Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls was founded in 2004 by a group of New York City women musicians as a grassroots effort. The inaugural camp session in 2005 at the New York Society for Ethical Culture in Manhattan. 66 girls attended. In 2006, the program expanded to include two sessions, and a total of 160 girls attended. The 2006 camp season took place at Brooklyn Friends School.
Since 2007, Rock Camp has been hosted by the Urban Assembly School for Music and Art in Downtown Brooklyn.
Over the years, Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls’ program offerings have grown significantly in response to continued strong demand. The summer program more than doubled in size in its second year, and now runs at full capacity; one-third of applicants are turned away each year. In response, in 2008, the Board of Directors moved to expand the organization’s offerings to include more year-round programming. Rock Camp realized this goal with the opening in fall 2009 of Willie Mae Music Lab, a community music facility offering a wide variety of affordable music programs and resources for girls and women.
The camp is named after Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, a blues and rock performer/songwriter who was one of the first women to play the music that came to be known as “rock n’ roll.” The camp grew out of the Portland, Oregon-based program Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls, which was founded in 2000.