Ani DiFranco

Ani DiFranco

Promotional shot of Ani DiFranco in 2016
Background information
Birth name Angela Maria DiFranco[1]
Born (1970-09-23) September 23, 1970
Buffalo, New York, United States
Genres Folk rock, alternative rock, punk rock
Occupation(s) Musician, singer-songwriter, poet
Instruments Guitar, bass guitar, tenor guitar, vocals, percussion, piano
Years active 1989–present
Labels Righteous Babe

Ani DiFranco (/ˈɑːn/; born Angela Maria DiFranco; September 23, 1970) is an American singer, multi-instrumentalist, poet, songwriter and businesswoman. She has released more than 20 albums[2] and is widely considered a feminist icon.[3][4][5] DiFranco has received positive feedback from critics for much of her career.

Although DiFranco's music has been classified as both folk rock and alternative rock, she has reached across genres since her earliest albums incorporating first punk, then funk, hip hop, and jazz influences. She was one of the first independent musicians to create her own record label (Righteous Babe), a move that has given her significant creative freedom.

From the earliest days of her career, DiFranco has lent her voice and her name to a broad range of social movements, performing benefit concerts, appearing on benefit albums, and speaking at rallies. Through the Righteous Babe Foundation, DiFranco has backed various grassroots cultural and political organizations, supporting causes ranging from abortion rights to gay visibility.

Life and career

DiFranco was born in Buffalo, New York,[6] the daughter of Elizabeth (Ross) and Dante Americo DiFranco, who had met while attending MIT.[7][8][9] Her father was of Italian descent, and her mother was from Montreal.[10] DiFranco started playing Beatles covers at local bars and busking with her guitar teacher, Michael Meldrum,[11] at the age of nine. By fourteen she was penning her own songs and playing her original material at bars and coffee houses throughout her teen years. DiFranco graduated from the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts high school at the age of sixteen and began attending classes at Buffalo State College that same year. She was already living alone, having moved out of her mother's apartment after she became an emancipated minor at age 15.[12]

In 1989 at the age of 18, DiFranco started her own record company, Righteous Babe Records.[2] Her self-titled debut album was issued on the label in the winter of 1990, shortly after she had relocated to New York City. There, she took poetry classes at The New School where she met poet Sekou Sundiata who was to become a friend and mentor. She toured vigorously for the next 15 years, essentially pausing briefly only to record albums. Appearances at Canadian folk festivals and increasingly larger venues in the U.S. cemented her growing presence on the North American folk and roots scene.

In September 1995, DiFranco participated in a concert at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland Ohio, inaugurating the opening of the Woody Guthrie Archives in New York City. She later released a CD on Righteous Babe of the concert entitled "Til We Outnumber Em" (featuring artists such as DiFranco, Billy Bragg, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Arlo Guthrie, Indigo Girls, Dave Pirner, Tim Robbins, and Bruce Springsteen) with 100% of proceeds going to the Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum educational department.[13]

DiFranco toured solo throughout the early and mid 1990s and also as a duo with Canadian drummer Andy Stochansky. Bassist Sara Lee joined the touring group in 1996. Their rapport during live shows is showcased on the 1997 album Living in Clip. DiFranco would later release Lee's solo album Make It Beautiful on Righteous Babe.

In 1998, Stochansky left to pursue a solo career as a singer-songwriter. A new touring ensemble consisting of Jason Mercer on bass, Julie Wolf on keyboards, and Daren Hahn on drums, augmented at times by a horn section, accompanied DiFranco on tour between 1998 and 2002.[14]

The 1990s were a period of heightened exposure for DiFranco, as she continued playing ever larger venues around the world and attracted international attention of the press, including cover stories in Spin, Ms., and Magnet, among others,[15] as well as appearances on MTV and VH1. Her playfully ironic cover of the Bacharach/David song "Wishin' and Hopin'" appeared under the opening titles of the film My Best Friend's Wedding.[16] She guest starred on an 1998 episode of the Fox sitcom King of the Hill, voicing Peggy's feminist guitar teacher Emily.[17] Beginning in 1999, Righteous Babe Records began to release albums by other artists including Sekou Sundiata, Michael Meldrum, Arto Lindsay, Bitch and Animal, That One Guy, Utah Phillips, Hamell on Trial, Andrew Bird, Kurt Swinghammer, Sara Lee, Buddy Wakefield, Anais Mitchell, and Nona Hendryx.

