Judy Corbisiero's Recollections of Women's Music in the 1970s
The following is an excerpt from an oral history interview with Judy Corbisiero (available at the Las Vegas Gay Archives)
Interview conducted by Dennis McBride (questions/comments in italics) September 5, 2003; May 21, 2004; July 2, 2004; December 10, 2004
Edited by Denise Boutin February-March 2009
How easy was it for you to finally admit, "Yeah, I'm gay." And use that word?
The only time I started coming out, really, to the public, was [when] I started producing women's music when I was living upstate New York with another woman named Janice, who was also at one time a lover of mine, and then we decided, you know, this is something we wanted to do. So we formed Summercor, Incorporated. That was her last name and my last name together—her last name was Summers (Janice Summers), and mine was Corbisiero, so we started Summercor, Incorporated. And that's what we used to do the women's music. And she really taught me everything I knew about doing women's music.
What time was that?
That was probably in the late '70s, because I moved here in '83.
The concept of women's music started coming into its own in the '70s, didn't it?
Yeah. Yeah, because Alix Dobkin was one of the first ones, and she was a very good friend of mine. She lived in Woodstock, New York, so that's where I met her. I met her when I was living upstate New York. In fact, after I was lovers with Janice, then Janice became lovers with Alix Dobkin, and then that's how I met Alix Dobkin, 'cause Janice brought her to meet me. We stayed friends, even though we broke up and everything; we still were always good friends. So I met Alix, and then I used to go around as a little groupie with Alix and Janice, doing her little gigs, wherever they went, 'cause she used to travel, and help her with the equipment. I had a great time meeting lesbians in other cities and countries. Just traveling with Alix, it was a lot of fun; I really got involved with that. So then when I moved here, to Vegas, I sort of missed that music scene 'cause I got to meet a lot of the different artists, lesbian artists, and when I came here nobody knew anything about women's music. And I was, like, totally shocked. It was like a real culture shock for me, moving here
I'd like to get into that later in more detail, but early, that you're talking about now—who were some of the other artists that you met back in the '70s?
Met personally? Debbie Fire, who was a jazz musician. Debbie Fire and Alix, mostly, and then River of Light Woman, who used to work with Alix Dobkin.
River of Light Woman?
River of Light Woman. That was a time, too, where everyone was changing their names, OK? So I don't know if that was River's real name. River obviously wasn't her real name, and then she changed it to Light Woman.
No, not even stage name. They really just changed their names. And then also during that time, what we did was.... My family was living in Long Island so I would be traveling back and forth every weekend to Long Island, so I made some friends in Long Island, too, that were lesbians that, when I needed to get away from the straight people in my family [Laughs] I found a place to go in Long Island. So, basically I became friends with some people there and friends with some people in upstate New York. So one time I proposed to them, "Hey, let's have a softball game, Long Island between upstate New York. You guys can come upstate New York, we’ll treat ya right, we'll have a softball weekend and a festival and everything.” So we did. We put it together. We had a softball game that lasted the whole weekend. We had a cruise—'cause we had the [Hudson] River right there—so we had a little cruise to start off the weekend. And then we went into the Women's Center and put on a dance that weekend. So they went a cruise first, went in to have a dance. Then the next morning we got up, we had breakfast together, we played softball, we were taking pictures the whole time—I don’t know who's got those pictures, I wish I had them—and then we had a pavilion on the softball field, so we had a couple of women that were belly dancers, so they were doing belly dancing for us at night with the percussion music and stuff, too.
You created a whole event.
Yeah, we created a whole event, the whole weekend event. Me and Janice, actually Janice and I, I should say. We put the whole thing together. And we had such a great time. It was so much fun. And the women from Long Island, I still have the picture they gave me; it's hanging in my bedroom. They gave me this picture and they mounted it and everything for me to thank me for doing the event because they had such a great time. And I don't even know who won, didn't matter. We just plain were having fun.
Did you and Janice do it again?
We did several. We did some political fundraisers, also, using music events and stuff back then. So I guess I got a little bit started in New York. That's how I met Gudrun [Fonfa], actually, was doing these things out in upstate New York.
Was she from upstate?
She had friends that were in the same area that I was living at the time and that's how I met her. And that's how we wound up coming to Las Vegas, was because of that.
How big a name did Summemrcor make for you as a producer of women's musical events?
Oh, it was only a local thing. Because upstate New York, there wasn't that many people. The only reason it made itself a name was because of Alix. So Alix was really the person that introduced me to a lot of other artists afterward, like [the] Olivia artists, and Chris Williamson, Tret Fure. Diedre McCalla, Linda Tillery, Marie Anan. You name them—Teresa Troll. Diane Davidson. I produced just about every lesbian artist that there was at the time out there.
That's very impressive. That's a great background and resume. How widely known were these artists? Of course, (they were known) among lesbians, but in the larger music scene?
That brings me to Vegas, though, with that kind of stuff. There was also an organization called.... What was the name of it? [Pauses] It was basically a women's music and culture organization and it came out of the.... Bloomingdale? Bloomfield? There's another big, major lesbian festival that happens in Bloomfield? I can't think of the right name—Indiana, somewhere in Indiana. So I met the woman from Indiana who produced this big, huge festival that happens. I met her in San Francisco, as a matter of fact—this was after moving to the West Coast, so I don’t know if I'm getting ahead of myself here. But at that, what we used to do—and this was just lesbians—we had this festival, and we'd have this conference that would be just for women that produced music. Anybody connected with women's music, so it would be your producers, anybody that wrote critical articles about them, your technicians like your sound people, lighting people, all came together. New artists, old artists, everybody came together at this festival. And what we'd do is look at new talent that was coming out at that point, and we'd also have seminars on how to be a better producer, how to direct, how to put a budget together. I mean, we taught each other. All that stuff.
That would be a fabulous background for all kinds of endeavors later on, not just producing music but coordinating political events.
And this was after I had already been doing it that I got involved with that. But I liked to go to those because you refresh yourself; you learn new organizing skills, plus I got to see new talent that nobody had seen yet, that I wanted to give a chance to. I brought somebody here [to Las Vegas].... Oh, jeez, I can't remember her name. I've got one of her CDs, I probably could show it to you. She was a comedian and singer and I saw her on one of what they call the day stages, which is the unknown.... Monica Grant! All right, that’s who it was. I saw her performing and Iliked’’ her, and I said, "I want to take you to Vegas, Baby!" [Laughs] And she was, like, "Really?" And I said, "Yeah, I'm serious." So I brought a couple of unknown people [to Las Vegas] and what I noticed in the community here is they tended to like the people that were comedians more than the singers. They didn't like the political messages. Like Alix Dobkin—they had heard for some reason, because of articles that were written, that she was a separatist. And she was, early on in her career, she was very much so a separatist. She didn’t even want any men in her audience at one time, or even little boys. No men’’! No testosterone whatsoever. But that was a phase that we all went through in the '70s, during the time they changed [their] names, there was a time when women were separatists. I wasn't part of that. I was never part of that.
Separatist feminists, the two-part moniker.
Right. I was never part of that. I came out probably just after that and they were just starting to realize that they couldn't do that, you know, anymore. But I was never a part of the genre. But I got accused of that in Nevada I don't know how many times. And I was never a part of that genre, OK? [Laughs] Never! So, I mean, in fact, I worked in a cement plant when I was living upstate New York and I was the only woman manager. I worked with all men! How could I be a separatist? A hundred and sixty men—everyday! [Laughs] People didn't know me, if they would say things like that, they didn't know my background. Didn’t know who I was.