Ani DiFranco (pronounced ) (born Angela Maria DiFranco on September 23, 1970) is an American Grammy Award-winning singer, guitarist, and songwriter. She is a prolific artist, having released over twenty albums and is widely celebrated as a feminist icon.
DiFranco was born in Buffalo, New York, to mother Elizabeth and father Dante, who both attended and met at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She started playing Beatles covers at local bars and busking with her guitar teacher, Michael Meldrum, at the age of nine.
In 1989, DiFranco started her own record company, Righteous Records (renamed Righteous Babe Records in 1994). Prior to the renaming of Righteous Records to Righteous Babe Records, DiFranco worked with manager Dale Anderson, a writer for the Buffalo News, who later started another record label called Hot Wings Records when the two parted ways. Hot Wings released the work of Buffalo area female musical performers with styles similar to that of DiFranco. Early releases of her CDs produced prior to 1994 are labeled with the original Righteous Records label. Her self-titled debut album was issued on the label in the winter of 1990. Later, she relocated to New York City, where she took poetry classes at The New School and toured vigorously.
DiFranco identifies herself as bisexual, and has written songs about love and sex with both genders. She addressed the controversy about her sexuality with the song "In or Out". In 1998, she married sound engineer Andrew Gilchrist in a Unitarian Universalist service in Canada, overseen by U.U. minister Utah Phillips. Numerous media sources reported that her fans felt betrayed by her union with a man. DiFranco and Gilchrist divorced five years later.
In 1998, DiFranco's drummer, Andy Stochansky, left the band to pursue a solo career as a singer-songwriter. Their rapport during live shows is showcased on the 1997 album Living in Clip.
DiFranco's father died early in the summer of 2004. In July 2005, DiFranco developed tendinitis and took a hiatus from touring. DiFranco had toured almost continuously in the preceding fifteen years, only taking brief breaks to record studio albums. Her 2005 tour concluded with an appearance at the FloydFest World Music and Genre Crossover festival in Floyd, Virginia. DiFranco returned to touring in late April 2006, including a performance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on April 28 and a performance at the renowned Calgary Folk Music Festival on July 30, 2006.
DiFranco gave birth to a daughter, Petah Lucia DiFranco Napolitano, at her Buffalo home on January 20, 2007. The child's father is DiFranco's new husband, Mike Napolitano, the co-producer of DiFranco's 2006 release Reprieve. Essentially a full-time resident of New Orleans, DiFranco is heavily influenced by the city's post-Katrina plight.
She has continued touring into 2008 with a backing band consisting of Todd Sickafoose on upright bass, Allison Miller on drums, and Mike Dillon on percussion and vibes. DiFranco returned to the Calgary Folk Music Festival in July 2008.
Napolitano and DiFranco wed in January 2009 in Hawaii.
Ani DiFranco, RZA, and Steve Albini at
The New Yorker festival in September 2005.
On July 21, 2006, DiFranco received the "Woman of Courage Award" at the National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference and Young Feminist Summit in Albany, New York. Past winners have included singer and actress Barbra Streisand and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. DiFranco is one of the first musicians to receive the award, given each year to a woman who has set herself apart by her contributions to the feminist movement.
DiFranco has been toasted by the Buffalo News as the "Buffalo's leading lady of rock music." The News further said:
"Through the Righteous Babe Foundation, DiFranco has backed various grassroots cultural and political organizations, supporting causes ranging from abortion rights to gay visibility."
Since 2003, DiFranco has been nominated four consecutive times for Best Recording Package at the Grammy Awards, one of which she won, in 2004, for Evolve.
Musical style and the "folk" label
DiFranco's guitar playing is often characterized by a signature staccato style, rapid fingerpicking and many alternate tunings. She delivers many of her lines in a speaking style notable for its rhythmic variation. Her lyrics, which often include alliteration, metaphor, word play and a more or less gentle irony, have also received praise for their sophistication.
Although DiFranco's music has been classified as both folk rock and alternative rock, she has reached across genres since her earliest albums. DiFranco has collaborated with a wide range of artists including pop musician Prince, folk musician and social activist Utah Phillips (on The Past Didn't Go Anywhere in 1996 and Fellow Workers in 1999), funk and soul jazz musician Maceo Parker and rapper Corey Parker. She has used a variety of instruments and styles: brass instrumentation was prevalent in 1998's Little Plastic Castle, a simple walking bass in her 1997 cover of Hal David and Burt Bacharach's "Wishin' and Hopin'", strings on the 1997 live album Living in Clip and 2004's Knuckle Down, and electronics and synthesisers in 1999's To the Teeth and in 2006's Reprieve.