On September 11, 2001, DiFranco was in Manhattan and later penned the poem "Self Evident" about the experience. The poem was featured in the book It's a Free Country: Personal Freedom in America After September 11, edited by Danny Goldberg, Victoria Goldberg, and Robert Greenwald. The poem's title also became the name of DiFranco's first book of poetry released exclusively in Italy by Minimum Fax. It was later featured in a book of her poetry published in the U.S. by Seven Stories press, entitled Verses.[18] DiFranco has written and performed many spoken-word pieces throughout her career and was showcased as a poet on the HBO series Def Poetry in 2005

Her father died early in the summer of 2004.[19] In July 2005, DiFranco developed tendonitis and took a nine-month hiatus from touring.

On September 11, 2007, she released the first retrospective of her career, a two disc compilation entitled Canon and simultaneously released a retrospective collection of poetry book Verses. Red Letter Year was released on September 30, 2008.

DiFranco performing in 2008

DiFranco performed a live webcast from Ex'pression College for Digital Arts[20] on June 24, 2010. She debuted a selection of new material, including the songs "Which Side Are You On?" (a reworking of the Florence Reece song with different lyrics penned by DiFranco), "Life Boat", "Unworry", "Promiscuity", "Splinter", "Amendment", "See See..." and "Hearse".

DiFranco's touring band and recordings have featured the bass player Todd Sickafoose since her 2005 release Knuckle Down (co-produced by Joe Henry) and in turns other musicians such as Allison Miller, Andy Borger, Herlin Riley, and Terence Higgins on drums and Mike Dillon on percussion and vibes.

In 2009 DiFranco appeared at Pete Seeger's 90th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden, debuting her revamped version of the 1930s labor anthem "Which Side Are You On?" in a duet with Bruce Cockburn and also duetting with Kris Kristofferson on the folk classic "There's a Hole in the Bucket".

DiFranco released an album of new material on January 17, 2012, titled ¿Which Side Are You On?. It includes collaborations with Pete Seeger, Ivan Neville, Cyril Neville, Skerik, Adam Levy, Righteous Babe recording artist Anaïs Mitchell, CC Adcock, and a host of New Orleans-based horn players known for their work in such outfits as Galactic, Bonerama, and Rebirth Brass Band.

Ani DiFranco, RZA, and Steve Albini at The New Yorker festival in September 2005.


DiFranco identifies herself as bisexual,[21] and has written songs about love and sex with women and men. She addressed the controversy about her sexuality with the song "In or Out". In 1998, she married sound engineer Andrew Gilchrist in a Unitarian Universalist service in Canada. DiFranco and Gilchrist divorced five years later.

DiFranco gave birth to a daughter, Petah Lucia DiFranco Napolitano,[22] at her Buffalo home January 20, 2007. She married the child's father, Mike Napolitano,[23] also her regular producer, in 2009.

In an interview on September 13, 2012, DiFranco mentioned that she was pregnant with her second child.[24] She gave birth to a second child, a son Dante DiFranco Napolitano, April 6, 2013.[25]

She and her husband currently reside in the Bywater neighborhood[26] of New Orleans.[27][28]

Critical reception

DiFranco has been a critical success for much of her career, though not a commercial one by major label standards, with a career album average of 72 on Metacritic.[29] Living in Clip, DiFranco's 1998 double live album, is the only one to achieve gold record status to date. DiFranco has been praised by the Buffalo News as the "Buffalo's leading lady of rock music".[30]

Starting in 2003, DiFranco was nominated four consecutive times for Best Recording Package at the Grammy Awards, winning in 2004, for Evolve.[31]

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, New York. Past winners have included singer and actress Barbra Streisand and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. DiFranco is one of the first musicians to receive the award, given each year to a woman who has set herself apart by her contributions to the feminist movement.[32]

In 2009 DiFranco became a Woody Guthrie Award recipient, as a voice of positive social change.[33]



DiFranco's guitar playing is often characterized by a signature staccato style,[34][35] rapid fingerpicking and many 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.

DiFranco in concert

Although DiFranco's music has been classified as both folk rock and alternative rock, she has reached across genres since her earliest albums incorporating first punk, then funk, hiphop, and jazz influences.

