Whether they’ve been acknowledged for this or not, women have dominated the rock scene for ages and have made it what it is today. Although women have shaped music in general, today we’re focusing on those women who changed rock music forever. From Karen O to Stevie Nicks and many more, here are the 30 best women in rock history.
Photo: Courtesy of CourtneyLove.org
#30. Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten‘s career went from 0% to 100% really quick. She didn’t get widespread recognition when she first started, but once she did, she achieved a kind of viral success that doesn’t usually come to more artists when she released her third studio album, Tramp, in 2012.
Photo: Courtesy of Los Angeles Magazine
Her refreshing sound, coupled with lyrics touching subjects such as abusive relationships, self-discovery and love, really connected with audiences. Since then, she has grown a lot as an artist and even moved on to scoring and blending elements of cinema with her music. Her latest album, Remind Me Tomorrow, was released earlier this year.
#29. St Vincent
We don’t know what we love more about St Vincent: her amazing vocals or her legendary guitar playing. Either way, the singer, whose real name is Annie Clark, has traversed different styles and sounds for over a decade already. She has tried so many different things (and succeeded in them) that we can barely keep up.
Photo: Courtesy of Billboard
She can switch from performer, to singer-songwriter mode, to even recording concept albums with David Byrne. Many regard her as a musical shape-shifter, because with every album comes a new persona, and we’re here for each and every one of them! Our personal favorite is her song, Los Ageless.
#28. Hayley Williams (Paramore)
Hayley Williams emerged as a breath of fresh air in the male-dominated pop-punk scene as the lead singer of the super successful group Paramore. Her bright orange hair, her powerful voice, and her strong stage prescence inspired many young girls to pursue rock music as well.
Photo: Courtesy of The New Nine
After five albums and 15 years as a band, Paramore has evolved a lot, and nowadays, the band has become more inclined to eclectic, synth-pop sounds that bring us back to the 80s. Although we love the band, we’d love to see some solo action from Hayley someday, because she clearly has the talent to back it up.
#27. Kate Pierson (The B-52s)
The B-52s started out in 1976 and have been music since then, with some lineup changes here and there. But one person that always stood out is founding member Kate Pierson. Her contagious pop-rock vocals really made party hits such as Love Shack and Roam as incredible as they are today.
Photo: Courtesy of Pri.org
Not only has she wowed us with her incredible vocals, but the singer-songwriter and keyboardist has also caught people’s eye with her campy image and incredibly charismatic persona, making her one of rock’s most beloved cult icons. Our recommended favorite tune: Deadbeat Club.
#26. Donita Sparks (L7)
It doesn’t get more rock and roll than L7, especially when it comes to one of their longest-standing members, Donita Sparks. They’ve never been shy about crossing boundaries. In fact, after being booed on stage, Donita threw her bloody tampon at the audience. Yup, that’s a true story. On the one hand: gross. On the other: badass.
Photo: Courtesy of Rolling Stone
Since 1985, Donita and the all-female group have been defying expectations and trying different sounds, ranging from punk rock, to grunge, to alternative metal. The group took a long hiatus in 2001, where Donita explored a solo project, but the band got back together for a triumphant comeback in 2014.
#25. Alice Bag (The Bags)
Punk rock singer, author, musician, educator, and feminist activist are a a few of the many words to describe Alice Bag. The lead singer and co-founder of The Bags has been active since the mid 1970’s and has brought us many iconic hits over the years. But this musician is not only famous for her music.
Photo: Courtesy of Reddit
Alice was in fact the only Latino musician from the first wave of 70s punk, giving representation to her community all on her own. She used her fame and power to send messages to survivors of abuse and used her platform to raise awareness on the detainment of immigrants.
#24. Gwen Stefani (No Doubt)
Although she has left her rock days behind, Gwen Stefani will always be remembered as an icon of ska and punk music in the 1990s. As the lead singer of the iconic band No Doubt, she brought us legendary hits suck as Just a Girl, Don’t Speak, and Spiderwebs, among many others.
Photo: Courtesy of NBC Washington
Her fun, charismatic personality and her impeccable vocals made her a 90’s icon and helped her launch her solo career in the early 2000s. Although her sound evolved from rock to pop, she hasn’t forgotten her roots and certainly brings a unique sound to the pop world. Also, can you believe this woman is 50? She just doesn’t age!
