Sandy O Awtt Portrait

Sandy O

Singer/Songwriter : b. 1966

“If they can make cash machines that register each sale/ Why can’t they count our votes?/ But they made voting machines that leave no paper trail and/ Why can’t they count our votes?”


Writers, lawyers, photographers, chefs, doctors, community organizers. The call to activism is answered in many by people from many walks of life. Singer/songwriter Sandy O (Opatow) is doing just that as one half of the duo– with Pat Humphries–of emma’s revolution.

Sandy O, who played classical guitar as a child, grew up in a family that immersed itself in music. Her family “sang and played everything from Beatles’ songs to Medieval rounds. We also made up songs about almost anything, which I now credit as great training for being a songwriter.”

At Bryn Mawr College, she was on a path to become a research biologist until learning about the possible carcinogenic properties of the substances she was using. She switched to music history, developed an interest in Renaissance music that would take her to graduate school, and learned to play the lute.

While living in London, Sandy O got her first taste of writing and singing for justice. She saw an exhibit put on by The International Wages for Housework Campaign of art created by children called “Who works for me? Mummy, Sister, Auntie.” O writes, “The drawings and writings were powerful, especially the ones showing the work the girls themselves were doing, like an 8-year old cooking for her father, uncles and brothers because the adult women were back home in India caring for elderly grandparents. This struck a chord with me about the expectations and treatment of girls compared with boys.” She became involved with the campaign and wrote a song called “Time Off for Women” for them. It was her first experience putting people’s untold stories into a song.

Eventually, Sandy O left graduate school to write and perform music. She and college friend Lucia Russett formed the folk duo Petronella. Their songs were described as “aurally intrigue and then hit you with their message once you’re already hooked…placing the truth in a bed of lush harmonies.” In addition to playing their own music, O and Russett organized an annual WomenFolk concert tour. When O heard some of Pat Humphries’ music, she invited her to join the tour. She and Humphries performed together occasionally before becoming the duo emma’s revolution, inspired by activist Emma Goldman. Goldman, a powerful voice for the rights of women, children, and workers, believed people had the right to “free expression, to beautiful, radiant things.”

emma’s revolution has traveled as far as Korea to sing for peace and social justice at rallies and protests. In response to 9/11 they wrote “Peace, Salaam, Shalom”–the words mean “peace” in English, Arabic, and Hebrew.

O and Humphries performed at the first-ever inaugural Peace Ball after President Obama´s election victory.


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