While primarily an acoustic guitarist 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 synthesisers in 1999's To the Teeth and 2006's 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."[36]

Musical collaborations, cover versions, and samples

DiFranco has also collaborated with a wide range of artists. In 1997 she appeared on Canadian songwriter Bruce Cockburn's Charity of Night album. In 1998 she produced fellow folksinger Dan Bern's album Fifty Eggs.

She developed a deep association with folksinger and social activist Utah Phillips throughout the mid-1990s, sharing her stage and her audience with the older musician until his death in 2008 and resulting in two collaborative albums: The Past Didn't Go Anywhere, 1996, and Fellow Workers,1999 (with liner notes by Howard Zinn).[37] The Past is built around Phillips's storytelling, an important part of his art that had not previously been documented on recordings; on the album, DiFranco provides musical settings for his speaking voice.[36] The followup, Fellow Workers, was recorded live in Daniel Lanois's Kingsway Studio in New Orleans and features Phillips fronting DiFranco's touring band for a collection of songs and stories.

Prince recorded two songs with DiFranco in 1999, "Providence" on her To the Teeth album, and "I Love U, But I Don't Trust U Anymore" on Prince's Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic album.[38] Funk and soul jazz musician Maceo Parker and rapper Corey Parker have both appeared on DiFranco's albums[39] and featured appearances by her on theirs. Parker and Di Franco toured together in 1999.

She has appeared on several compilations of the songs of Pete Seeger and frequented his Hudson Clearwater Revival Festival.[40] In 2001 she appeared on Brazilian artist Lenine's album Falange Canibal. In 2002 her rendition of Greg Brown's "The Poet Game" appeared on Going Driftless: An Artist’s Tribute to Greg Brown. Also in 2002 she recorded a duet with Jackie Chan of the Irving Gordon song "Unforgettable" for a record of unlikely collaborations entitled When Pigs Fly: Songs You Never Thought You’d Hear.[41]

In 2005 she appeared on Dar Williams' record My Better Self, dueting on William's cover of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb". She performed with Cyndi Lauper on "Sisters of Avalon" a track from Lauper's 2005 The Body Acoustic album. In 2006 she produced Hamell on Trial's album Songs for Parents Who Enjoy Drugs. In 2008 she appeared on Todd Sickafoose's album Tiny Resisters. In 2010 she co-produced a track with Margaret Cho called "Captain Cameltoe" for the comedian's Cho Dependant album. In 2011 she appeared on Rob Wasserman's album Note of Hope, an exploration of the writings of Woody Guthrie with musical accompaniment, though the track in which she appeared, "Voice", was actually recorded 13 years earlier. Also in 2011 she duetted with Greg Dulli on the Twilight Singers record Dynamite Steps.[42]

Other artists have covered and sampled DiFranco's work throughout the years. Her spoken word poem "Self Evident" was covered by Public Enemy founder Chuck D's group called Impossebulls. Alana Davis had some commercial success with DiFranco's song 32 Flavors.

Samples from the track "Coming Up" were used by DJ Spooky in his album Live Without Dead Time, produced for AdBusters Magazine in 2003.

Lyrics, politics and religion

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. In 2008, she donated a song to Aid Still Required's CD to assist with the restoration of the devastation done to Southeast Asia from the 2004 Tsunami. The combination of personal and political is partially responsible for DiFranco's early popularity among politically active college students, particularly those of the left wing, some of whom set up fan pages on the web to document DiFranco's career as early as 1994. DiFranco's rapid rise in popularity in the mid-1990s was fueled mostly by personal contact and word of mouth rather than mainstream media.[43]

DiFranco has expressed political views outside of her music. During the 2000 U.S. presidential election, she actively supported and voted for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader.[44][45][46] She supported Dennis Kucinich in the 2004 and 2008 Democratic primaries. Kucinich appeared with her at a number of concerts across the country during both primary seasons.[47][48] DiFranco went on to perform at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

DiFranco has described herself as an atheist. On the subject of religion, DiFranco has stated:

Well, I'm not a religious person myself. I'm an atheist. I think religion serves a lot of different purposes in people's lives, and I can recognize the value of that, you know, the value of ceremony, the value of community, or even just having a forum to get together and talk about ideas, about morals – that's a cool concept. But then, of course, institutional religions are so problematic.[49]

Label independence

Ani cites her anti-corporate ethos for the main reason she decided to start her own label. This has allowed her a considerable degree of creative freedom[50] over the years, including, for example, providing all instrumentals and vocals and recording the album herself at her home on an analog 8-track reel to reel, and handling much of the artwork and packaging design for her 2004 album Educated Guess.[51] She has referenced this independence from major labels in song more than once, 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 head-hunter who evaluates the singer based on her looks, and "Napoleon" (Dilate), which sympathizes sarcastically with an unnamed friend who did sign with a label.

