In 2008, Laura Burhenn — then a D.C.-based musician playing in the indie-pop duo Georgie James — visited the Corcoran Gallery of Art to see an exhibition of Richard Avedon’s photographs. One in particular stood out to her, “a black-and-white picture of old women in satin gowns,” she recalls. “It had a very powerful title: ‘Generals of the Daughters of the American Revolution.’”
It wasn’t the history that captured her imagination — it was that title and its imagery. “It was a real contrast to the women themselves, who were not what I expected to see.”
A lot has happened since that visit: Georgie James broke up, and Burhenn moved to Omaha, Neb., and started a band called the Mynabirds. But Avedon’s photo has lingered in Burhenn’s creative life since that day at the Corcoran: It inspired the title and tone of “Generals,” the Mynabirds’ second album.
“I really wanted to update the protest song form,” she explains, to target both an unending war abroad and a hostile political climate at home. “At the same time, I also wanted to breathe new life into the idea of a pop song. I wanted something fun and smart and meaningful.”
Anyone expecting the earnestness and acoustic austerity of Woody Guthrie may be caught off-guard by the military percussion of “Wolf Mother” and the R&B rhythms of the title track, not to mention the sharp lyrics about politics and power.
Drawing from those ideas, Burhenn started a photographic project called the New Revolutionists (Thenewrevolutionists.org), featuring her own black-and-white portraits of women from various fields and generations. Country singer Rosanne Cash and comedy writer Lizz Winstead are featured alongside lesser-knowns: doctors, small-business owners, even Burhenn’s eighth-grade English teacher.
“There are a lot of women who don’t necessarily think they’re doing anything important in their daily lives, but they don’t realize they inspire other people,” Burhenn says. “It’s reminded me that my interactions with people are very important, whether they be large or small.”