Contributed by Debra Barsha and Sheilah Rae in honor of the 100th Anniversary of the Women’s Suffragist legally getting the right to vote.
Broadway veterans Debra Barsha and Sheilah Rae wrote this anthem after Sheilah received a call from an old friend in California who was a major political fundraiser there. Having worked with Obama and Clinton, her friend knew the demographics for voters and in light of that, wanted an anthem that would celebrate the 100th anniversary of women legally getting the right to vote. She felt that it would rally female voters to turn up in the polls in 2020. She asked that it be a kind of ‘We Are The World’ for women. Sheilah immediately brought the idea to Debra, and they were able to send a completed song within a few days back to California. Unfortunately, it was early in the election game, with no selected candidates, and no real platforms presented among the leading organizations, so Sheilah’s contact had to wait to start submitting the song where it most needed to be heard.
As election day began to approach, and the celebrations for the 100th Anniversary of the Women’s Suffragist movement began across the country, Debra and Sheilah thought they couldn’t wait any longer, with this wonderful song sitting on their pianos. This then became their passion project.
Debra enlisted her sister, video producer and editor Janice Avery Barsha of Seventy Degrees Productions in Boston, who was incredibly moved by the song, and had an idea of how she could translate the lyric and emotion she felt, into a celebratory video. They began work with a researcher and film archivist, to find images to suit the lyric, and remain strong to the idea a celebration of women, the 100th Anniversary of the Suffragists, and how women can make a difference at the polls in this important year of getting out the vote.
Sheilah Rae is a well-known composer-lyricist and her musicals, The Belle of Tombstone and Funny, You Don’t Look Like A Grandmother have had productions all across the country. Belle had a substantial off-Broadway run in 2011, and she is also the co-founder and President Emeritas of the theatre company NY Theatre Barn, known for its development and incubation of new musicals. Debra Barsha is not only a well respected conductor, arranger, and musical director of Broadway shows such as Jersey Boys and Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, but is the composer and co-lyricist of the much loved award winning musical Radiant Baby (about the life of graffiti artist Keith Haring), which was directed by George C. Wolfe at the Public Theater. She also wrote A Taste of Things to Come, an all-female musical, which has had productions off-Broadway and across the country. Before the pandemic she was currently playing keyboard for the Broadway musical Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.
These two collaborators have been writing together for a number of years, and have also created an evening of musicals based on the short stories of Edna Ferber, for the Ferber Estate, one called Every Other Thursday which was presented at NJ Rep and is published in a collection called Five by Ferber. They most recently wrote a short musical which they hope will have a life as a Web/TV series, based on the short story of Megan McCafferty’s From This Moment. Their 10-minute musical about Cooper Union’s origins has been presented off-Broadway by The Prospect Theatre Co. and the Metropolitan Playhouse.
Once Debra and Sheilah knew they needed to produce a version of their song that would rally women everywhere, they enlisted the brilliant talent Wonu Ogunfowara to sing the lead vocal. Debra had worked with her at ‘Summer’, and Wonu had recently starred in ‘A Bronx Tale’ on Broadway. Debra’s colleague from ’Summer’, conductor/music producer Taylor Peckham did the arrangement, and Debra and Sheilah were both blown away by Taylor’s instrumentation and tasteful orchestration of the song. Harris M. Turner then joined Wonu to provide all the back-up vocals.
Debra and Sheilah’s goal for this video is to have as many women as possible see it, relate to it, and convey its message across the country and around the world. As Letty Pogrebin, co-founder of Ms. Magazine said, “this video zeroes in on a number of intersectional feminist issues while highlighting remarkable women, from suffragists who won passage of the 19th Amendment 100 years ago to Michele Obama, Oprah, RGB, Greta Thunberg, Nancy Pelosi, AOC… female presidential primary candidates, soldiers, activists, athletes and wonderful little girls. By the end, I was weeping. And proud.”
All photos: Courtesy of “Turn It All Around”