mind to, she refused to be beaten by the disease, finding strength and contentment knowing she'd touched the lives of thousands of people with her music. Jolie devoted her life toward an ideal of social justice and believed art to be a powerful means of creating radical grass roots change. Even now, through the legacy of her songs, Jolie continues to reach new audiences with the message that each of us can speak up and make a difference in our lives and in the world. Jolie, you are loved and missed.

"Like a singular, one woman version of the Violent Femmes."
The Syracuse New Times, Syracuse, NY

"If Bjork were a progressive folk singer and didn't sound like ani difranco, she might sound something like Jolie Rickman... her voice is centrally weird & wonderful."
Willamette Weekly, Portland, OR