20 Of the Most Influential Female Rock Artist In History
RollingStones50yrs3 / YouTube
When reflecting upon the golden age of classic rock, it’s effortless to highlight figures such as Chuck Berry, John Lennon, or Bob Dylan as the trailblazers of the genre.
However, there existed a multitude of exceptionally talented and equally significant female musicians. In reality, numerous renowned male musicians and bands drew inspiration from their female counterparts to the extent of recording covers of their compositions.
While recognizable names like Stevie Nicks or Janis Joplin come to mind, there are still tons of female musicians out there that have regrettably been overshadowed by history, despite their undeniable impact.
Here are 20 female rock stars who helped shape the male-dominated world of rock.
1. Suzi Quatro
Numerous female musicians had ascended to stardom showcasing their guitar or piano skills, but when it came to the bass guitar, this was a realm virtually uncharted until Suzi Quatro stepped in.
Clad in complete black leather ensembles and wielding a voice that straddled the boundary between melodious and banshee-like, Quatro swiftly carved out a distinctive niche for herself within the emerging hard rock landscape of the 1970s.
2. Annie Lennox
Rolling Stone’s ranking among the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time affirms Annie Lennox’s exceptional talent. Her distinction as one of the most triumphant female British artists in the entire history of UK music can largely be attributed to her 1980s heyday.
Hailing from Scotland, Lennox pursued studies at the Royal Academy of Music during the 1970s. Initially starting her musical journey as a flutist, she swiftly transitioned into the formation of the iconic duo, Eurythmics, which brought forth a prolonged series of sensational hits, including tracks like “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and “Missionary Man.”
3. Kim Deal
Hailing from Ohio, Kim Deal was introduced to the world of rock music during her early years. Born in 1961, her formative musical experiences were shaped by the sounds of bands like AC/DC and Led Zeppelin.
Her emergence onto the rock-and-roll stage took place in the 1980s when she established herself as the bassist and co-vocalist for the indie rock outfit Pixies. This role garnered her recognition through tracks like “Cannonball” and “Gigantic,” which came to symbolize the do-it-yourself ethos of the 1990s rock scene.
4. Debbie Harry
The punk rock legend, Deborah Ann Harry, originally known as Angela Trimble, has fronted Blondie since 1974. Co-founded with her guitarist and former romantic partner, Chris Stein, Blondie became the quintessential representation of the “new wave” genre that gained prominence during the 1970s.
Deborah Ann Harry never shied away from embracing her allure, making bold fashion choices, or embracing her own femininity. Remarkably, prior to her tenure with Blondie, she even spent five years working as a Playboy Bunny.
5. Chrissie Hynde
In 1980, The Pretenders released their eponymous debut album, an instant classic that swiftly garnered acclaim. The ensemble, led by vocalist and guitarist Chrissie Hynde, possessed a distinctive sound – a fusion of new-wave punk and British rock. Encompassing tracks like “Brass In Pocket,” “Stop Your Sobbing,” “Mystery Achievement,” and the audaciously punk “Precious,” the album resonated with critics, fans, and a broad spectrum of listeners.
Chrissie Hynde, originally from Akron, OH, relocated to London in 1973 and swiftly developed a long-lasting affection for both the city and England as a whole. Remarkably, she faced no intimidation as a female presence in the music industry. Hynde emphatically states, “The notion that women couldn’t be part of the music industry four decades ago – I not only disproved that notion, but I fundamentally disagree with it. In music, you can forge your own path. The only obstacle that ever impeded me was my own hesitation.”
6. Joan Jett
Throughout her remarkable career as a vocalist, songwriter, guitarist, producer, and actress, Joan Jett has been bestowed with the title of Queen of Rock and Roll. Her musical journey took on a resolutely hard rock essence, with Jett first making her mark as the rhythm guitarist in the all-female ensemble, The Runaways, in 1975.
As the early 1990s unfolded, Jett garnered the titles of Godmother of Punk and Original Riot Grrrl, solidifying her impact within these movements. Evidently, she has collected her fair share of monikers! In the latter part of the 1990s, Jett collaborated with The Gits, the band for which Mia Zapata had lent her vocals prior to her tragic murder in 1993. Notably, the proceeds from these endeavors played a role in apprehending Zapata’s killer in 2004.
7. Carole King
With the help of her husband Gerry Goffin, legendary songwriter Carole King crafted over 100 chart-topping singles for ABC-Paramount, including iconic tracks such as Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and the Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” Their partnership was so legendary that John Lennon once expressed a desire for him and Paul McCartney to become the “Goffin-King of England.”
