Japan's Nightingale Geisha Singers: Listening to Women Through Audio Media


  • Gretchen Jude Yokohama National University, Japan




alternative modernity, traditional Japanese music, media, popular music, women in music


This paper examines the emergence and disappearance of Japan’s geisha kashu recording stars over the course of the 20th century, delving into their extensive body of audio recordings, which includes songs by some of Japan's most important early popular composers. Clarifying the distinction between geisha and the geisha recording stars, this paper traces the relationship between “traditional” Japanese musical forms (specifically, the complex of short shamisen songs long associated with geisha) and the popular genres that also comprised the geisha stars' repertoire. While historical audio media provide a valuable resource for scholars and fans alike, unconscious habits and unexamined discourses of listening may lead to the replication of orientalist and sexist stereotypes—and ultimately a superficial experience of the music. As a corrective to such tendencies in audience reception, this paper gives an overview of the key cultural and historical contexts of the geisha recording stars, including their contributions to the careers of several of well-respected composers. Attending to the sometimes difficult circumstances faced by geisha recording stars (and their geisha sisters) may rectify the image of these critically neglected women artists, ultimately providing a necessary counterpoint to the predominance of male musicians and male-centred musical genres in the Japanese canon.


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Author Biography

Gretchen Jude, Yokohama National University, Japan

Gretchen Jude is a postdoctoral research fellow sponsored by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (Gakushin), in the Department of Music Education at Yokohama National University. Jude holds an MFA in Electronic Music and Recording Media from Mills College (California) and PhD in Performance Studies from the University of California Davis, as well as performance certification from the Sawai Koto Institute in Tokyo. Jude is currently working on a monograph about Ichimaru and her fellow geisha recording stars.


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How to Cite

Jude, G. (2020). Japan’s Nightingale Geisha Singers: Listening to Women Through Audio Media. Malaysian Journal of Music, 9, 101–114. https://doi.org/10.37134/mjm.vol9.8.2020