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How Diane Sward Rapaport Empowered Musicians, Hookers and Me

Celebrating a life well lived

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Photo by CJ Grace
Photo by CJ Grace

Resting in Peace

Diane Sward Rapaport has been my writing mentor for several years. It was a cruel irony that as I was finishing off “Resting in Peace,” the final chapter of a book I was writing about breast cancer and infidelity, I found out she had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer with a life expectancy of only about six months. “I’m scared half to death,” she told me, “but I’ll keep dancing through life until I no longer can.” Sadly, she lasted only two short months. Her passing on January 9, 2020, at the age of 80, left me feeling gutted.

Outrageous Stories

Diane could get along with anybody: divas, grumps, eccentrics, it didn’t matter who. Not only was she good-humored, but also she had a great sense of humor and was a mine of wonderful stories, many of them involving outrageous behavior, sex and infidelity.

I included one in my book, Adulterer’s Wife: How to Thrive Whether You Stay or Not. When Diane lived in a small Mexican town in the 1960s she witnessed a dramatic confrontation. A butcher’s wife saw her husband’s mistress walking past his shop. Brandishing a meat cleaver, she ran out after the other woman. While the husband cowered behind the counter inside, the two women had a catfight on the street that the police had to break up. The mistress was never seen in town again, and the butcher and his wife remained together.

Helping Hookers

Diane was the producer of first five annual COYOTE Hookers’ Masquerade Balls in San Francisco, California, from 1974–1977, arguably the largest-and wildest-charity fundraiser at that time. She had been hired by Margot St. James, who was probably San Francisco’s most outspoken and famous hooker. Margot was also a licensed private investigator which gave her access to women imprisoned for sex crimes. She wanted these women to be given equal treatment under the law as their male counterparts, including access to therapists, medicines and doctors. The profits from the Masquerade Balls funded legal fees for the women arrested for sex crimes.

Freeing Musicians from Big Record Companies

But helping me and organizing hookers’ balls was the least of it. Musicians across America owe a huge debt to Diane because, all on her own, she gave them the tools to gain control of their music. She describes how it happened in an article she wrote for the National Endowment for the Arts website. From 1969 to 1974, Diane was the first woman to work as an artist’s manager in the music industry for Bill Graham’s Fillmore Management. Diane writes, “The first months on the job were like attending an anarchist university. No courses, no schedule, no time clocks, and no rules. I could attend free rock concerts, imbibe a cornucopia of drugs, and mingle with Janis Joplin and Santana.”

Shocked by the corruption and predatory practices she saw in the music industry, Diane quit her job to begin a crusade to teach musicians how to run their own businesses and set up their own independent record labels. She presented some of the first music business workshops and classes in the country and tried to persuade universities to offer classes in contracts and copyright to music majors. The book she wrote in 1979, How to Make and Sell Your Own Recording, became a bible for musicians. Twenty years later, her book had sold 250,000 copies and more than 50 universities were offering music business and recording technology degrees.

Naked Bike Riding

Diane was an accomplished writer. In Home Sweet Jerome, Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper City, she describes the quirky, provocative history of the people that overcame overwhelming odds to revive the town after copper miners abandoned it in the 1950s. The book is peppered with Diane’s signature brand of hilarious anecdotes, drawn from spending decades of her life in Jerome. My favorite story is about the folk singer and environmental activist Katie Lee. Diane writes, “She is famous in Jerome for riding her bike through town naked except for a helmet and boots when she was 77 years old. She howled with laughter as she sailed the mile downhill from Main Street to her house. It was her way to shed the glum, sad feelings she had after a close Jerome friend died.”

Maybe I should take a naked bike ride too …

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