June Millington singing in studio, 2020

A long road to Goshen; tracing a Rock-n-roll trailblazer's lifetime of notes

by Nan Parati

It's been over 5 decades since June Millington picked up her first guitar and played it. She has gone on to make music all over the world and then to make her mark on the music scene in Western Massachusetts.

One afternoon in 1961, in the sixth-grade classroom of the Catholic school’s strictest nun, June Millington experienced her first life-melding magic. A melodic sound she’d never heard before wafted into the room and, she says, time stopped.

Unable to resist the music, June left the class and walked down the hall until she found its source; a girl sitting and playing the guitar; the first guitar June had ever heard in life. Overtaken by its call, she stood and watched the girl until she knew she had to return to class.

June walked back and found that somehow life had indeed pressed "pause” while she was gone, and contrary to logic and history, she was not reprimanded by the strictest nun in the school for her disappearance.

June sat back down, life in the classroom re-started, but June Millington’s life expanded. She went home and described to her parents what she’d seen, and on her next birthday was rewarded with her very own guitar, a life-changer not only for June Millington, but for all of music history.

June Millington in studio
June Millington in studio | Courtesy of June Millington

June was born in the Philippines, the daughter of a Filipino mother and an American father. Not long after her guitar encounter, the Millington family immigrated to Sacramento, California where they were met with naive confusion, there in the early ‘60s. No one knew what to make of these clever darker-skinned kids from so far away, so they were treated with distance.

Left to themselves, June and her older sister Jean shrugged and stayed home, played their newly-gifted guitars together, wrote songs and developed their musical skills until they felt strong enough to display them at their junior high school’s variety show. After that, June says, they were cool!

Their parents enrolled Jean and June in swimming classes at the local YWCA where they also took music lessons, so enchanting the instructors at the Y with their talent that the teachers became their booking agents, arranging for the sisters to play small events where they tucked dollar bills under their guitar straps to encourage tips, which came enthusiastically. Then, as kids do, Jean and June started hanging out with a bass player, another young Filipina woman, Zenaida "Zenny" Prodon which led to a wider sound, and in 1964 June remembers getting a phone call from drummer Kathy Terry, asking if the sisters would like to form a band.

The call came during a family gathering in the Millington household, so June whispered the request to her sister, “Psst! Would you like to form a band?” “Yeah!” Jean whispered back, and their first band, “The Svelts” was born.

Undetermined as to which sister would play guitar and which would play bass, June and Jean flipped a coin. June won, so she got to play guitar, which, again, is how history is made.

This was early 1965, when rock and roll was leaping off the cliff all over the place – except in the world of women. Women could be quietly Folk, but nice girls didn’t play electric.

“Fanny was extraordinary... they're as important as anybody else who's ever been, ever."
- David Bowie

Teenagers June, Jean, Cathy and Zenny persevered, learning music off the radio and from emotionally secure boy musicians who helped them develop their skills. “I’ve found throughout life,” June says, “the better the player, the nicer the guy.” Rock-n-roll was their musical jam, and the girls jammed together in Kathy’s living room, where Mr. and Mrs. Terry watched them rehearse, “just like we were on TV!”

In 1966 June graduated from high school and enrolled at the University of California, Davis, majoring in medicine with the aim of becoming a doctor with a minor in music---naw, forget it. Shortly in, she dropped that idea for music, full-time.

By 1967, the band had their own house called, “Fanny Hill” (named for one of the most banned books in history!) and toured around California playing mostly, cover songs, but spiced it up with their own, original works, as well.

And the audiences responded. The band radicalized their band name from The Svelts to Wild Honey and played with Credence Clearwater, The Youngbloods, The Turtles, and auditioned at the Filmore with The Doors.

In 1969 they were discovered by record producer Richard Perry, who signed them to a recording contract, and they became the first all-female band to produce an entire album of their own work, only 193 years after the founding of this country and four billion years after humans first walked the earth.