The business grew organically starting in 1990 with the first cassette tape. Connections were made when women in colleges started duplicating and sharing tapes. Offers to play at colleges started coming in and her popularity grew largely by word of mouth and through women's groups or organizations.[43] Zango and Goldenrod, two music distributors specializing in women's music, started carrying DiFranco's music. In general they sold music to independent music stores and women's book stores. In 1995 Righteous Babe Records signed with Koch International for DiFranco's release of Not a Pretty Girl. Her records could then be found in large and small record stores alike.

DiFranco has occasionally joined with Prince in discussing publicly the problems associated with major record companies. Righteous Babe Records employs a number of people in her hometown of Buffalo. In a 1997 open letter to Ms. magazine[52] 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.


From the earliest days of her career, Ani DiFranco has lent her voice and her name to a broad range of social movements, performing benefit concerts, appearing on benefit albums, speaking at rallies, and offering info table space to organizations at her concerts and the virtual equivalent on her website, among other methods and actions. In 1999 she created her own not-for-profit organization; as the Buffalo News has reported,"Through the Righteous Babe Foundation, DiFranco has backed various grassroots cultural and political organizations, supporting causes ranging from abortion rights to gay visibility."[53]

During the first Gulf War, DiFranco participated in the anti-war movement. In the early 1993 she played Pete Seeger's Clearwater Folk Festival for the first time. In 1998 she was a featured performer in the Dead Man Walking benefit concert series[54] raising money for Sister Helen Prejean's "Not in Our Name" anti-death penalty organization. DiFranco's commitment to opposing the death penalty is longstanding; she has also been a long time supporter of the Southern Center for Human Rights.

In 2004 DiFranco visited Burma in order to learn about the Burmese resistance movement and the country's fight for democracy.[55] During her travels she met with then-detained resistance leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Her song "In The Way" was later featured on For the Lady, a benefit CD that donated all proceeds to the United States Campaign for Burma.[56]

On the home front, DiFranco has also been outspoken defender of democracy. During the 2004 presidential primaries, she openly and enthusiastically supported liberal, anti-war Democrat Dennis Kucinich. Congressman Kucinich appeared on stage with her at several concerts and she spoke positively about him from the stage at many more of her concerts. After the primary season ended, and Kerry was the clear Democratic candidate, DiFranco wrote an open letter of conditional support for independent candidate Ralph Nader.[57] The same year she launched a "Vote, Dammit" tour of swing states encouraging audience members to register to vote.[58] In 2005 she lobbied Congress against the proliferation of nuclear power in general and the placement of nuclear waste dumps on Indian land in particular.[59][60] In 2008 she backed candidate Dennis Kucinich in his bid for the presidency.[61]

In 2002 Righteous Babe Records established the "Aiding Buffalo's Children" program in conjunction with members of the local community to raise funds for Buffalo's imperiled public school system. To kick off the program, DiFranco donated "a day's pay"—the performance fee from her concert that year at Shea's Performing Arts Center— to ABC and challenged her fans to do the same. Aiding Buffalo's Children has since been folded into the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo, contributing to a variety of charitable funds.[62]

In 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated DiFranco's newly adopted home town of New Orleans she collected donations from fans around the world through The Righteous Babe Store website for the Katrina Piano Fund,[63] helping musicians replace instruments lost in the hurricane, raising over $47,500 for the cause.

In 2010 when the BP Oil Spill crippled the Gulf she donated her talents to the "For Our Coast”benefit concert joining Marianne Faithfull, C.C. Adcock and others at the Acadiana Center for the Arts Theater in Lafayette, raising money for Gulf Aid Acadiana, and the Gulf Aid show with Lenny Kravitz, Mos Def, and many more at Mardi Gras World River City in New Orleans, both shows raising money to help protect the wetlands, clean up the coast and to assist the fishermen and their families affected by the spill.[64]

DiFranco also sits on the board for The Roots of Music,[65] founded by Rebirth Brass Band drummer Derrick Tabb. The organization fills a void in music education in New Orleans educational institutions by providing free Marching Band instruction to area children in addition to academic tutoring and mentoring.

