In an interview last week I was asked, “Who is your favorite Jazz Diva?” To be honest, I had never heard that exact question before and it stopped me dead in my tracks. As I mulled it over in my mind I couldn’t decide if they were asking me who my favorite female singer was or my favorite female musician…and the more I thought about it, I was pretty sure they were only asking about FEMALE musicians because I, myself, am a female. As the question rankled, I was busy trying to figure out how best to answer it and not be rude or come off as angry. Could I say a man was my favorite Jazz Diva? Probably not. But then, who could I name? I’m pretty sure Dinah Washington wouldn’t like being called a Diva, so I didn’t want to offend her. I don’t think it fits Sarah Vaughan either. I was pretty stumped.
Eventually I just said I objected to that term, but the interviewer wouldn’t relent. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE JAZZ DIVA?!
The question really stuck with me. What does the term Diva mean and why don’t I like it?
Merriam-Webster defines the term “Diva” as a “usually glamorous and successful female performer or personality”, from “Latin Diva meaning Goddess.”
Well, that’s not bad. That’s actually quite pleasant.
I kept reading. Their second definition is “prima donna”, defined as a “a principal female singer in an opera; a vain or undisciplined person who finds it difficult to work under direction”.
So, basically the definition is a glamorous and successful female singer…who’s a bitch.
I think in our society the term DEFINITELY implies a successful woman who is entitled, difficult, and thinks too much of herself in regard to others; and more than that, I think its common usage (as in the question, “Who’s your Favorite Jazz Diva?”) implies that a successful woman must be difficult to work with and have an inflated sense of self worth. In a sense the word objectifies a female musician by placing her in a category totally separate from a man, a category where her personality, physical appearance, and professionalism (also frequently equated with bitchiness) define her more than her musical skills. She is no longer a Jazz musician, she is a DIVA.
Case in point, Jazz Diva Barbie. Yes, that is a real thing, and she has 12 points of articulation! …..?
How do you feel about the term? Do you use it? Does it offend you? Have you been called a “Diva?”