The Campus Center Ballroom was a place of discussion on February 28 as Judith Casselberry took the stage to reflect on her involvement in helping to build and strengthen a lesbian, feminist, musical, and artistic community.
Casselberry’s talk, which was entitled “Intentional Community Building: Blackness in Lesbian Musical Culture,” occurred on the last day of Black History Month and the day before Women’s History Month.
“That was actually kind of serendipitous,” explained Casselberry of the happenstance date. “But I’m very happy about that because I’ll be the bridge.”
As the associate professor of Africana Studies at Bowdoin College, Casselberry teaches courses on African American women’s religious lives, music and spirituality in popular culture, and music and social movements. She is also the author of The Labor of Faith: Gender and Power in Black Apostolic Pentecostalism. Casselberry has been involved with several projects, documentaries, and movements that have revolved around bringing together women of color and the LGBT community through political, social, and cultural constructs. Her involvement in the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, also known as MichFest—an annual international feminist music festival that took place in Oceana County, Michigan from 1976 to 2015—was the platform that Casselberry used to discuss the unification of women of color in the LGBT community.
“MichFest, and the entire infrastructure of the women’s music cultural network, developed as a means to celebrate, support, and disseminate the artistic production of what was termed ‘women-identified, women-made music,’” Casselberry said, calling MichFest an “infrastructure essentially rooted in lesbian-feminist ethos.”
The anthem behind MichFest was a song called “Amazon,” which was penned by the late Maxine Feldman in 1976. After playing the song for the audience, Casselberry explained the significance behind the lyrics and her role in rearranging the song for the festival’s 20th anniversary.
“Amazon means vocal potential and reality,” said Casselberry. “It’s the potential in what we can do and the reality of who we are.”
MichFest was home to 3,000 to 10,000 women once a week in the summer for 40 years. Casselberry, who both volunteered and performed at the event, called the festival a “women’s cultural phenomenon.” Though the festival is no longer running, Casselberry serves on the advisory board of the We Want the Land Coalition, a nonprofit organization that purchased the land where MichFest was previously held.
“We’re working toward actually having events and gatherings on the land,” said Casselberry. “It will be available for women and girls to create events and gather and realize their potential.”
Casselberry said she hopes audience members left the discussion with a better understanding of a world that they didn’t know about before.
“I hope that they get a sense of what it means when we focus our energies in positive directions and believe that we can actually create what we have the potential to create,” she said. “I want to see us really work together. It means that everyone has to be willing to do hard work. Everyone has to be willing to commit. Everyone has to be willing to listen and not necessarily think about our own personal agendas—but to think about the big pictures, and what’s our vision, and how do we get there.”