To say that Phoenix, a new all-female a cappella in Boston, has lofty ideals might be understatement. In explaining the group’s name to me, founding member AJ Marino explained, “We chose the name Phoenix for the mythical bird by the same name, because we don't want to reinvent female a cappella. We see ourselves as being born from the "ashes" of the all-female a cappella world that came before us, and hope to build on the strengths that we see there. Musically, we hope to be able to break the stereotypes of what all-female a cappella can do, and be defined not as ‘good for an all-female group,’ but just plain good.”
What Marino articulated has a sound foundation. Despite a long history of very good all-female groups, the all-female label still seems to stick out for a cappella groups performing at any level—as a defining characteristic for crowds and critics. We accept that gender makeup matters in a cappella without questioning why. As Marino went on to explain, a cappella doesn’t necessarily need to be “segregated by gender … [we can] start judging groups solely on their sound, their performance, and how they connected with you.” The group has done its homework regarding inequities in honors and accolades bestowed upon all-female groups relative to their all-male and co-ed peers. “We are inspired by the strengths of the groups that have broken these barriers, but we also hope to be different in that we want to celebrate the female voice, and not focus on how to make our sound akin to that of a male-dominated group. We hope that we can find the best way to feature the talents of all of our members into a unique all-female sound that shows off the best of what we can do.”
Phoenix drew a great deal of attention this summer when the fledgling group’s website featured an interview with arguably a cappella’s most celebrated expert, Deke Sharon. “His comment to find beauty in our own voices was extremely heartening,” Marino recounted, “as I have only experienced all-female a cappella that tries to compete directly with something that it is not, as opposed to just finding the best sound the women we have can produce.”
Marino articulated that the group’s site and blog aim to concentrate discussions about contemporary a cappella and all-female groups in one place. “Phoenix aims to track the progress of both our group and other all-female groups in our journey to breaking out of the current way of doing things. We hope that people reading the blog will be inspired to join an all-female group, Phoenix or otherwise, or start to look harder at the groups around them and they way they are perceiving those groups. We definitely hope to change the narrative, with our blog and our music.”
The founding members of Phoenix have each emerged from the vibrant collegiate a cappella scene in Boston. “We also all gained invaluable training in leadership and how to maintain group dynamic,” Marino said. The Boston roots are important, because each member of the group “grew up and found our love for a cappella here.” Marino went on to note both the history of a cappella in Beantown, and that the group has found support and guidance from a variety of voices of experience.
With no shortage of musical or philosophical ambition, Phoenix looks to make waves in months ahead, based regionally, but fostering an important exchange of ideas across the a cappella world.
You can learn more about Phoenix via the group’s website.