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White County native Beth Ditto is the singer and songwriter for Gossip, an indie, dance-punk band based in Portland, Oregon. Ditto is also known for being a model and fashion designer who promotes positive body image, as well as for her outspoken support of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights. In 2006, she became the first woman voted “Coolest Person in Rock” by NME, a long-running British music magazine. She also released her first solo album in 2017.
Beth Ditto was born Mary Beth Patterson on February 19, 1981. She was raised by a single mother, Velmyra Estel, and grew up in Judsonia (White County), near Searcy (White County); she did not know her father and was given the last name of the man who helped raise her, Homer Ditto. She has five siblings. After graduating from high school, Ditto left Arkansas to join the feminist punk scene of Olympia, Washington, where the Gossip formed in 1999. Members of the band included guitarist Nathan Howdeshell, drummer Kathy Mendonca, and Ditto. The three were roommates in Olympia, and Howdeshell and Mendonca had played in a band together in Searcy. In 1999, the Gossip released its first recording and began a tour with rock band Sleater-Kinney. The Gossip gained acclaim after playing Ladyfest, a feminist event in Olympia, and was profiled in Time magazine in a feature covering the event in 2000.
The band’s first album, That’s Not What I Heard, was released in 2001, followed by EP Arkansas Heat (2002), and a second studio album, Movement (2003). After the Gossip’s first live album, Undead in NYC (2003), Mendonca left the band to pursue a different career. Drummer Hannah Blilie then joined the group, and the word “the” was dropped from the band’s name. Gossip’s third studio album, Standing in the Way of Control, achieved gold record status in the United Kingdom. The title track was written as a protest against the Bush administration’s stance on gay marriage.
In 2007, Gossip joined the multi-artist line-up of the True Colors Tour, the profits of which benefited the Human Rights Campaign. The band’s fourth studio album, Music for Men, was released in 2009, and the single “Heavy Cross” went triple gold in Germany. The band’s fifth studio album, A Joyful Noise (2012), reveals more of a pop sound than earlier recordings.
Ditto’s solo work includes contributing vocals on various artists’ tracks, including Belgian drum and bass producer Netsky, English electronic duo Simian Mobile Disco, and Blondie. In 2011, she released the EP Beth Ditto, which Horatia Harrod of British newspaper the Telegraph described as “melancholic, soulful dance music, inspired by ‘Eighties disco soul jams’ that she loves, and the up-tempo pop-R&B of I Wanna Dance with Somebody–era Whitney Houston.” In 2017, Ditto released her first solo album, Fake Sugar.
From April 2007 to April 2008, Ditto contributed an advice column to The Guardian, titled, “What Would Beth Ditto Do?”
Ditto's memoir, Coal to Diamonds (2012), recounts her life growing up in a poor family in rural Arkansas. She also speaks openly about multigenerational instances of sexual abuse experienced by the women in her family, including her own experiences, having been molested at the age of five and raped by an uncle throughout her adolescence. Speaking out against racism, homophobia, and fatphobia in her book, Ditto also exposes the male privilege and sexism that permitted rampant abuse she describes as accepted simply as “the way things were” in Arkansas. Ditto also discusses her difficult transition from the smaller town of Olympia to Portland, where she fell into a deep depression while struggling with sarcoidosis, a rare inflammatory disease that cause her to have growths and bouts of blindness.
Ditto’s weight has garnered much media attention, and she promotes positive body image and has been featured nude on the cover of several magazines, including NME and Love. In October 2010, she modeled for designer Jean Paul Gaultier’s spring 2011 fashion show during Paris Fashion Week. She has also designed collections for women’s plus-sized clothing store Evans, as well as MAC Cosmetics.
Ditto married longtime girlfriend Kristin Ogata in Maui, Hawaii, in July 2013. She now resides in Portland, Oregon. She also teaches at Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls at Mississippi Records in Portland, a program designed to empower young musicians.
For additional information:
Abreu, Amelia. “Southern Comfort: The Gossip Returns to the Land of Dollar Store Culture.” Dallas Observer, February 8, 2001. http://www.dallasobserver.com/2001-02-08/music/southern-comfort/ (accessed March 1, 2018).
Beth Ditto. http://www.bethditto.com/ (accessed March 1, 2018).
Clancy, Sean. “The Sweet Life.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 11, 2017, pp. 1E, 6E.
Ditto, Beth, with Michelle Tea. Coal to Diamonds. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2012.
“Everything That You Think Is Weird Is Normal to Me.” The Guardian, July 4, 2009. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/jul/05/beth-ditto-fashion-interview (accessed March 1, 2018).
Harrod, Horatia. “Beth Ditto: The Punk ‘It’ Girl.” The Telegraph, February 21, 2011. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/rockandpopfeatures/8330932/Beth-Ditto-the-punk-it-girl.html (accessed March 1, 2018).
Smittle, Stephanie. “Let That Baby Fly.” Arkansas Times, March 1, 2018, p. 16. Online at https://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/a-qanda-with-beth-ditto/Content?oid=15129612 (accessed March 1, 2018).
Arkansas State University
Last Updated 3/1/2018
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