#23. Dolores O’Riordan (The Cranberries)
Dolores O’Riordan became one of the most iconic women of the rock scene with her band, The Cranberries, in the 90’s. The Irish singer lent her vocals to the alternative rock band and brought us hits such as Zombie, and Linger and skyrocketed the group to fame.
Photo: Courtesy of Diario AS
Not only was she loved for her talent, but also for her dedication to mental health awareness. She was very outspoken about dealing with bipolar disorder, which resonated with many of her fans. Sadly, Dolores passed away in 2018 at the age at 46, and the world truly lost a special soul.
#22. Brittany Howard (Alabama Shakes)
Brittany Howard started out as a member of Alabama Shakes, a blues rock band from —yup, Alabama. She always stood out for her incredible vocals and talent on the guitar. Her soulful, blues-tinged vocals truly make the band what it is today, and Brittany decided to capitalize on that by going solo earlier this year.
Photo: Courtesy of Pollstar
She also started a side project with Becca Mancari and Jesse Lafser, where she absolutely killed it as well. Basically, Brittany can do no wrong, and it shows. Since her album came out a few months ago, she has gained a lot of popularity, and we believe she is a force to reckon with.
#21. Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley)
Jenny Lewis started out as the lead singer of Riloy Kiley. The indie rock group was active for 15 years, until they split in 2013, and that’s when Jenny launched her solo career, where she reached much more fame than as a part of the group. She was an actress before making music, and she incorporates a lot of theatricality into her performances and music videos.
Photo: Courtesy of Consequence of Sound
She is known for her powerful lyrics that touch subjects such as sexuality, love, relationships, and coming of age, and her lyrical wisdom has earned her a loyal cult fanbase. Her talents as a vocalist, songwriter, and guitarist just can’t be ignored.
#20. Laura Jane Grace (Against Me!)
There is absolutely no doubt that Laura Jane Grace has dominated the punk scene for over 20 years as the lead singer and founder of rock band Against Me!, as well as Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers, her solo project that she started in 2016. But she is also known for something other than music.
Photo: Courtesy of Media March
Laura always tackled important subjects in her lyrics, one of them being gender dysphoria, which set her apart from other musicians. In 2012, she came out as transgender and used her platform to spread the world and make a difference for transgender people ever since.
#19. Melissa Etheridge
Rockstar Melissa Etheridge had a tough start in the music industry. When she was very young, she decided to drop out of music college, and had to make a living out of small gigs all over California. One day, a deal with Island Records changed her career forever, and she released her debut album in 1988 and her first hit, Bring Me Some Water.
Photo: Courtesy of Billboard
Her debut album did well, but it didn’t achieve major success. It wasn’t until she released her multi-million-selling album, Yes, I am, that her incredible lyrics and seductively raspy voice brought her to stardom. This album included hits like I’m the Only One, and Come to my Window, and got her her first Grammy Award.
#18. Kim Deal (Pixies, The Breeders)
Kim Deal entered the music scene in 1986 when she joined Pixies as the bassist and co-vocalist, and released three successful albums with the band: Come On Pilgrim, Surfer Rosa, and Doolittle. After their third album, the band went on hiatus, and Kim decided to form her own band: The Breeders.
Photo: Courtesy of Music Radar
Together with three other members, including her twin sister, she released hit after hit with The Breeders. In 1993, Pixies broke up, and Kim gave her full attention to her other group. The Breeders achieved platinum success with their album Last Splash, and Kim became a 1990s rock icon.
#17. Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie And The Banshees)
As one of the most influential singers in British rock, Siouxsie Sioux touched thousands of hearts, not only with her incredible vocals and her eclectic sound, but also with her lyrics. With her group, Siouxsie and The Banshees, she voiced delicate subjects such as mental illness, sexual abuse, and crippling anxiety.
Photo: Courtesy of Past Daily
The band was active from 1976 to 2002, with a twenty-year hiatus in between. In 2004, Siouxsie decided to go solo, and she released her first album, Mantaray, in 2007. All the singles she released were critically acclaimed, proving that she truly is a rock legend and that she will stay at the top forever.
