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10 Most Influential Women Musicians Of All Time
In case you didn’t know, March is Women’s History Month. Even more, today marks International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. Some may say it’s a man’s world, but women are what run the ship. Throughout the decades, women have helped change their role in the male-dominated music industry. According to Forbes, women make up 21.7% of total active artists, including 12.3% songwriters, and a mere 2.1% of producers. While there’s still work to be done, women have played a pivotal and highly influential role in the music industry throughout the years and show no sign of stopping.
Here at Volume, we looked over the past several decades and highlighted some of the music industry’s most iconic and influential female musicians. Many talented women have graced the world’s stages over the years, paving the path for the future of women in music and leaving behind some very powerful legacies. While narrowing it down to 10 was extremely difficult, we hope to at least start the conversation surrounding some of history’s most powerful and badass women that helped pave the path for women to succeed in music today. Scroll down to the bottom to see who made our “honorable mentions” list.
Stevie Nicks (1948–Present)
Known as the “Queen of Rock n’ Roll,” Stevie Nicks has poised herself to be one of the most decorated musical poets of all time. Being the only woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, Nicks earned her reputation fronting Fleetwood Mac, one of the best-selling music acts of the 20th century. Throughout her career in the band and her own solo work, Nicks has modeled what it means to be a woman in the music industry. From her chart-topping hit “Rhiannon,” to penning the fairytale ballad “Dreams,” Nick continues to blend the crossover of femininity into the world of music.
Janis Joplin (1943-1970)
Ranked 28 on Rolling Stones’ 100 Greatest Singers Of All Time, Janis Joplin was a force to be reckoned with. Her distinctive, raspy voice paired with her “electric” stage presence not only earned her an unforgettable sound, but also as an influential artist highlighting the beauty in originality, pushing the boundary of a woman’s “place” in music. Blending rock, soul, and blues, Joplin was widely known as a star in the ‘60s and went on to sell 18.5 million albums, earning her a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.
Dolly Parton (1946–Present)
Seven decades of making a global career for herself, Dolly Parton has always charted new ground. While earning her throne in the realm of country music since a little girl, Parton has also become unprecedented businesswoman, multi-instrumentalist, record reproducer, actress, and author. She holds 47 new sale certifications this year alone, including hitting three billion streams worldwide, RIAA-certified Gold on Ultimate Dolly Parton, Platinum on her single “God Only Knows,” and multi-platinum on the single “Jolene.” Her country gospel ballads hold a higher standard in the world of music, which has helped earn her 25 number one hits on the Billboard country music charts and 50 Grammy nominations.
Karen Carpenter (1950–1983)
Talk about paving the path for true female musicianship. The American singer and drummer, best known in the duo The Carpenters, shell-shocked the world with her distinctive three-octave contralto vocal range. Known as “Lead Sister” to fans, Carpenter’s career was short lived due to her struggle with anorexia, but her legacy has helped raise the bar of the roles women can have within a music group as a both a drummer and frontwoman, while also raising awareness of eating disorders and body dysmorphia.
Carole King (1942–Present)
Carole King ranks high as a fundamental artist for the world’s soundtrack. Her ‘60s solo pop work, including co-writing The Shirelles’ famous number one hit “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” led her to a highly successful career in the early ’70s as a singer-songwriter. Forget songs about love and chasing men or money, her 1971 debut album, Tapestry, is still regarded as one of the best breakup albums of all time. As a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner through her 118 Billboard Hot 100 pop hits she wrote or co-wrote, she’s regarded as one of the most significant and influential female musicians of all time. That, on top of being a climate change activist and influential voice in the songwriting process throughout the decades, Carole King stands the test of time.
Joni Mitchell (1943–Present)
As both a beautiful songwriter and painter, Joni Mitchell has sonically sculpted murals of music throughout the decades with her soulful voice and gently melodies. Her role in the ‘60s counterculture helped continue paving her career for her 1970 hit “Big Yellow Taxi,” which continued to spark other artists to speak out on environmental issues. As Mitchell grew older, her boundaries through music and genres continued to grow with her as she blended jazz, folk, pop, and world elements through her reflective, philosophical, and sentimental lyrics. She remains one of the most important and influential female recording artists of the 20th century.
Behold…the “Queen of Pop.” From a young age, Madonna has set the bar to ceiling shattering standards when it comes to music. While writing all of her own material throughout her top-charting career, she also played a prominent role in setting style and cultural trends through her promo videos and visual elements while performing. The “Material Girl” has, and continues to set and break, multiple records through her music and acting career, granting her the highest grossing solo touring artist of all time while pushing the boundaries in every way imaginable.
Tina Turner (1939–Present)
Tina Turner may be battling Stevie Nicks for the reigning title of the “Queen of Rock n’ Roll.” Known as a global powerhouse performer, Turner has accomplished a widely successful career in music while overcoming difficult hardships and domestic abuse by her first husband and bandmate, Ike Turner. She stands as an iconic role model for women by overcoming adversity and then breaking records on her multi-platinum 1984 solo album Private Dancer, marking it as “one of the greatest comebacks in music history.” Knowing she could do it all, Turner also went on to act in several films, including starring as the Acid Queen in The Who’s musical, Tommy. Turner stands as living proof to women everywhere, that no matter your circumstances, to continue forward through inspiration, dedication, hard work, and love.
Ella Fitzgerald (1917–1996)
“First Lady of Song,” “Queen of Jazz,” “Lady Ella”…no matter what you call her, Ella Fitzgerald broke through race, gender, and music barriers at the start of her career in the ‘40s. Known for her two-and-a-half octave vocal range, Fitzgerald would hold crowds in the palm of her hands with purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing, “horn-like” improvisational ability, and “scat” singing. Throughout her career, she collaborated and made musical magic with some of history’s most iconic names in jazz, including Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, so it comes to no surprise that she won multiple Grammys (now 14) as the first Black woman at the first official Grammy Awards Ceremony in 1958. Her elegance on and off the stage has her dubbed as one of the best and most influential female musicians of all time, leaving behind a powerful and graceful legacy for women to follow today.
Aretha Franklin (1942–2018)
Lauded as the “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, solidifying her icon status in perpetuity. Not only did Franklin redefine popular music forever and break genre boundaries, fusing gospel with jazz, blues, R&B, and rock ‘n’ roll, but her voice galvanized a generation of women fighting for equality and liberation and scored an early wave of political activism working towards causes like healthcare access, environmental protection, and disability rights.
Ann Wilson (Heart)
Annie Lennox (Eurythmics)
Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane)
Nicole Row (Panic at the Disco)
Hayley Williams (Paramore)
Laura Lee (Khruangbin)