Joan Jett: Born 1958

Preceding her iconic and renowned status as the Queen of Noise, Joan Jett was Joan Marie Larkin, a teenaged girl sitting in her bedroom teaching herself how to play guitar. Inspired by the unapologetic eccentricity of David Bowie and undeniable moxie of Suzi Quatro, Joan yearned to push past fandom, she aspired to be a rock and roll musician.

As a rock-and-roll-obsessive-California-transplant, Joan spent many of her nights at Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco. It was there that she not only received a priceless glam rock education and famously decided to change her last name to Jett, but it was where she serendipitously met the eccentric Hollywood music producer, Kim Fowley.

Jett soon pitched Fowley her vision of forming an all-girl rock band. Recognizing the undeniable potential of such an act, Fowley pulled from his connections and before long, the Runaways was formed. Despite releasing four albums, touring with the Ramones, opening for Tom Petty, and reaching Beatle-level popularity in Japan, the Runaways and their rebellious teenaged image were met with a devastating amount harsh criticism in the US. For years, this controversial scrutiny often overshadowed their innovative sound, raw talent, and unchartered accomplishments for women in rock music.

Following the heartbreaking disbandment of the Runaways, Jett persisted on her dream of rock and roll stardom. Once prepared to release her first album, later known as Bad Reputation, Jett was rejected by 23 different American record labels. She was told to drop the guitar. Instead, Jett kept the guitar and co-founded Black Heart Records. This decision, born out of frustration and sexist music industry ideals, not only altered the trajectory of Jett’s life but established her as one of the first women to own her own label.

Joan Jett would go on to form the Black Hearts and tackle hurdles not even teenaged Joan Marie Larkin could have dreamed of happening. Joan Jett & the Black Hearts’ rendition of “I Love Rock n’ Roll” would reach number-one on the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks, and their hits “Bad Reputation,” “Crimson and Clover,” “Do You Wanna Touch Me,” and “I Hate Myself for Loving You” remain celebrated rock and roll staples to this very day. Additionally, in 2015, Joan Jett was officially recognized for her massive influence and revolutionary mainstream presence in rock music when her and the Blackhearts were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Though each of these accomplishments are grand enough to stand alone, perhaps the most enduring and consequential is Jett’s alteration of societies view of women in rock music. Through her natural talent, unwavering determination, and innate creativity, Joan Jett proved to the world that women can without a doubt play, create, and exude rock and roll.

Authored by Victoria Shaffer

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