#16. PJ Harvey
One of the artist that made the rise of alternative rock in the 1990s truly be what it was is Polly Jean Harvey. Although she is mostly known as a vocalist and a guitarist, PJ is actually proficient in several other instruments as well as in songwriting, and it shows. Her incredible voice, coupled with avant-garde theatrics made her stand out from the rest.
Photo: Courtesy of Twitter
She started out as a member of the band Automatic Diamini where she sang and played the guitar and the saxophone, and later formed an eponymous trio in the early 1990s. But she truly took off when she went solo in 1995, releasing 9 studio albums and winning many accolades.
#15. Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs)
Indie rock band the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are one of the most famous groups from the early 2000s, and Karen O, as its lead vocalist and pianist, became a rock icon. Although they’ve been active for several years, the band has only released four studio albums, all of which have gotten Grammy nominations.
Photo: Courtesy of Rolling Stone
Although she is famous for her music, her ostentatious style has also gotten her a lot of attention. She became an influential female in the industry, and her mark can be seen in the current wave of female musicians as well as in the art and fashion industry. Her energy, however, will always be unmatched.
#14. Shirley Manson (Garbage)
Scottish singer Shirley Manson is, without a doubt, one of the coolest women in rock —actually, in music in general. As the frontwoman of Garbage, she has brought us many critically-acclaimed songs with her hypnotizing vocals and deep lyrics. The band has sold over 17 million records worldwide.
Photo: Courtesy of The Current
But she isn’t only a musician. Over the years, she has become a feminist icon by sticking up for women, especially in underrepresented communities. Her biggest hits include Why Do You Love Me, and I’m Only Happy When It Rains, where she shows her impressive vocal range.
#13. Courtney Love (Hole)
No one can deny that Courtney Love is one of the most iconic figures in the grunge scene, even today, after working for more than forty years in the music industry. She rose to fame as the lead vocalist of Hole, as well as acting on tv. Hole received many accolades over the years, but in 2004, she went solo.
Photo: Courtesy of CourtneyLove.org
Her solo work includes two albums, America’s Sweetheart and Nobody’s Daughter, plus two singles she released between 2014 and 2015. Her personality also got her many fans, thanks to her wild antics and bold fashion sense. After all these years, she is sitll one of the most relevant rock artists out there.
#12. Pat Benatar
Pat Benatar has released so many iconic hits that it’s hard to keep track of them, but you probably know the lyrics of the legendary Hit Me with Your Best Shot and Love Is a Battlefield by heart, don’t you? She is a four-time Grammy Award winner, and she also has two multi-platinum albums, five platinum albums, and three gold albums.
Photo: Courtesy of PPcorn
Over the decades she has maintained her status as a rock icon and has opened the door for future female artist follow in her footsteps. She has recently been nominated to be included in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2020, and hopefully she will be.
#11. Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill, Le Tigre)
Kathleen Hanna is not only a gifted musician and a punk icon, but also a pioneer of the riot grrrl movement, an underground feminist punk movement from the 1990s. She started out as the lead singer of Bikini Kill, and later she became the frotnwoman of Le Tigre.
Photo: Courtesy of Billboard
She released her first lo-fi solo album in 1998 under the name of Julie Ruin, and has worked on a project called The Julie Ruin since 2010. She has split her time between making music and doing feminist activism, trying to make the world a better place for young women to come.
#10. Lita Ford (The Runaways)
The Runaways were an iconic all-female hard rock band that was active in the second half of the 1970s. Although their run was brief, it wasn’t short of sucess at all. The group released hits suck as Chery Bomb, Rock & Roll, and Hollywood, and inspired many women to dive into the rock scene.
Photo: Courtesy of Wikipedia
Lita Ford was the lead guitarist of the group, but she quickly proved she was frontwoman material after the group broke up and she went solo. She achieved great success in the heyday of hair metal as one of the very few women in the scene, going toe-to-toe with her male peers.
#9. Janis Joplin (Big Brother And The Holding Company)
The incredible Janis Joplin entered the music scene as a member of the psych-rock band Big Brother And The Holding Company, which earned her recognition as a force to be reckoned with in the 1960s. She quickly became one of the best blues and rock singer-songwriters in history.
Photo: Courtesy of Rolling Stone
After making two albums with the group, she decided to pursue a solo career, and released super successful hits such as Mercedes Benz and Ball and Chain. Tragically, Janis lost her life due to a heroin overdose at 27 years old, but her legacy will never be forgotten. She entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 posthumously.
