Interview by: Tonia Trotter
Photos by: Ambre Amari
Shelly Ann Edge has a powerful voice and is dedicated to helping girls find theirs as well. As the co-founder and executive director of Girls Rock Birmingham, the classically-trained opera singer is speaking up for young women, helping shape the way they express themselves, and giving them a platform for creativity. Shelly Ann and the Girls Rock team are on a mission and moving into their fifth year of empowering girls and women through music.
A friend of mine had been involved with the Girls Rock program in Jacksonville, Florida and brought the idea to me when she moved back to Birmingham. At first, I couldn’t imagine how we could make it work. We are one hundred percent volunteer-driven, and I thought that just sounded bananas. But we tried it anyway, and it was magical. Even now, I think the term “magical” is the most accurate way to describe what it feels like to teach a group of girls how to play an instrument, write an original song, and work together to create and perform as a band all in one week.
What is the mission of Girls Rock, and why is it important in today’s world?
We are a nonprofit that serves girls and those who identify as female within the ages of nine to sixteen. Everyone applies and those selected learn to play an instrument and are placed into bands with other girls their age. Our focus is teamwork and collaboration, and we place a lot of emphasis on leadership and inclusivity. In addition to working together to write, rehearse, and ultimately perform an original song in our rockstar showcase, we teach them about women in music, rock “herstory,” songwriting, and DIY promotion. We also offer satellite workshop subjects like self-defense.
Inclusivity is important, and we offer a safe space to non-binary campers. I’m really proud of how diverse our group is and that our girls get to experience diversity on all kinds of levels: gender identity, socioeconomic status, religion, and race. They are building relationships with others they may not have connected with under ordinary circumstances, and we volunteers get to watch those relationships grow with our returning campers and through social media outlets. We also focus on online etiquette and how to navigate the positive aspects of social media like community, as well as the pitfalls like cyber-bullying.
You are partnering with the upcoming Moonstone Music Festival, an event that celebrates female musicians like The Watson Twins, Waxahatchee, and Warpaint. Girls Rock is opening the festival with two of the camp’s bands. For an organization run by volunteers, how important has community collaboration been for you? How can people get involved with Girls Rock?
We’ve been fortunate to work with some incredible partners. MakeBHM has been so helpful with our DIY workshops and teaching the girls to screen print their own promotional materials. Red Mountain Community School has allowed us to use their campus for camp the past two years, and Good People Brewing Company hosted our showcase this year. Cahaba Brewing closed down for our music festival, a private ticketed event, and the women who work at the brewery created a special all-female-brewed beer for our event, donating a dollar for every beer sold to Girls Rock. Saturn has been our home base since the beginning and has given us space to run our camp as well as an awesome venue for our Rockstar Showcase.
We absolutely welcome volunteers for our camps, and you don’t have to be a musician to get involved! We need general counselors to mentor our campers too. You can donate on our website and find out about our events throughout the year on our FaceBook page. We have a Ladies Rock camp in March that we are super excited about, a cocktail party at Clubhouse on Highland on October 27, and rockstar makeovers for campers and prospective campers in partnership with Beauty for Ashes in Homewood on November 2.