They re-named themselves “Fanny” to say, “Yeah! We’re women!” and they launched! Their first big gig as Fanny was at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium with the Kinks and Procol Harum. Fanny played with everybody; Sly and the Family Stone, Leon Russell, they toured with Chicago, they played on the Sonny and Cher Show.  

Audiences who’d come only for the headliners jumped to their feet when Fanny kicked it off.  Who were these women?

Two of their songs made it to the Top 40 list and they ultimately released five albums of their own music.

But they were still women. When they played the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1971 their set went straight to a commercial and they weren’t given the after-song glory that their male counterparts traditionally got.  

A Fanny feature in Look Mag
A Fanny feature in Look Mag | Look Mag

A female music reviewer wrote that, while they were good, well, they were women, and the reviewer wasn’t comfortable seeing women playing that kind of music on stage. That world was the domain of men and needed to stay that way.

Objectification was the theme for these brilliant young women; sure they were great, and audiences were blown away by their ass-kicking beat, but at the end of the day, they were women and what are women really only good for? You know.

David Bowie later said, Fanny was "extraordinary...they're as important as anybody else who's ever been, ever; it just wasn't their time."

By 1973, June couldn’t take the soul-wilting dismissal anymore and she quit the band, moving to Long Island where she could just be quiet, think, and take stock of all that had just happened.  

For the next two years she played primarily as a solo artist. In 1975, Fanny played their last world tour. Around that same time June met musician Cris Williamson and it was while working with her that she had her next synchronistic paradigm shift with the realization that:

Anything could be real.  All it took was making it so. 

Never mind that she and her female bandmates had created a world that hadn’t existed before they came along; something was evolving within June, and the realization that “anything could be real” was electrifying her limbs with hope.

Every gig became a celebration of joy. June suddenly found herself at the wizened age of 25, free to make music for herself; the critics be dammed. More women were coming to the same conclusion and elation was springing from their musical processes like lightning.

June toured with Cris, met movers and shakers and began producing the works of women like Holly Near. June and her sister Jean reunited as a band, called themselves “Millington” and began touring. And June just made the things she wanted to happen, happen.

In 1980 she recorded her own solo album, Heartsong, and toured with it. In 1981 she moved back to the Bay Area of California and started her own record label, Fabulous Records, a subsidiary of Olivia Records.

She began studying Tibetan Buddhism and followed the Dalai Lama, both intellectually as well as physically, meeting with him when and where she could.

And then, at some point, she stepped back and saw that despite the joy, that old, traditional trope kept popping up where, even within the infrastructure of women’s music female artists were getting ripped off. Arms folded, the voice in her head demanded, “Who’s gonna take care of the women?” June Millington decided that, dammit, she would be the one to do so.

In 1984 she met Ann Hackler, director of the Women’s Center at Amherst College. Ann was an educator and an activist, and had evolutionary aspirations similar to June’s. The two of them decided to build a place where young women could learn to play music, become their own musicians, and be the people they wanted to be.

Who do you go to in order to launch something like that in a world that disdains it? You talk to your friends, activist Angela Davis, her sister Fania, and Canadian record producer Roma Baran, powerful women who jump on your board and press, “GO!” The Institute for the Musical Arts opened in Bodega, California in 1986 and got their non-profit status. A few years later, someone showed them a slice of land in Goshen, Massachusetts, right on Route 116 that they could buy and build upon, solidifying the dream, and singing with one, synchronistic voice.

“The spirits that be, the same ones that had closed so many doors in the past, now opened this one. Music is a life-saver, and the heart is the center for rhythm and pitch, each balancing the other out.”

“The spirits that be,” June told me, “the same ones that had closed so many doors in the past, now opened this one. Music is a life-saver, and the heart is the center for rhythm and pitch, each balancing the other out.”

The Institute’s nonprofit mission is to support women and girls in music and music-related businesses, guided by the visions, needs and concerns of women from a diversity of backgrounds, “grown from the need to nourish ourselves and each other.”

