Remembering Rusty Warren, Sexual Revolutionary in Song

Pianist, singer, and comedian Rusty Warren ’48, frequently called the "mother of the sexual revolution," passed away on May 25th at the age of 91. She studied piano at NEC and was mentored by Arthur Fiedler.

The Boston Globe celebrates her contribution to the cultural landscape thus:

Black and white photo of Rusty Warren in the 1960s. She is bending forward with her hands on her knees, wearing a glamorous dress and winking.

The woman behind the jewels and fashionable evening dresses grew up in Milton as Ilene Goldman. She appeared at the annual Tanglewood Music Festival under the direction of Arthur Fiedler when she was 19. She attended the New England Conservatory of Music before launching her career in Boston cocktail lounges. Warren, who was a lesbian, said her comedy developed from banter with patrons at the bars, which grew more popular than her piano sets. [...]

More than a decade before Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” call to arms, Warren offered her protofeminist, anthem “Knockers Up!” In the song, she tells women to throw their shoulders back and lift their chests. Her bosom-forward approach was not offered as a means to entice men, it was a military-like show of female power. It became her most popular song; she was subsequently always introduced as “That knockers-up gal, Rusty Warren.”

Her New York Times obituary chronicles her early transition from piano to comedy:

“I had this comedy streak in me that was constant since I was a young child,” Ms. Warren told Today’s Arizona Woman in 1983. “I would always open my mouth, and partially my foot was in it.”

After high school, she attended the New England Conservatory of Music, studying classical piano and voice and thinking she might become a teacher. But after graduating in the early 1950s, she started performing in nightclubs and bars. [...]

“Mostly I’d play the piano and I sang a little,” she said. “But every so often I would get a heckler, and I’d talk back to him, and people would start to laugh. And of course I liked that laughter much better than I did some of that applause, so I started to talk more, and to sing and to play less.”

Rusty Warren's papers are housed in the NEC Archives

Read More: The New York Times

Read More: The Boston Globe