Then, in 1971, King released the seminal album “Tapestry,” instantly elevating the musical landscape. The album’s sales tally has exceeded 13 million copies, and timeless hits like “It’s Too Late” and “So Far Away” have solidified their status as some of the most remarkable songs of the 1970s.
8 & 9. Ann & Nancy Wilson
It’s impossible to discuss one without acknowledging the other when it comes to Ann and Nancy Wilson. While rock fans see them as distinct individuals, their narratives are so intertwined that they cannot be separated. Often referred to as “The Female Led Zeppelin,” Ann and Nancy joined forces to establish Heart in 1970. Their significance extended beyond musical talent, as they pioneered a groundbreaking path by leading a band comprised of two female members who also happened to be sisters.
The defining moment arrived in 1975 with the release of “Dreamboat Annie,” a milestone album featuring tracks like “Crazy On You” and “Magic Man.” These tracks marked the beginning of Heart’s chart-topping success, a trajectory that would be consistently punctuated by an array of hits.
10. Ronnie Spector
Initially, the original female rebel of rock and roll, Ronnie Spector, didn’t always embody that persona. Her musical journey commenced at a tender age alongside her two sisters. The trio merged to form the Ronettes and inked a contract in 1963 with Phil Spector, an influential record producer whom she had an affair with.
In that same year, their chart-topping sensation, “Be My Baby,” took the music scene by storm, propelling them to a point where they were soon sharing stages with the Beatles.
However, Ronnie’s professional trajectory and personal life were tragically marred by her abusive relationship with Spector. Despite marrying him in 1968, she ultimately escaped their mansion in 1972, fleeing barefoot through a shattered window.
11. Patti Smith
Dubbed “The Godmother of Punk,” Patti Smith masterfully melded punk rock and spoken-word poetry on her inaugural album, “Horses,” crafted under the guidance of producer John Cale. This album went on to claim a position among the most lauded releases in music history, garnering inclusion in virtually every roster of “Best Albums of All Time.”
Smith wholeheartedly embraced authenticity, dismissing makeup and anything that wasn’t unadulterated, genuine, and brutally honest without any remorse. Her influence rippled across a spectrum of artists, poets, and actors, encompassing figures like Kurt Cobain, Michael Stipe, Juliette Lewis, Elliot Page, and the Smiths.
12. Grace Slick
Grace Slick emerged as a pivotal figure within the acid rock movement of the 1960s, thriving in San Francisco’s Bay Area. She went singing for Great Society before transitioning to Jefferson Airplane. In the latter band, Slick took on the mantle of the primary vocalist, lending her distinct voice to iconic tracks like “White Rabbit,” “Somebody to Love,” and “We Can Be Together.”
As the 1970s unfurled, Slick embarked on a new chapter by departing from Jefferson Airplane to help establish the more pop-focused ensemble, Jefferson Starship. This group subsequently metamorphosed into Starship, achieving success with chart-toppers like “We Built This City,” “Sarah,” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.”
Madonna emerged as one of the most versatile artists on this list, boasting an extensive range of talents. Beyond acting and other skill, she’s showcased her best as a dancer, singer, musician, songwriter, and even an entrepreneur. Remarkably, according to The Guinness World Records, Madonna has achieved a monumental feat by selling a staggering 300 million records, solidifying her as the highest-selling female recording artist in history, as of the 2015 count.
In 1984, Madonna catapulted to international recognition with the release of “Like a Virgin.” Unyielding and fearless in her endeavors, Madonna’s audacious demeanor has been a consistent hallmark. Her willingness to push boundaries is evident in actions such as her infamous floor-rolling performance clad in a wedding dress at the 1985 MTV Music Video Awards.
14. Bonnie Raitt
Known as the “Queen of the Slide Guitar”, Bonnie Raitt’s musical legacy is a testament to her unparalleled talent. In 1989, after enduring years of lackluster album sales, she delivered a defining work in the form of “Nick of Time.” This triumphant album emerged as a monumental success, amassing a remarkable five million copies sold and clinching three Grammy awards, including the esteemed Album of the Year accolade.
Similar to many artists, Raitt grappled with alcohol and addiction struggles, yet her journey toward recovery gained momentum in 1987, catalyzed by the encouragement of figures like Stevie Ray Vaughan and others. Notably, her exceptional musical prowess caught the attention of Prince, an ardent admirer who extended a recording contract offer prior to her association with Capitol Records.
