The New Zealand Music Hall of Fame | Te Whare Taonga Puoro o Aotearoa is proud to announce the induction of five incredible women. The latest inductees’ hard-fought journeys have left a lasting legacy and forged a path for others on-stage as well as behind the scenes.
Annie Crummer, Debbie Harwood, Dianne Swann, Margaret Urlich and Kim Willoughby will be inducted into the NZ Music Hall of Fame in December. They will be recognised for their individual contributions to Aotearoa’s music scene, the inspiration they provided to local artists and audiences, and their importance in shaping New Zealand’s popular culture.
All five women got their start in the early 80’s. Annie and Kim, each having already released music under either solo or group names, found themselves atop the charts as guest vocalists on Netherworld Dancing Toys ‘For Today’. Dianne’s band Everything That Flies was on the rise and earning plaudits everywhere. Debbie’s talent was picked up early with a signing to CBS Records and award nominations following soon after. And Margaret was unmissable as the frontwoman of Peking Man.
“When I was a young person, women were outnumbered in the business by perhaps 100:1,” says Harwood*.
“All of us had toured for years in original bands. As the touring circuit dissolved and radio shut its doors to local music, surviving as an original band became almost impossible. At this time, as video became the new radio, local artists were competing with the huge video budgets of overseas bands. Our videos looked tragic in comparison, and it perpetuated the self-effacing Kiwi attitude that New Zealand music was crap. It was a tough time. The only way to get to the people at this time was to tour the length and breadth of New Zealand, relentlessly building up a live fan base.”
Debbie, Dianne, Annie and Margaret had a chance meeting at the 1985 Aotearoa Music Awards where all of them were finalists. Not long after that, the idea was floated of getting together with the addition of Kim as When The Cat’s Away.
“The idea formed to get together, have some fun and sing a bunch of songs that we like, learn some harmonies. I don’t think anybody pictured it as being as popular as it became,” said Dianne in 2004.
“The Cats toured for two and a half years before ‘Melting Pot’ was released,” said Debbie.
“As the single shot to No.1 in 1988, the industry was incredulous. Considering the lack of support at the time, our success was like a flower cracking through concrete! The sharemarket crash had just happened, and the public loved the band because we were optimistic and energetic. Sometimes I felt like Vera Lynn cheering up the troops. The preference would have been that our original bands had been supported by radio and the public, so we reluctantly accepted the huge success of the band, never fully standing in the glare of it. There was a little bit of bitterness at the necessity of forming such a band: a band that was born out of exhaustion from trying to get airplay and support for our original music, a band that was supposed to be merely a short break from the slog.”
However, from this unexpected success came a multitude of positives and an enduring public and peer adoration and respect for these five supremely talented musicians:
Annie Crummer MNZM has one of New Zealand’s best-loved and most travelled voices. That voice has taken her from Avondale to Paisley Park, from local talent quests to duets with Sting, and back to her Rarotongan heritage. She first came to public notice with her inescapable performance on the Netherworld Dancing Toys’ ‘For Today’ (which also featured Kim Willoughby), before going on to a successful solo career as a featured performer, powerhouse vocalist for hire and an enviable CV in musical theatre, notably starring roles in The Lion King and Queen: We Will Rock You (“The voice of one in a million” – Brian May). Annie most recently contributed original work to Waiata Anthems last year and is currently working on a new solo album.
Debbie Harwood is a renaissance woman of the New Zealand music industry. As well as being a platinum-selling and award-winning artist, she has also been a radio host, publicist, tour manager, producer and a music mentor. She has always championed the work of female singer/songwriters. A successful stint touring Australia (most notably working with Jimmy Barnes) was followed by a return to Aotearoa where amongst gigging, Debbie released an all-female album of love songs and masterminded the Give It A Girl concerts, also finding time to lecture on music at the University of Auckland. Debbie’s most recent EP, The Sun, came out in 2019.
Playing live to 85,000 people. Signing to two international labels. Recording with Radiohead. Having her song ‘Birthday’ chosen as NME single of the week. These are just some of the highlights of Dianne Swann’s career as a vocalist, songwriter, and performer. After spending much of the 90s in the UK with her bands The Julie Dolphin and Boom Boom Mancini, Dianne returned home and formed the critically-acclaimed duo The Bads, releasing four albums since 2005, as well as touring and recording with the likes of Dave McArtney, Tim Finn and OpShop amongst many others. Having spent a career mostly in bands, Dianne released the album The War On Peace Of Mind under her own name this year to critical acclaim.
Already a New Zealand superstar by the mid-80s thanks to her lead role in Peking Man, Margaret achieved what very few Kiwi artists in the 80’s and 90’s could do by cracking Australia. Her debut solo album Safety In Numbers sold over 250,000 copies across the ditch and established Margaret as one of the premiere artists of the 90’s with multiple platinum albums in both Aotearoa and Australia. Margaret relocated and made a home in rural New South Wales but returned often to New Zealand to tour, most recently in 2019.
From post-punks The Gurlz through to Netherworld Dancing Toys, the platinum-selling and chart-topping When The Cat’s Away as well as being a go-to vocalist for seemingly everyone; Kim’s career is that of the consummate professional. A naturally gifted singer, blessed with a word-for-word perfect recall for song lyrics. Kim continues to tour as Kim Willoughby & the Bandoleros with fellow Hall of Famers Paul Woolwright and Rick Ball (Hello Sailor).
New Zealand Music Hall of Fame | Te Whare Taonga Puoro o Aotearoa
Presented by NZ Music Hall of Fame Trust, the inductions are undertaken in a private ceremony whereupon inductees are gifted a tapu taonga, in accordance with tikanga Māori. All five women inducted will be publicly acknowledged at the 2021 Aotearoa Music Awards in December on TVNZ 2. The entire broadcast will be streamed on TVNZ On Demand.
Thanks to our friends at Spotify please check out our Hall of Fame 2021 playlist here