Top 40 Tells All

GM Today
June 23, 2005
by Laurie Arendt

Dorothy Marcic’s interesting discovery relating to women and music has led to a book and musical by the Pewaukee native.

To understand the progress of women in America, you could read dusty-yet-worthy tomes about the fight for suffrage. You could take a college class in women’s issues. Or you could pull that old record player out of the closet, dig out that stack of 45s and sing along with Aretha, Janis, The Supremes and Dorothy Marcic.

Marcic, a Pewaukee native, has discovered a link between popular American music and the progress of women, turning her research into a book called, “Respect: Women and Popular Music” and a musical, “Respect: A Musical Journey of Women.”

“I have a naturally inquisitive mind and I’ve spent most of my entire adult life doing research,” says Marcic, who spent most of the past two decades teaching business management and leadership training.

During this time, she was asked to do a presentation on the equality of men and women. To make the subject accessible, Marcic decided to put her presentation to music. “I used songs that people knew and as I did more research, I realized that it was all there,” she says of her eureka moment. “I went over the Top 40 songs starting in the 1900s and found it all. It was absolutely fascinating.”

At the same time Marcic was doing her popular music research, she continued to incorporate it into her professional work. “The focus came out of my presentations — I used songs from the 1960s,” she says. “For example, I used to talk about ‘old leadership’ and the roll of the boss.”

Can you guess what she did? When talking about old leadership styles, she’d start with “I Will Follow Him.”

“Then that evolved into how the employees felt. Uh-oh. ‘Chain of Fools,'” she says.

When the employees pushed back and rebelled at the oppressive management style: “You Don’t Own Me.”

“The interesting thing was that the music really helped people understand the concept,” she says. “They really responded to what I was doing.”

Word spread about her unique approach. Eventually, she was hired on to simply perform, which she did all over the world. Getting on stage and performing was not completely out of character for Marcic. She earned a degree from UW-Madison in communications and served as a production assistant for “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.”

Marcic’s career path took some interesting turns in addition to her years in academia. She hosted a business radio show in La Crosse, and after moving to Europe, served as an advisor to the U.S. Ambassador of the Czech Republic.

After living in Europe, she remarried and returned to the United States, settling in Nashville. “It was really reverse cultural shock,” she laughs. “I’d never lived in the South before. I decided I had to do something to make me love the city of Nashville, so I took voice lessons. It all came together.”

It was also a project that appealed to her soul. “When I first started ‘Respect,’ I wasn’t doing it to further my academic career,” says Marcic, a Fullbright Scholar and holder of a doctorate from the University of Massachusetts.

She admits that the sensibility of coming of age in the late 1960s also gave her a certain sensibility about women’s issues. “My mother was a battered woman before they had a name for it,” she admits. “I come from a long line of women who had to struggle.”

The role of women, as reflected in popular music, distinctly evolved during the past century. Marcic discovered that the most popular songs about women reflected a particular archetype of the era.

Noted psychologist Carl Jung coined the concept of archetypes, which Marcic describes in her book as “a psychological predisposition toward certain patterns which create a blueprint in our psyches.” An archetype is not a stereotype, but more of a grouping of characteristics. Jung had his warrior, Marcic found martyrs, victims, Wonder Women, jezebels and rebels, just to name a few

In the beginning of the 20th century, Marcic found few, if any women in popular music. Women — typically a “dependent doormat” — were sung about, but usually by male vocalists. Those women who were strong were considered cruel vixens, the “Hard, Hearted Hannahs” of the pop music world.

During the 1930s, the biggest star was a cartoon with a vixen’s body and a little girl’s voice. Betty Boop reflected America’s cultural interest in a provocative woman with a high level of dependency. Women were granted a brief reprieve during World War II, and popular songs reflected the loneliness and strength that women developed on the home front.

The music of the next two decades, Marcic found, revolved around rigid gender roles. Marcic remembers singing along to many of the songs as a girl growing up in Pewaukee, the true underlying theme escaping her.

“I don’t think anybody really thinks about this sort of thing when they listen to popular music,” she says, noting that she certainly didn’t. “Why do certain songs become popular? I think it’s more subliminal: The words reflect what is going on in society and people can relate to them.”

Though music tends to be a bit of a lagging indicator, it also tends to be quite accurate. Marcic found that many of the women who charted during the women’s movement of the 1960s were rebelling and seeking respect. The 1970s chart toppers reflected women’s growing power and assertiveness, even cynicism.

Women singers of the 1980s built on that even more and with power came the confidence to assert themselves, sometimes using their own sex appeal. Madonna, anyone?

The last decade of the century reflected a further evolution for women. Some women sang about mature equality and spiritual growth. And like in all other decades, there was a dichotomy. Along with the ladies of Lilith Fair, there were the overt sexpots who pushed the envelope as far as it could go.

Though the book ends with the close of the 20th century, Marcic has been keeping an eye on the current charts. “I think people are really hungering for something less provocative,” she says. “I’m not sure how much farther the overt sexuality can go in music. It should be interesting to see what happens.”

It has also been interesting to see how “Respect” has evolved for Marcic. After performing the one-woman show for audiences around the world, she decided to see what else she could do with it.

She did her one-woman version of “Respect” at a New York theater festival in 2002. The feedback she received was positive and she was strongly encouraged to turn it into musical theater.

A series of serendipitous events then occurred in quick succession. The musical version of “Respect” was jump-started by a televised appearance of Marcic talking about the book on C-SPAN’s book television.

“It showed at something like 1 a.m. and 4 a.m.,” she says with a grin. “But I got so many e-mails from people. It was more confirmation that I needed to go forward with it.”

She was able to turn it into a four-woman show and it debuted in that form in January 2003. “The response was incredible and it propelled it forward,” she says.

Though the show has a degree of universal appeal — the audience at a given show is about 40 percent male — she noticed that women 45 and older really responded the most enthusiastically.

“It’s very interesting — these are the women who sing along, who really get into it,” she says. “The younger women tend to sit very quietly during the performance, but they also find it to be empowering.”

The message translates well to just about everybody, including boys. “We had a 12-year-old boy in the audience at one show and I asked him what he thought,” says Marcic. “He said, ‘I didn’t know many of the songs until you got to the Dixie Chicks, but I got the point.'”

The next stop on Marcic’s musical journey was to take the show on the road. “We looked at the demographic, the target group that was responding to it,” she says. “So we took it to Florida.”

At the same time, she brought in a choreographer, a director and live musicians. And for the first time, someone else played Dorothy Marcic in the play, which is based on characters from Marcic’s own life. Slides incorporated into the production are from her own personal collection and include images of the Waukesha and Pewaukee areas, as well as wedding photos from her sister’s wedding at Galilee Lutheran Church.

“I’m proud to be from Wisconsin and happy to be from the Midwest,” she says. “I never appreciated what we have here until I moved away. I’d move back here in a heartbeat if I could.”

She does enjoy visiting her hometown. “It’s very comforting for me to come back here,” she says. “I’m glad my sister, Janet, still lives here.”

“Respect” recently made its Chicago debut in April at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts and is continuing a multi-month run in Florida. Marcic’s book, “Respect: Women and Popular Music” can be ordered through any bookstore or at For more information on “Respect” the musical, visit

Copyright 2005 –