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Ani DiFranco (IPA: ) (born Angela Maria Difranco on September 23, 1970) is a singer, guitarist, and songwriter. She is known as a prolific artist (having released seventeen albums in as many years) and is seen by many as a women's rights and feminist icon.
DiFranco was born in Buffalo, New York to an American Jewish mother and an Italian-American father, both folk music lovers. She started playing Beatles covers at local bars and busking with her guitar teacher, Michael Meldrum, at the age of nine.
In 1989, at the age of eighteen, DiFranco started her own record company, "Righteous Records" (renamed Righteous Babe Records in 1994), with just $50. Early Releases of her cds produced prior to 1994 are labeled with the original Righteous Records label. Ani DiFranco was issued on the label in the winter of 1990. Later on she relocated to New York City, where she took poetry classes at the New School and toured vigorously.
DiFranco has identified as bisexual for much of her career and in 1998, she married sound engineer Andrew Gilchrist in a Unitarian service in Canada, overseen by Unitarian minister Utah Phillips. Numerous media sources reported that her fans felt betrayed by her union with a man. DiFranco and Gilchrist divorced five years later but remain friends.
In 1998, DiFranco's drummer, Andy Stochansky, left the band to pursue a solo career as a singer-songwriter. Their rapport during live shows is showcased on the 1996 album Living In Clip.
DiFranco's father died early in the summer of 2005; however, she continued her summer tour as a tribute to him.
On July 22, 2005, DiFranco developed tendonitis and subsequently took a hiatus from touring. DiFranco had toured almost continuously in the preceding fifteen years, taking brief breaks to record studio albums. Her 2005 tour concluded with an appearance at the FloydFest World Music and Genre Crossover festival in Floyd, Virginia. DiFranco returned to touring in late April 2006, including a performance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on April 28.
DiFranco gave birth to a 7-pound, 8-ounce daughter, Petah Lucia, at her Buffalo home early Saturday morning, January 20, 2007. The child's father is Mike Napolitano, the co-producer of DiFranco's 2006 release Reprieve.
On July 21, 2006, DiFranco received the "Woman of Courage Award" at the National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference and Young Feminist Summit in Albany, NY. Past winners have included singer and actress Barbra Streisand and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. DiFranco is the first musician to receive the award, given each year to a woman who has set herself apart by her contributions to the feminist movement.
DiFranco has been toasted by the Buffalo News as the "Buffalo's leading lady of rock music." The News further said: "Through the Righteous Babe Foundation, DiFranco has backed various grassroots cultural and political organizations, supporting causes ranging from abortion rights to gay visibility."
Since 2003, DiFranco has been nominated four consecutive times for Best Recording Package at the Grammy Awards, one of which she won, in 2004, for Evolve.
DiFranco's guitar playing is often characterized by a signature staccato style, rapid fingerpicking and use of a plethora of alternate tunings. She delivers many of her lines in a speaking style notable for its rhythmic variation. Her lyrics, which often include alliteration, metaphor, word play and a more or less gentle irony, have also received praise for their sophistication. The song "Talkin' Mrs. DiFranco Blues," by Dan Bern, strings together some of the most memorable lines from DiFranco's early career for comic effects.
Although DiFranco's music has been classified as both folk rock and alternative rock, she has reached across genres since her earliest albums. DiFranco has collaborated with a wide range of artists including pop musician Prince, folk musician Utah Phillips, funk and soul jazz musician Maceo Parker and rapper Corey Parker. She has used a variety of instruments and styles: brass instrumentation was prevalent in 1998's Little Plastic Castle, a simple walking bass in her 1997 cover of Hal David and Burt Bacharach's Wishin' and Hopin', strings on the 1997 live album Living in Clip and 2004's Knuckle Down, and electronics and synths in 1999's To the Teeth and DiFranco's latest studio recording, Reprieve.
DiFranco herself noted that "folk music is not an acoustic guitar--that's not where the heart of it is. I use the word 'folk' in reference to punk music and rap music. It's an attitude, it's an awareness of one's heritage, and it's a community. It's subcorporate music that gives voice to different communities and their struggle against authority."
Although much of DiFranco's material is autobiographical, it is often also strongly political. Many of her songs are concerned with contemporary social issues such as racism, sexism, sexual abuse, homophobia, reproductive rights, poverty, and war. The combination of personal and political is partially responsible for DiFranco's early popularity among politically active college students, some of whom set up fan pages on the web to document DiFranco's career as early as 1994. Because DiFranco's rapid rise in popularity in the mid-1990s was fueled mostly by personal contact and word of mouth rather than mainstream press, fans often expressed a feeling of community with each other.
DiFranco has expressed political views outside of her music. During the 2000 U.S. presidential election, she encouraged voting for Ralph Nader in non-battleground states. She supported Dennis Kucinich in the 2004 Democratic primaries.
Ownership of Righteous Babe Records allows DiFranco a great deal of artistic freedom. For example, on her 2004 album Educated Guess, DiFranco played all of the instruments, provided all of the vocals, and recorded the album by herself at her home on an analog 8-track reel to reel. She was also involved in much of the artwork and design for the packaging. The only other person involved in the record's musical production was Greg Calbi, who mastered it.
References to her independence from major labels appear occasionally in Difranco's songs, including "The Million You Never Made" (Not A Pretty Girl), which discusses the act of turning down a lucrative contract, "The Next Big Thing" (Not So Soft), which describes an imagined meeting with a label headhunter who evaluates the singer based on her looks, and "Napoleon" (Dilate), which sympathizes sarcastically with an unnamed friend who did sign with a label. A longstanding rumor, apparently begun by Spin Magazine in 1997, suggests that the friend addressed in "Napoleon" is the musician Suzanne Vega; both DiFranco and Vega have denied this.
DiFranco has occasionally joined with Prince in discussing publicly the problems associated with major record companies. DiFranco is openly proud of her label, which employs a number of people in her hometown of Buffalo. In a 1997 open letter to Ms. magazine she expressed displeasure that what she considers a way to ensure her own artistic freedom was seen by others solely in terms of its financial success.
DiFranco's newest album, Reprieve, was released on August 8, 2006. It was previously leaked on iTunes for several hours around July 1, 2006, due to an error saying it was released in 2002.
DiFranco performed with Cyndi Lauper on "Sisters of Avalon", a track from Lauper's 2005 collection The Body Acoustic.
She also performed with fellow folk singer Dar Williams on "Comfortably Numb", a Pink Floyd cover song from Williams' 2005 album, My Better Self.
On September 11, 2007, she is set to release a new studio album, titled Canon and for the first time ever, a collection of poetry in a book titled Verses.