Believe it or not, it used to be a man’s world. Women couldn’t vote, couldn’t speak out of turn and sometimes couldn’t even be out in public unaccompanied by a gentleman. Once women were able to actually live their lives, there was still a box around them that restricted them from doing everything they deserved and wanted. For women’s history month in March, it is time to highlight some of the great female musicians and singers who kicked that box’s teeth in and created their own rules that paved the way for women today to live their lives any way they want.
Billie Holiday—Years active: 1933-1959
After a hard and obstacle-filled childhood, Billie Holiday started to sing in small Harlem nightclubs to ease her nerve Many people have pulled inspiration from her voice and vocal range when writing their own symphony orchestras because her voice is just that beautiful. She always used to tell people when she sang, she wanted it to sound just like an instrument and throughout her career, she perfected that dream. Holiday has won four Grammys and lives forever in the National Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame.
Aretha Franklin—Years active: 1960-2017
Franklin might have started off singing in a small church in Detroit Michigan, but by the end of the 1960s, she was known as the Queen of Soul. As her career continued to escalate she was awarded 18 Grammys, The National Medal of Art and The Presidential Medal of Freedom—she was also the first woman to ever be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As a black woman herself, Franklin is also known for being an activist for women and civil rights. She created songs such as “Respect” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Women” to make a statement for social change.
Barbra Streisand—Years active: 1960-present
Being on her own since the age of 16, Streisand is the definition of a woman who has done it all. Her mother was very disapproving of the so-called gypsy lifestyle Streisand was living and it was her goal to show not just her mother but everyone that she would be a star. She started off her music career in the theaters of Broadway and the nightclubs of New York. People loved watching her perform not just because of her voice but because she knew how to keep a crowd entertained. She is known for not only her music but for representing Jewish actresses in her roles from iconic films such as, “Funny Girl”, “A Star is Born”, and “Hello Dolly!” Streisand has strongly represented the role that Jewish women can play in the world of entertainment and proved to everyone she is a true star.
Tina Turner—Years active: 1962-2020
Tina Turner; The Proud Mary, The Queen of Rock N’Roll. Turner revolutionized the world of rock and roll for women and black artists everywhere. As her career started to escalate, she took more and more physical and sexual abuse from her then-husband, Ike Turner. After 16 years, Turner filed for divorce to start her new life as a middle-aged black woman ready to show the world that with or without Ike, she could keep on turning. She has 12 Grammys, has stars on both the Hollywood and St. Louis walk of fame and was the first black artist and first female to ever make it on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine.
Cher-Years active: 1963-present
Cher is known as being one of the most iconic women not just in music history but in women’s history. Cher started off singing with her husband Sonny Bono on the “Sonny and Cher Show” which was very popular. When she and Sonny split, her career skyrocketed and got bigger than ever. Cher is the only artist to have a number-one single on the Billboard chart each of the last six decades. She is very passionate about giving back and is a proud supporter of Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, Operation Helmet and the Children’s Craniofacial Association. Cher is a role model for women around the world and at the age of 74-years-old, she is just getting started.
Stevie Nicks—Years active: 1966-present
If you haven’t heard of Stevie Nicks….you have at least heard Stevie Nicks in her original musical project Fleetwood Mac. You think Taylor Swift is the queen of writing songs about her ex-boyfriends, but Nicks not only wrote the songs but toured, performed and traveled with her ex for years on end. Not only does her music do her justice, but through her career, she has worked with other female artists on following their dreams of becoming the next rock and roll queen. “I think every band should have a girl in it because it’s always going to make for cooler stuff going on than if it’s just a bunch of guys,” Nicks said in an interview with Danielle Sepulveres. She has been an icon since day one and it doesn’t look like she’s stopping anytime soon.
Debbie Harry (Blondie)—Years active: 1974-present
It is hard to believe that one of the mothers of punk rock and new wave started off her career as a Playboy Bunny who performed in a folk band on the side; she came a long way to show the boys that girls have just as much right on the rock and roll stage as they do. Harry and her band were known for pairing all different types of sound with their rock and roll. Well-known songs like, “Heart of Glass” and “The Tide is High” mix tones of disco, reggae and punk rock into two amazing songs that both hit the top of the UK charts. Debbie Harry was one of the first women that broke through into the hardcore punk/new wave scene that was happening in New York opening a door that no women had ever been able to walk into before.
Cyndi Lauper—Years active: 1977-present
Cyndi Lauper is the poster child for all young women of the 80s. All of your moms dressed like her at least once during the 80s; go on…ask her. Lauper was wacky, zany, fun, but was also extremely talented. Her studio album, “She’s So Unusual” was the first debut record by a female to have four top-five hits on the Billboard charts. Lauper’s hit song, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” is a female anthem about how all girls, no matter what face they might put on in public, want to let loose and have a little fun sometimes. She made female music into something fun and spunky that people still enjoy listening to today.
Meg White—Years active: 1997-2011
Meg White is the only lady on our list who is not a singer—White was the drummer for the rock band The White Stripes. When you think of drummers you normally think about crazy, loud and probably a little annoying but White kept things on the down-low. Inspired by the low public profile that Minnesota local, Bob Dylan, used to keep, she kept to herself and just did what she loved. Many musicians were impressed by White’s lack of drum training and were shocked to find out she had never touched a drum set until she met future husband and bandmate, Jack White. Jack White couldn’t have been happier to have a female drummer in his band and wouldn’t have had it any other way. He opened up in an interview and said, “It’s kind of funny: When people critique hip hop, they’re scared to open up, for fear of being called racist. But they’re not scared to open up on female musicians, out of pure sexism. Meg is the best part of this band. It never would have worked with anybody else…”
Kathleen Hanna—Years active: 1989-present
Kathleen Hanna may not be as well known as other women on the list, but had a huge impact on the Riot Grrrl and Pussy Riot movements during the 90s. Hanna because a feminist at an extremely young age and recalls many memories of her mother bringing her to feminist rallies. At 16, she started off her artist career reciting spoken word about sexism and violence against women. After a while, Hanna started a band called Bikini Kill which became one of the most influential female punk bands to date. At Bikini Kill shows, Hanna would perform in crop tops with female slurs written on her stomach and unshaven armpits. She would also always invite all the women to the front to avoid harassment from men in the back. She put all her feelings into her music and her performances to show that women don’t have to live by perfect beauty standards and are just as valuable as men. Although Bikini Kill split, Hanna is still a huge member of the punk feminist community and contributes to punk rock zines and other feminist music projects.