DiFranco joined about 500,000 people at the March for Women's Lives in DC in April 2004 to voice her support for women's rights. As an honored guest she marched in the front row for the three-mile route, along with Margaret Cho, Janeane Garofalo, Whoopi Goldberg, Gloria Steinem and many others. Later in the day, Ani played a few songs on the main stage in front of the Capitol, including "Your Next Bold Move".[66]

Scot Fisher, Righteous Babe label president and DiFranco's longtime manager, has been a longtime advocate of the preservation movement in Buffalo. In 1999 he and DiFranco purchased a decaying church on the verge of demolition in downtown Buffalo and began the lengthy process of restoring it. In 2006 the building opened its doors again, first briefly as "The Church" and then as "Babeville,” housing two concert venues, the record label's business office, and Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center.[67]

2014 Righteous Retreat

In 2013 DiFranco was criticized on social media and faced "a great deal of outcry"[68] after the announcement that she was hosting a three-day artists' workshop billed as the "Righteous Retreat" at Iberville Parish's Nottoway Plantation in White Castle, Louisiana.[69][70] Nottoway was one of the largest plantations in the South, and features the largest antebellum mansion. Its operator and founder John Randolph owned over 155 slaves in the year 1860.[71] The grounds are now operated as a luxury resort.[72] Critics charged that the resort's promotional material attempts to portray the plantation owner in a positive light,[73] to downplay the suffering of the slaves, and to "sanitize" and "romanticize" the history of slavery for commercial gain.[68][74][75][76][77] DiFranco's choice of venue for the retreat was called "a very blatant display of racism" on a petition at that collected more than 2,600 signatures.[78]

On December 29, 2013 DiFranco issued a statement that she was cancelling the retreat, stating that "i am not unaware of the mechanism of white privilege or the fact that i need to listen more than talk when it comes to issues of race. if nottoway is simply not an acceptable place for me to go and try to do my work in the eyes of many, then let me just concede before more divisive words are spilled. ... i think many positive and life-affirming connections would have been made at this conference, in its all of its complexity of design. i do not wish to reinvent the righteous retreat at this point to eliminate the stay at the Nottoway Plantation. at this point I wish only to cancel."[79] The singer's statements were called "remarkably unapologetic" on,[70][73] and "a variety of excuses and justifications" on,[75] and a piece at said the announcement made "much of the idea that this was all a mistake, with no indication of remorse."[77]

DiFranco issued an apology on January 2, 2014 following continued criticism. In it, she wrote "..i would like to say i am sincerely sorry. it is obvious to me now that you were right - all those who said we can't in good conscience go to that place and support it or look past for one moment what it deeply represents. i needed a wake up call and you gave it to me."[80]

Awards and nominations

Year Nominated work Award Result
1997 "Shy" Grammy Awards, Best Female Rock Vocal Performance Nominated
1998 "Glass House" Grammy Awards, Best Female Rock Vocal Performance Nominated
1999 "Little Plastic Castle" Gay/Lesbian American Music Awards/ Best Rock/ Alternative Song Won
1999 Ani DiFranco Gay/Lesbian American Music Awards/ OutMusic Award Won
1999Ani DiFranco Gay/Lesbian American Music Awards/ Female Artist of the Year Won
2000 "Hello Birmingham" Planned Parenthood Maggie Award for Media ExcellenceWon
2000 "Jukebox" Grammy Awards, Best Rock Vocal Performance- Female Nominated
2000 Fellow Workers Grammy Awards, Best Contemporary Folk AlbumNominated
2000 Ani DiFranco Gibson Guitar Award, Best Acoustic Artist Female Won
2004 Evolve Grammy Awards, Best Recording Package Won
2004 Ani DiFranco Southern Center for Human Rights, Human Rights Award Won
2005 Educated Guess Grammy Awards, Best Contemporary Folk Album Nominated
2005 Educated Guess Grammy Awards, Best Recording Package Nominated
2006 Knuckle Down Grammy Awards, Best Recording Package Nominated
2006 Ani DiFranco National Organization of Women, Woman of Courage Award Won
2007 Reprieve Grammy Awards, Best Recording Package Nominated
2008 "State of Mind" BMI Cable Award Won
2009 Ani DiFranco Woodie Guthrie Award Won
2013 Ani DiFranco Winnipeg Folk Festival Artistic Achievement Award Won


Studio albums

With Utah Phillips

Live albums




Other contributions


See also


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