She arrived in America in 1947, a seven-year-old Polish-Jewish girl with her parents and sister. Holocaust survivors, she and her family settled in New York City’s lower east side, speaking not a word of English. She would go on to make music history, however. Her name is Genyusha (Goldie) Zelkovicz (later Genya Ravan) and she was the leader of the first all-female guitar band, Goldie and the Gingerbreads.
Fast forward to Brooklyn New York, 1962 in a club called The Lollipop Lounge where on a dare, Goldie took the stage and sang with a group of college kids called The Escorts. Richard Perry, the group’s bass singer (who went on to be a music producer in the 70’s and 80’s), liked what he heard and invited Goldie to join the group.
Eventually, the band found steady work in New York clubs and even had a minor breakout hit with a cover of the song Somewhere from West Side Story. But it was when she discovered Ginger Bianco playing drums in a Greenwich Village bar, that Goldie got the idea to form an all-girl band. Combining their names, they became known as Goldie and the Gingerbreads and with the addition of pianist Margo Lewis and guitarist/vocalist Nancy Peterman, the lineup was complete.
Modest fame came fairly quickly in 1962 as they toured West Germany and Switzerland with Chubby Checker. In 1963, Decca Records signed them to a contract officially making them the first female band to land a record deal from a major label.
Soon word spread of this exotic thing known as an all-female group and in 1964, gigs started to line up. One of them was a major show in Las Vegas but things hit a snag when Nancy Peterman informed the group that she was pregnant (and unfortunately, unmarried). It seems Peterman had begun a romantic relationship with an organist from a band they were touring with and of course, one thing led to another. This being the 1960s, birth control for unmarried women was illegal in many states and Roe v. Wade wasn’t even an idea. After an attempt to get Peterman an “illicit procedure” fell through, there was only one option left…Peterman had to leave the band. As Goldie laughingly recounts the story to The Huffington Post: “She kept saying she was so lonely […] had I known I would have bought her a vibrator.” So after Peterman was let go, Carol MacDonald, another guitarist/vocalist was hired in her place.
Another gig that proved fateful was their performance at a private party in NYC for Andy Warhol and his new discovery, Baby Jane Holzer. Among the guests was a little group called The Rolling Stones who were just starting out themselves, as well as Atlantic Records founder, Ahmet Ertegun. Ertegun, who was entranced by the group, eventually wooed the girls away from Decca and signed them to his new label, Atco.
A two-year successful run in England began when a British invasion band called The Animals caught their act in Times Square and invited them on the road with them. Playing in the same clubs as their British male counterparts, they soon discovered that none other than an actual Beatle, Ringo Starr, was a fan and helped them land a gig on a popular BBC show, Not Only…But Also. It was on this show that they sang a song that should have been their breakout hit: Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat. It was a song they had just recorded in the UK that made it to Number 25 on the UK singles charts in 1965. Alas however, major fame was not to be, as a high profile English group called Herman’s Hermits had just released this very same song two weeks prior to great fanfare (and a Number One slot in the U.S) thus undermining the Gingerbread’s chance for a hit single in the U.S. (Writer’s Note: while I HATE admitting this, I do vaguely remember hearing this song on the radio!! Yeah, I’m old!)
Eventually they returned to the U.S and while Goldie was always the constant, there were several personnel changes among the Gingerbreads. As Goldie recounts, “A lot of the girls that were canned down the line … they wanted to have a family, they wanted to have children. There’s no room for that here.” Some saw it was Goldie’s strict leadership style as well as their failure to make a major impact in the music business that eventually led to the band’s demise in 1968.
As for where they are today, all members have managed to stay in the music business in one form or another. Margo Lewis has toured with Bo Didley as keyboardist and runs her own talent consulting business. Ginger Bianco and Carol MacDonald formed a jazz fusion band named Isis. But it’s Goldie Zelkovicz who has really kept the fearless woman in rock flame going. She formed her own jazz fusion band called Ten Wheel Drive (which was when she changed her last name to Ravan), appeared on talk shows, produced a come-back album for Ronnie Spector, served as head of production at CBGB Records, and currently hosts two Sirius/XM radio shows: Goldie’s Garage and Chicks and Broads. In her 2004 memoir Lollipop Lounge: Memoirs of a Rock and Roll Refugee, Goldie takes the reader on a roller coaster ride beginning with her childhood growing up in a Polish prison camp to her struggles with alcohol and cancer.
The group performed together one last time in November 1997 to commemorate their 30th anniversary as well celebrate their inclusion in The Rolling Stone Book of Women in Rock. What is truly disheartening however, is that as true rock and roll trailblazers, Goldie and the Gingerbreads have not been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (They were however, included in a travelling Hall of Fame Women in Music exhibit in 2011.)
Happily, a far more meaningful honor was bestowed upon them in February 1998 when the Women in Music organization presented the group with its Touchstone Award. Given annually, this award recognizes women who possess “the courage and inspiration to make a difference in the music industry and whose work has set new standards.” Making the moment even sweeter and bringing them full circle, was when none other than Ahmet Ertegun, their very first supporter, presented each member with their very own statuette!
Not bad for a little prison camp survivor from Poland.