Glenda Diem: All Signs Point to Pretty Music
Those of us of a certain age will remember when live music was primarily a boys’ club. Other than for the occasional “chick singer” (‘60s and ‘70s lingo for “female vocalist”), members of professional music groups were almost always men—with some notable exceptions. Names like Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Sheryl Crow, Carole King, Joan Baez, Karen Carpenter and guitar pioneer Mary Ford will live forever in music history. By the way, I am well aware that the above list is by no means complete. Please step away from your email “send” button!
One of those notable exceptions lives right here in Rehoboth Beach. New Jersey-born Glenda Diem played professionally alongside many well-known instrumentalists, and to this day still performs and teaches guitar.
She grew up in Piscataway, New Jersey, falling in love with the guitar at the tender age of 10. To this day, her mother states that, “We never had to ask her to practice.” Glenda was so passionate about her music that mom, dad and her teacher entered her into a statewide musical competition when she was 11. She won. One of her first official “gigs” that grew out of this honor was a radio fundraiser for muscular dystrophy. She especially liked the community service aspect of that experience.
It wasn’t long before she was teaching professionally at Gregory’s Music Center, at that time the largest music retailer in central New Jersey. Still only15 years old, Glenda taught her students from the ground up, integrating music theory and note reading skills into her lessons.
By the time she was 16, she was playing lead guitar in a three-piece, all-female band called Girly Action. One of her first professional appearances grew out of a trick they played on her: The band members invited her to a rehearsal, but the rehearsal ended up being an audition for the Village Music Hall in Greenwich Village. On the drive into New York City they taught her the songs—everybody strumming away as the drummer kept time on the dashboard. They got the job, rotating weekend nights with other bands. Also on Bleeker St. was the Night Owl, and it wasn’t long before Girly Action was sharing the stage with mid-‘60s superstars like The Mamas & the Papas, James Taylor, and the Lovin’ Spoonful.
Despite personnel changes, the band continued to play in New York at Café Wha?, where Bob Dylan, Kool & the Gang, Bill Cosby, and Richard Pryor got their start. New Jersey gigs included venues at Rutgers and Trenton State (now The College of New Jersey). In fact, Glenda’s talents paid her way through college and gave her financial independence.
After graduating from school around 1972, Glenda took a job with an all-female band named Taboo, covering pretty much everything from early R&B hits to the Moody Blues. As is so often the case, personnel changes and excessive behaviors on the part of some band members began to take its toll, and Glenda eventually left the group to attend jazz programs and classes at the famed Jazzmobile in Harlem. She was one of only two females out of 200 students.
During this entire time, Glenda was teaching school in New Jersey, trading-off classes in language arts, social studies, science and math. Her skills earned her several awards, including the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the County Award for Technology in Education. During her tenure in the classroom, she appeared with Dan Rather on a segment of 48 Hours (CBS) to promote Straight Talk About Risks (STAR), a pre-K to grade 12 curriculum designed to educate students about firearm safety. Her appearance on the segment led to a spot with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America (ABC), and an appearance on Pure Oxygen.
I know this is beginning to sound like a resume for Glenda Diem, but her career has covered so many bases. For example, in addition to her teaching duties in New Jersey, she taught guitar to adults and children at many music stores and schools, including summer enrichment programs and private lessons. In fact, I don’t think I’d be talking out of school if I revealed that Glenda is presently teaching guitar to one of this writer’s favorite people, Katie Handy from Rehoboth’s Sign-A-Rama. Mmmm…how ‘bout this: “All Signs Point to Pretty Music!” (Katie, do I see a future motto for your business?)
Glenda vacationed on and off in Rehoboth Beach over the years, eventually retiring here in 2009. She still plays solo guitar as G-String, most notably at the occasional Open Mic Night at Rehoboth Ale House, and teams up with a sax player to perform as Metro II. You might remember Metro II’s multiple appearances during last October’s Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival.
When I was first asked to write this column, I was concerned that I might run out of topics. Boy was I wrong. Rehoboth Beach is full of interesting and talented people, and I’m just scratching the surface of what they all were doing Before the Beach.
Bob Yesbek is a Rehoboth Beach resident. Email Bob Yesbek