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Kristin Lems

It’s unlikely you’ve heard of Kristin Lems. She has been a folk musician since the 1970s or earlier. She also has a Ph.D. in English as a Second Language. She and I both were on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign/Urbana in the 1970s. I was working on my doctorate part of that time. Kristin could be seen in and around the student union (Illini Union) where she sometimes performed. I didn’t know her but I often stopped to listen to her perform on the south steps of the Illini Union.

Kristin Lems was a founder of the National Women’s Music Festival. I attended one of the first concerts of the festival held on the University of Illinois campus. I remember hearing Malvina Reynolds (Little Boxes Made of Ticky-tacky) at the festival.

The two most famous compositions by Kristin each have a reason why she and others may wish they were forgotten. One is “Mammary Glands”. This is a catchy tune with clever lyrics “… it’s just a human udder.” But it became famous when it got regular air time on Dr. Demento’s radio program as a novelty song.

The other tune is the Ballad of the ERA. This was song at rally’s across the country back when it seemed we could pass the Equal Rights Amendment. In case you don’t remember this, there still is no constitutional guarantee of equal rights between men and women in the United States. The opponents turned the ERA into fear mongering over having to share bathrooms and other ridiculous arguments.

Another song she wrote is Cuyahoga River. It is about the fire on that river in Cleveland. I lived in Cleveland while doing my post doc at Case Western Reserve University. This was after the fire, but even in the 1980s, the fire was recent enough to be a topic of conversation among locals — or those seeking to make fun of Cleveland. I have fond memories of Cleveland because it is also where my children were born.

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