15. Aretha Franklin
Tina Turner may have held the title of “Queen of Rock n Roll,” yet the indomitable reign of Aretha Franklin as the “Queen of Soul” remains unquestioned. Her ascendancy was no happenstance; it was a result of her commanding blend of gospel, R&B, jazz, and pop, an intoxicating amalgamation that solidified her legacy.
Her position atop Rolling Stone’s esteemed list of “The Greatest Singers of All Time” stands as a testament to her unrivaled vocal prowess. Notably, she achieved another milestone as the first female artist to be enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
16. Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Prior to the emergence of icons like Elvis, Aretha Franklin, and Berry, the trailblazer known as Sister Rosetta Tharpe had already established a long-lasting mark.
Revered for her skillful picking and raw vocal delivery, Tharpe stood as a singular figure who profoundly molded the trajectory of rock and roll. In doing so, she shattered preconceptions, affirming that women possessed an instrumental prowess on the guitar equal to, if not surpassing, their male counterparts.
Her musical roots, steeped in gospel melodies, delta blues, and the vibrant sounds of New Orleans jazz, coalesced into her distinctive style. This formation was shaped by her early exposure to these genres during her upbringing. By her late 30s, Tharpe had taken the stage at the renowned Cotton Club and engaged in collaborations with prominent male musicians of the era, including Duke Ellington.
17. Joni Mitchell
During the folk-rock movement of the mid-1960s, Joni Mitchell took center stage in the coffeehouse and folk club circuit. Her ability to swiftly craft remarkable songs, often back-to-back, astounded acquaintances like David Crosby, who co-produced her first album.
Her creative repertoire extended beyond folk, yielding numerous pop hits including “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Help Me.”
Earning enduring respect from peers and critics alike, Joni Mitchell’s impact is undeniable. In January 2023, Rolling Stone magazine solidified her legacy by ranking her at an impressive #50 on their esteemed list of the 200 Greatest Singers of All Time.
18. Stevie Nicks
Stevie Nicks’s career trajectory skyrocketed when she joined Fleetwood Mac in December 1974. Three years down the road, the band delivered “Rumours,” a sonic masterpiece that stands as the tenth highest-selling album in history and a quintessential embodiment of soft rock.
Venturing into solo territory during the 1980s, Nicks marked her independence with notable singles like “Stand Back” and “Nightbird.” Periodically, she’s engaged in Fleetwood Mac reunions, a venture that sometimes requires navigating tensions with her former partner Lindsey Buckingham.
Over the passage of time, Nicks faced her share of battles, confronting substance abuse and weight fluctuations. Yet, in present times, she exudes lucidity and well-being. In 2011, Nicks unveiled her solo album “In Your Dreams.” A subsequent significant accolade arrived in 2019, as she secured her second induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the first being her inclusion as part of Fleetwood Mac.
19. Janis Joplin
Despite Janis Joplin’s career being tragically cut short by her untimely demise due to an accidental overdose, her legacy endures as one of the most profound influences on the landscape of rock singing. Her unbridled, emotionally charged live performances, coupled with her distinctive, gravelly vocals, stand as a unique and unparalleled contribution.
Joplin’s ascent to stardom began with her electrifying appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 as the lead vocalist of Big Brother and the Holding Company, where she delivered memorable renditions of songs like “Down On Me” and others. Subsequently, she graced the stage at Woodstock as a solo artist. However, her journey was marred by a relentless struggle with substance abuse.
Throughout her career, Joplin secured five Billboard Hot 100 singles, a feat that included her rendition of Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee,” a song that resonated deeply given her history with the songwriter. Her second and final solo album, “Pearl,” emerged in January 1971, approximately three months following her passing.
20. Tina Turner
Frequently hailed as the reigning Queen of Rock and Roll, Tina Turner’s professional journey has been a rollercoaster ride. Born Anna Mae Bullock in 1939, she grew up as the youngest daughter in a Tennessee household. Her journey as a singer started in the church choir, and she later relocated to St. Louis during her high school years.
It was there that she crossed paths with Ike Turner, a meeting that would significantly shape her path. Observing his band’s performance, she forged a partnership with Ike, leading to their joint success with iconic tracks like “Proud Mary” until their parting of ways in 1976.
In the 1980s, Turner staged a remarkable resurgence, marked by the release of the multi-Platinum album “Private Dancer.” Subsequently, her achievements have been nothing short of remarkable, earning her 12 Grammy Awards, dual inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and an enduring legacy for dismantling racial barriers entrenched in the realm of rock music.