DiFranco herself noted that "folk music is not an acoustic guitar ??? that's not where the heart of it is. I use the word 'folk' in reference to punk music and rap music. It's an attitude, it's an awareness of one's heritage, and it's a community. It's subcorporate music that gives voice to different communities and their struggle against authority."
Lyrics, politics and religion
Although much of DiFranco's material is autobiographical, it is often also strongly political. Many of her songs are concerned with contemporary social issues such as racism, sexism, sexual abuse, homophobia, reproductive rights, poverty, and war. The combination of personal and political is partially responsible for DiFranco's early popularity among politically active college students, particularly those of the left wing, some of whom set up fan pages on the web to document DiFranco's career as early as 1994. DiFranco's rapid rise in popularity in the mid-1990s was fuelled mostly by personal contact and word of mouth rather than mainstream media.
DiFranco has expressed political views outside of her music. During the 2000 U.S. presidential election, she actively supported and voted for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. She supported Dennis Kucinich in the 2004 and 2008 Democratic primaries. Kucinich appeared with her at a number of concerts across the country during both primary seasons. DiFranco went on to perform at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
On the subject of religion, DiFranco has stated:
"Well, I'm not a religious person myself. I'm an atheist. I think religion serves a lot of different purposes in people's lives, and I can recognize the value of that, you know, the value of ceremony, the value of community, or even just having a forum to get together and talk about ideas, about morals ??? that's a cool concept. But then, of course, institutional religions are so problematic."
Since becoming a mom and releasing her Red Letter Year album in 2009, Ani has talked in concert about "finding religion". At concerts she has stated that her song "The Atom" is an "alternative Christian proposal". In "The Atom" she sings ???Oh holy is the atom/ The truly intelligent design/ To which all of evolution/ Is graciously aligned.??? In Reno in 2008 prior to singing "The Atom", she said "I've kind of gotten religion lately, I took a sweet religion, one I am sort of familiar with and sprayed a can of patriarchy-off and this is what I came up with."
Ownership of Righteous Babe Records allows DiFranco a great deal of artistic freedom. For example, on her 2004 album Educated Guess, DiFranco played all of the instruments, provided all of the vocals, and recorded the album by herself at her home on an analog 8-track reel to reel. She was also involved in much of the artwork and design for the packaging. The only other person involved in the record's musical production was Greg Calbi, who mastered it.
References to her independence from major labels appear occasionally in DiFranco's songs, including "The Million You Never Made" (Not A Pretty Girl), which discusses the act of turning down a lucrative contract, "The Next Big Thing" (Not So Soft), which describes an imagined meeting with a label head-hunter who evaluates the singer based on her looks, and "Napoleon" (Dilate), which sympathizes sarcastically with an unnamed friend who did sign with a label.
DiFranco has occasionally joined with Prince in discussing publicly the problems associated with major record companies. Righteous Babe Records employs a number of people in her hometown of Buffalo. In a 1997 open letter to Ms. magazine she expressed displeasure that what she considers a way to ensure her own artistic freedom was seen by others solely in terms of its financial success.
On September 11, 2007, she released the first retrospective of her career, titled Canon and for the first time, a collection of poetry in a book titled Verses.
DiFranco's album Reprieve was released on August 8, 2006. It was previously leaked on iTunes for several hours around July 1, 2006, due to an error saying it was released in 2002. DiFranco performed with Cyndi Lauper on "Sisters of Avalon", a track from Lauper's 2005 collection The Body Acoustic.
She also collaborated with fellow folk singer Dar Williams on "Comfortably Numb", a Pink Floyd cover song from Williams' 2005 album, My Better Self.
In 2002 her rendition of Greg Brown's "The Poet Game" appeared on Going Driftless: An Artists' Tribute to Greg Brown.
Red Letter Year is DiFranco's most recent studio album, released on , 2008. Says DiFranco about the album:
???When I listen to my new record, I hear a very relaxed me, which I think has been absent in a lot of my recorded canon. Now I feel like I???m in a really good place. My partner Mike Napolitano co-produced this record ??? my guitar and voice have never sounded better, and that???s because of him. I???ve got this great band and crew. And my baby, she teaches me how to just be in my skin, to do less and be more.???