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Women's History Month Part 2: Emily Remler

Published: March 8, 2021

Continuing our series on extraordinary artists who paved a road for women…

Wes Montgomery
Wes Montgomery

Emily Remler was born on September 18, 1957 in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.  She spent her teenage years idolizing Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Winter, having picked up the guitar at 10 years of age.   In the 70’s, she was accepted into the prestigious Berklee College of Music where she was introduced to the music of the great jazz guitarists – Herb Ellis, Pat Martino, and Wes Montgomery.   She later identified Montgomery as the most influential artist on her work, with whom she felt the strongest connection as a guitarist. 

Settling in New Orleans, she began her professional career playing in blues and jazz clubs. Jazz author Julie Coryell asked her in 1985 if she’d had to work harder for acceptance as a woman. “I still do,” she replied. “I didn’t conquer it. Are you kidding? Now they know that I can play. But I still have to prove myself every single time.”

Emily RemlerProve herself she did.  By that time, Remler had already recorded four albums including one of solely original compositions.  She wowed legendary guitarists like Jim Hall and Herb Ellis—the latter telling People magazine in 1982, “I’ve been asked many times who I think is coming up on guitar to carry on the tradition, and my unqualified choice is Emily.”

In 1985, she won Guitarist of the Year in Down Beat's international poll and in 1989 received the Distinguished Alumni award from Berklee.

Like so many other musicians, rumors of drug addiction followed Remler until her death in 1990 of heart failure at the young age of 32.

Jazz Times reports that the number of prominent female jazz instrumentalists has exploded in recent years —an encouraging sign.  Women increasingly establish solid reputations as horn players, pianists, bassists, and drummers, and yet, prominent female guitarists remain a rare breed, like Sheryl Bailey, a bebop-based virtuoso who salutes Remler as one of her heroes.

“I’m looking for the next Emily Remler,” said break-through drummer Terri Lyne Carrington. “For some reason, the guitar just seems like one [instrument] that women aren’t approaching as much. Maybe Emily’s example can inspire more.”

When asked how she wanted to be remembered Remler remarked, "Good compositions, memorable guitar playing and my contributions as a woman in music...but the music is everything.”

Susan M. Crockett, President & CEO

Sources include Jazz Times, Wikipedia, Premier Guitar, All Music