Tetes Noires founder Polly Alexander dead at 47

Categories: Obituary

Paula Joan "Polly" Alexander, a founding member of Minneapolis's first all-female rock band, Tetes Noires, died of a heart illness on October 22. She was 47.

"She had such a light heart, but she was a loner at the same time," said Alexander's former band mate Camille Gage. "She was a guitar player, and she liked to be in the back. She had such a wonderful sense of style beyond her time--sort of '50s and '60s kitsch. We all looked half-ass most of the time, but she always looked great.

"Her apartment was filled with kitschy stuff, all this Elvis stuff and smiley faces. I've been thinking about her all day: She loved this one Rick Springfield song, and one time she filled a cassette tape with just that song, and played it over and over."

A native of River Falls, Wisconsin, Alexander was a freelance accountant and did tax work for many musicians and friends in Minneapolis. Tetes released three albums--Têtes Noires (1983); American Dream (1984), and Clay Foot Gods (1987)--about which the Trouser Press Record Guide wrote, "This Minneapolis sextet shows what can happen when a demented Girl Scout singalong turns into a pop band. Their musical assets are formidable, with three lead singers--ranging from credible to incredible--and a songwriting collective that easily harnesses its riot of pop influences to produce work that demands serious consideration."

Tetes Noires took pride in the fact that they wrote, recorded, and produced their own records without the help of anyone in the male-dominated music business. Nor were they under the guidance of a Svengali-type that oversaw the careers of all-female groups such as the Runaways (Kim Fowley) or the Ronettes (Phil Spector). Formed in 1982, the band pre-dated such groups as the Slits, Mission Of Burma, and Babes In Toyland.

"Polly was really proud of (our pioneer status)," says Gage. "We all were. If we weren't the first all-girl band in the country, we were one of the first. We don't know what was going on in garages all over America, but as we toured in places like New York and Chicago, people would say we were. We were just never big self-promoters. We're kind of the band that time forgot."

Alexander is survived by her parents, Dick & Joan Alexander of Alma, Wisconsin; two sisters and two nephews. The family requests memorials be given in Polly's name to the American Heart Association or East Side Neighborhood Services. A memorial service will be held Friday (2 p.m.) at First Congregation Church in River Falls. For more information, call Cashman Mortuary at 715.425.5644.

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