#8. Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders)
Chrissie Hynde rose to prominence as the frontwoman of The Pretenders in 1978. Ever since then, she has become a fixture on the rock scene, consistently standing among the best female rock artists of her generation. She has even collabored with many aritsts such as Frank Sinatra and Cher.
Photo: Courtesy of Toronto Star
The Pretenders were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, and the band is still active to this day. She always stood out thanks to her incredible stage presence and her powerful feminist energy that inspired many women in the music industry.
#7. Ann Wilson (Heart)
Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson formed the band Heart in 1970 and have been playing ever since then, with some lineup changes here and there. The group released some of the biggest hits of the 1970s and 1980s, such as the iconic Barracuda. Ann in particular has always stood out thanks to her dramatic soprano vocal range.
Photo: Courtesy of Rolling Stone
It wasn’t until 2006, however, that she decided to pursue her first solo project, Hope & Glory, where she collaborated with big names such as Elton John. Although she is very successful in her solo endeavours, she is still playing with Heart, and will be on tour until the end of this year.
#6. Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane)
Grace Slick became a formidable force in rock when she joined the pioneering psych-rock band Jefferson Airplane. Over time, she became one of the best rock singers of all time, and was an icon of the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll that marked her era. She was also the poster child for the Summer of Love in 1967.
Photo: Courtesy of Pinterest
Her gorgeous voice and her impressive charisma made her a disarming presence. Although she had some sporadic solo projects here and there, she stayed with the band for many years, until her retirement in 1998. She has still made some appearances over the years.
#5. Tina Turner
The one and only Tina Turner is undoubtedly a music icon. She started out as part of a duo with her then-husband, Ike Turner, but it wasn’t until she went solo that she became an international superstar. As one of the best-selling recording artists in history, she is known as The Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Photo: Courtesy of GRAMMY
Her signature vocals and powerful energy made her stand out from the rest in hits like What’s Love Got to Do with It? and The Best. After selling more than 200 million records all over the world and charthing hit after hit over the years, we can only say she is simply the best.
#4. Joan Jett (The Runaways, Joan Jett And The Blackhearts)
Another artist who has been dubbed The Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll is Joan Jett. As the founder of The Runaways, she achieved great success in the 1970s, and later she founded her own band, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Thanks to her voice and her impressive feminist energy, she became a staple in the rock scene.
Photo: Courtesy of Black Girl Nerds
Joan has released worldwide hits such as Bad Reputation, Do You Wanna Touch Me, and Crimson and Clover, among many others. She also has three albums that have been certified platinum and gold, and is still making music as well as producing for other bands and making tv and film appearances.
#3. Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac)
A member of rock royalty, Stevie Nicks got her start in Fleetwood Mac as a singer and songwriter for the band. Her concert storytelling and mystical persona made her stand out from other musicians and quickly made her one of the most prominent musicians in the 1980s. Now, she is lauded as one of the best songwriters in all of history.
Photo: Courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery
Although Fleetwood Mac has achieved great success, so has her chart-topping solo career, solidifying her status as one of the most famous female rock singers of all time. Not only did she enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of the band, but this year, she was inducted into it as a solo artist.
#2. Patti Smith
Patti Smith is a woman who needs no introduction. The punk poet blended rock and poetry in her debut albm, Horses, in 1975, which made her an icon in the New York City punk scene of the time. She has been venerated as one of the most popular rock singers of all time by many generations ever since her debut.
Photo: Courtesy of The Daily Gazette
But her success doesn’t stop with music. She actually became an author and has released many crtically-acclaimed literarly works, one of them being her memoir, Just Kids. After all these years, she continues to serve as an icon for all aspiring musicians.
#1. Debbie Harry (Blondie)
The incredible Debbie Harry became a pink icon in the NYC rock scene as the lead singer of Blondie in the early 1970s. The band mixed many genres and created legendary hits such as Call Me, The Tide Is High, and Heart of Glass, among many others, and sold over 40 million records worldwide.
Photo: Courtesy of Small Steps Project
Debbie’s sexuality, style and energy made her an icon of disco’s heyday, and she took this as an opportunity to go solo for a while. However, the group is still together, albeit going through several hiatuses over the years. Their most recent release was Pollinator, in 2017.