She Rocks Awards to Honor Music’s Trailblazers Who Give Back

Learning how to sing along came very early on in Noelle Scaggs’ childhood. 

Initially, the lead vocalist of indie pop-neo soul band Fitz and the Tantrums had been absorbed by the diverse audio ecosystem of her DJ-father’s record collection. Listening to disco and funk— everything from Barry White to Karyn White to Lisa Stansfield—she began writing the lyrics down. It wasn’t long before she signed up for her first talent show singing En Vogue’s “Can’t Stay Away.” 

“That’s basically how I grew up,” Scaggs tells LAMag. “I learned how to sing listening to these albums, singing along, and having access to 92.3–our go-to radio station here in L.A.” 

Decades later, not only has Scaggs moved from talent shows to late-night shows and worldwide tours, but she is now one of 10 recipients of a 2023 Women’s International Music Network’s She Rocks Award, which will be handed out on Thursday in Anaheim. The honor, which has been bestowed upon legends including Dionne Warwick, Nancy Wilson, Pat Benatar, and Chaka Khan, is for women who are not only involved in making music but who are pushing its boundaries to catalyze broad change and innovation.

Scaggs is being honored not just for being a hitmaker but as the 2021 founder of Diversify the Stage, an organization that advocates for inclusive, equitable, and accessible touring workforces for underrepresented communities. “When I got into the music and entertainment industry, it wasn’t really to become a star,” Scaggs says, admittedly driven by the normalized lack of diversity she saw firsthand when initially touring. “I think there are so many efforts out there when we’re thinking about how people utilize their money. Like cancer research is amazing, right? But not everybody has cancer. Now, though, we’re looking at a real situation in our political environment where so many communities feel like they’re the enemy. Access to resources that could, at minimum, help someone learn how to build something for themselves is so far apart.”  

Using platforms of creativity for addressing such needs is part of what WIMN founder Laura B. Whitmore was pondering in 2012 when she first developed the network. Initially, Whitmore wanted to create an event that brought women in the music industry together–whether they were songwriters, producers, or instrument-makers. That was the scaffolding for what became WIMN and the She Rocks Awards, which held its first ceremony in 2012. When filtering through the massive flood of awards nominees each year, Whitmore says she has one guiding constraint: “Who do we think is a great role model that is doing groundbreaking things?”

Laura B. Whitmore at the 2020 She Rocks Award ceremony.

These groundbreakers, year to year, come from a massive range of roles in the music and audio industry. This year, there’s Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Judy Collins; YouTube music phenom Mary Spender; COO of the music education program School of Rock, Stacey Ryan; and music photographer Lisa S. Johnson. Their beginnings can be traced back to days spent exploring family record collections, joining church choirs, and listening to traditional African music in elementary music class. Some were even pursuing some facsimile of coolness. 

“I always thought that the drummer looked the coolest in the videos that I would watch on MTV,” says honoree Kat Wing of her own migration towards percussion and, eventually, the youngest Marketing VP of electronic instrument manufacturer and distributor Roland Americas.  

For Whitmore, what brings these honorees together is the effort they make to empower others. 

“The sensibility that women bring to the table has been undervalued in the past,” she tells LAMag. “It’s the thing about having the grit to power through. Seeing that makes you feel like you can do it too.” 

The notion of perseverance and the role it plays in defining musical changemakers is what honoree Michelle Belle, VP of Creative at Jay Z’s entertainment agency Roc Nation, has embraced in her own career. As a songwriter, producer, and music-licensing specialist, she’s collaborated with everyone from Mary J. Blige to Nas, Jennifer Lopez and Sean Combs. “I kind of just left Ohio and got on the bus to New York with my parents saying, yeah like 100,000 other kids are also getting off the bus. You’re probably not going to make it.” Yet true grit pushed her forward. “If you give someone the opportunity to rise to the occasion, they will. But you have to give them the opportunity,” she says. 

“I think it’s very important for women in music to be there to mentor young women coming into spaces that have been historically reserved or thrust upon men,” says fellow honoree Shelly Peiken, who’s perhaps best known for co-writing Meredith Brooks’ Grammy-nominated “Bitch,” Her songs have also been recorded by musical mammoths like Gladys Knight, Chrissie Hynde, and Joe Cocker. Today, Peiken has been increasingly interested in just how much of the musical world excites her beyond the boundaries of writing pop songs. She’s currently advocating for creators’ rights, writing a musical, and teaching a remote songwriting class to students in Nashville. “I never took for granted that I made it,” she says.

As each of the honorees readies for the She Rocks Awards, innovating and fighting for change—and celebrating the grit to see this through—is front of mind and never lost.

“Innovation means never being afraid to walk on your own,” says Scaggs. “Innovators are those who aren’t waiting for someone else to start.”   

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