Born in Buffalo, New York, DiFranco, the daughter of two folk music loving parents, started playing Beatles' covers at local bars with her guitar teacher at the age of nine, and built her career from there.
By the time she was fifteen, her family life imploded. At this time, she moved out on her own, supporting herself mainly by her vocal performances, but still managed to graduate from The Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts school.
In 1989, at the age of eighteen, DiFranco started her own record company, Righteous Babe Records, with just $50, and recorded Ani DiFranco, issued in the winter of 1990. Later on she relocated to New York City and toured vigorously.
She is openly bisexual and, in 1998, married sound engineer Andrew Gilchrist. They separated five years later but remain friends.
Musical Style and the Folk LabelMany have noted a signature staccato style to DiFranco's work. Another important aspect is her skill in rapid fingerpicking and generally high ability on the acoustic guitar—notably in the song Out of Range, appearing on the eponymous album. Her lyrics have also received praise for their sophistication: alliteration (and wordplay in general) is an important component, and a more or less gentle irony fills many of her songs—especially those that deal with the intersection of the personal and political. She is known for her descriptive use of metaphors. She delivers many of her lines in a speaking style notable for its rhythmic variation. The song Talkin' Ani DiFranco's Mom Blues, a talking blues song by Dan Bern, strings together some of the most memorable lines from DiFranco's early career for comic effect.
DiFranco's music has been classified as folk rock and alternative rock, but since her early albums she has reached across genres, having collaborated with a wide range of artists including the pop musician Prince, the folk musician Utah Phillips, and rapper Corey Parker. In various songs and albums, she has used a variety of instruments as well as styles—from brass, notably in 1998's Little Plastic Castle, and strings, particularly noticeable on the live album Living in Clip and her latest studio recording, Knuckle Down.
Regarding the folk label often applied, sometimes in qualified form, to her music, DiFranco has noted (in an interview with Pavement Magazine) 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."
Lyrics and PoliticsIn general, much of DiFranco's material is autobiographical, in the personal lyric tradition of the singer-songwriter. Much of her material is also strongly political, concerned with contemporary social issues such as racism, sexism and sexual abuse, homophobia, reproductive rights, poverty, and war. The combination of these two characteristics is partially responsible for the early popularity DiFranco enjoyed among politically active college students, some of whom set up fan pages on the web to document her career as early as 1994. Because of DiFranco's rapid rise in popularity in the mid-1990s—a rise that, mostly unaccompanied by mainstream press, was fueled by personal contact and word of mouth—fans often expressed a feeling of community with each other. As DiFranco has become well known, the extent to which fans may identify with such a community has lessened.
Perhaps because of her popularity in progressive circles, DiFranco has also 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 also supported Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich in the 2004 primaries.
Label IndependenceThe success of her record label, Righteous Babe Records (RBR), is also notable. Ownership of RBR allows DiFranco a great deal of artistic freedom, including the ability to release as much, and as often, as she has, and to include controversial material and language. References to her independence from major labels appear occasionally in her songs, most notably in The Million You Never Made, which discusses the act of turning down a lucrative contract, The Next Big Thing, a song from the early Not So Soft album which describes an imagined meeting with a label headhunter who evaluates the singer based on her looks, and Napoleon, on the album Dilate, which sympathises 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; Vega herself has denied this.
DiFranco has occasionally joined with Prince in discussing publicly the problems associated with major record companies. DiFranco is 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 sees as a way to ensure her own artistic freedom, was seen by others solely in terms of its financial success.
Recent WorkEducated Guess, was released on January 20, 2004. According to the Righteous Babe website, "not since the release of her second album back in 1991 has Ani been quite as much a solo act as she is on Educated Guess." The only other person involved in the record was Greg Calbi, who mastered it. DiFranco did all the performance and recording herself at home, and was involved in much of the artwork and design for the packaging.
A new album, Knuckle Down, was released on January 25, 2005. On July 22, 2005, Righteous Babe announced by e-mail that DiFranco has developed a case of tendonitis and will take a one-year hiatus from touring, returning to the road in the summer of 2006. 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's former drummer, Andy Stochansky, has pursued a solo career as a singer-songwriter since leaving DiFranco's band.
Ani DiFranco Facts
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|September 23, 1970 (53)
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