Its programs include a Rock 'n Roll Camp for Girls, workshops on vocal and instrumental instruction, album production and recording techniques, lyric music composition, and some of the most important parts of sustaining a career in music: booking, promotion, and entertainment law.

June and Jean Millington performing in the early days of their careers

Left Two Pictures: Jean & June Millington performing in high school.
Right: Jean & June performing on a ship (All photos: Courtesy June Millington).


June Millington in Action

L to R: June with Angela Davis (Courtesy June Millington),
June Ann Hackler, Erin McKeown livestreaming a performance (Courtesy June Millington),
June at the Institute for the Musical Arts in Goshen (Photo by Sasha Pedro)


And with that, June just kept energizing. Co-founding and co-running the world’s only music institution that works solely with women didn’t slow her down; she made two more solo albums, Running in 1983 and One World, One Heart in 1988.

Her 1993 solo release, Ticket to Wonderful, orchestrated a 30-year exploration of musical styles that began with folk and rock and danced their ways through funk, reggae, salsa, pop, and world beat.

From 1999 to 2006 June and her sister Jean formed a six-woman band called, The Slammin’ Babes, releasing an album, “The Melting Pot” in 2001.

In 2002 she was featured in and was associate director of Lee Mosbacher’s film, Radical Harmonies, a documentary about the history of women’s music.

In Service of Music

June continues to work in the service of music and is the co-founder and artistic director of the Institute for the Musical Arts (IMA) in Goshen, Massachusetts.

In Taylor Jodie's book Playing it Queer: Popular Music, Identity and Queer World-making, June is referred to as "a godmother of women's music."

Institute for the Musical Arts, Goshen MA - Big Red Barn

She was a composer on the 2009 documentary about the second wave of the women’s movement, The Heretics, written and directed by Joan Braderman.

In the 2015 independent feature film, SUGAR! June played Jane Wong, a Republican senate candidate’s wife who secretly forms an all-women rock band.  

That year, she also published her autobiography, Land of a Thousand Bridges: Island Girl in a Rock & Roll World.

And then, in 2021 Canadian-American producer Bobbi Jo Hart released, Fanny, the Right to Rock, chronicling the life and times of the revolutionary rock group, illustrating their “unbridled Woman power.” The film premiered at the 2021 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival where it was one of five winners of the Rogers Audience Award. At the 2021 Inside Out Film and Video Festival, it won Best Canadian Film.

And here we are. At 76, an age where many find solace in slowing down, June keeps proving that all things are absolutely possible, jamming with the vortex of souls around her and synchronizing the paradigm through playing, teaching, writing her second book, recording, laughing, loving and inspiring everyone she meets, uniting all generations throughout history, with no intention of ever cutting it out.

Fanny Rehearsal with Richard Perry circa 1970
Fanny Rehearsal with Richard Perry circa 1970 | Courtesy of June Millingford

You can rock through a whole stream of hits with Fanny at Fanny - Hey Bulldog (1971) | LIVE (youtube.com), and meet June for yourself in “Fanny, The Right to Rock” at Fanny: The Right to Rock | PBS.

“Yeah!” you’ll shout, “That’s some REAL rock n’ roll!” and, depending on your age, you’ll wonder what the issue was, or you’ll sit back, close your eyes and re-live the days, oh the days when Rock-n-Roll was queen.

Nan Parati

Twenty-five years into working in the world of creative design and build in the Festival industry of New Orleans, Nan was invited to Western Massachusetts in 2005 to work the Green River Festival.  While she was there, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and took out her house and everything in it. That's how she figured she now lived in Massachusetts. She re-opened Ashfield's legacy institution Elmers Store, converting it to a restaurant that she owned and ran for 13 years, selling it, Lord have mercy, just before the pandemic shut the world down.

Back to an expanded world of festivals and other creative work, Nan now lives half of the year in Western Mass and half of the year in New Orleans, entertaining herself pretty well, all year round.

PHOTO CREDITS: Sasha Pedro, Look Magazine, and other photos courtesy of June Millington.

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