fbpx Skip to main content

17+ Most Influential & Inspiring Female Musicians

17+ Most Influential & Inspiring Female Musicians

This Women’s History Month, we’re celebrating the most influential and inspiring female musicians who have made an indelible mark on music history. These women have entertained countless global fans, pushed boundaries, and worked to improve the world around them.

With the music industry having been dominated by men for generations, recognizing female musicians is all the more important. In fact, less than 4% of music producers and less than 13% of songwriters are female. Additionally, a Spotify study found that over the past decade, women represented just 21% of the artists on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart.

Even with superstar female musicians dominating awards shows recently, women are hugely underrepresented in the music industry, on stage and behind the scenes. By recognizing and sharing about the female musicians who have made an impact, we can uplift and amplify the incredible power and talent of women in the industry. Read on to learn about some of the most influential female musicians the world has ever seen!


Read on to learn more about the history of women in music, including:

  • Women in music who are making history and redefining genres
  • Famous female artists who push boundaries and aren’t afraid to be controversial
  • The greatest female singers of all time
  • Women musicians who advocate for causes they believe in
  • Inspiring stories of courage, talent, and tenacity in the music industry

In this blog, you’ll find:

  • A guide to the most influential women musicians and icons – from Aretha Franklin to Beyoncé, Janice Joplin, Lauryn Hill, and more
  • Powerful quotes and statistics about women in music
  • Ideas to celebrate Women’s History Month by celebrating the greatest female musicians
  • A unique virtual team building session to celebrate women in music

Defining Influential Female Musicians

Seated woman playing a guitar with a plant in the background.

There are countless talented female artists who are creating meaningful and entertaining work. In this post, we’ll highlight a few of the most influential female musicians. These are the icons who have shaped the industry – from shattering records to creating genre-defining work, challenging conventions, and advocating for change in the world.

An influential female musician is someone whose impact extends far beyond their musical work – impacting society at large, trends, cultural movements, and even politics, while inspiring up-and-coming generations. Impactful female musicians often serve as cultural icons and symbolize the strength, creativity, ingenuity, and tenacity of women everywhere.

The history of women in music dates back to the origins of music itself – before record labels even existed! From ancient times through the present day, women have expressed themselves and their voices through music, across all genres. From jazz and pop to classical music, hip-hop, electronic music, folk, country, and more – inspiring and influential female musicians have expanded the possibilities of what music can be and can mean to those of us who listen.


Janis Joplin, one of the most influential female musicians, in a black-and-white promo photo from 1970.

Pictured: Janis Joplin in 1970. Photo by Grossman Glotzer Management Corporation, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Overcoming Challenges and Making History

Throughout history, female musicians have been overcoming barriers to succeed. Whether they are facing gender discrimination, racial discrimination, age discrimination, and other challenges, these women have stood up to make their voices heard. While women have been a part of music since its inception, gender inequality in music and artistic expression dates back thousands of years through the present day.

For example, as one of the few female rock stars in the 60s, Janis Joplin faced significant sexism in a male-dominated genre. An NPR article notes that critics “were often singling out her body parts and talking about her physical appearance in a way that, of course, male singers, rock singers were really not getting…” Janis pushed forward to become a rock legend. She was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.

More recently, when delivering a graduation speech, music icon Beyoncé shared that the industry is “still very male-dominated…not enough Black women had a seat at the table. So I had to go and chop down that wood and build my own table.” As one of the most famous female singers, today, Beyoncé holds the record for the most Grammy awards ever, with 32 total wins.

In fact, the inaugural “Women in the Mix” study from the Recording Academy, Arizona State University, and Berklee College of Music Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship found that women in music still face “prevalent discrimination, underpayment, and under-recognition.”


Unapologetically Inspirational

Megan Thee Stallion performs on stage in a green and white bodysuit.

Pictured: Megan Thee Stallion performing on stage. Photo by BABYGIRLTOS on YouTube, licensed under CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

In the face of discrimination and backlash, many female artists have taken an unapologetic approach to expressing themselves.

For instance, Medium notes that Tina Turner pushed the boundaries of what was deemed acceptable for a public performance. Medium shares that Turner “unabashedly screamed, shouted, kicked, and thunderously belted out vocals.” In fact, a number of outlets dubbed her the “unapologetic Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll!”

Another unapologetic icon: Sinead O’Connor, who famously tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live in 1992 in protest of children’s sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests. Years later, she shared, “I’m an intelligent woman; I knew there would be an aftermath.” As a survivor of child abuse, O’Connor followed her conscience to stand up for children around the world. At the 2024 Grammys, Annie Lennox paid tribute by singing O’Connor’s hit song “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

And, while Megan Thee Stallion’s 2020 hit “WAP” raised eyebrows, she has never apologized for the song or its explicit lyrics. In fact, she wrote an op-ed in The New York Times titled “Why I Speak Up for Black Women.” In her op-ed, she noted that she’s not afraid of criticism or addressing misogynoir (prejudice against Black women). U.S. Congressional Rep. Maxine Waters commented on the song, saying, “Now that’s audacity…that is the ability for women to take charge of what they want to say…!” Waters even wrote Megan Thee Stallion a letter of support praising her work.

Countless other female artists have been unapologetic about their music, their sexuality, their beliefs, and more. As a result, women everywhere can feel empowered to express their own authentic selves.


Impactful Women Musicians Throughout History

In this post, we will continue to highlight some of the most influential female musicians in history – including their accomplishments, breakthrough moments, and the impact they have had on the music industry and society.

From cultural icons to women who break boundaries and records, these artists are part of a lasting legacy. Read on to be inspired by groundbreaking musicians like Missy Elliott, Rihanna, Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith, Ani Difranco, Whitney Houston, and so many others.


Controversial Figures and Cultural Impact

Lady Gaga during an interview, wearing a red jacket and top.

Pictured: Lady Gaga during an interview. Photo by SMP Entertainment, licensed under CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Authenticity and audacity cannot exist without controversy. As female musicians challenge societal norms and expectations, audiences and society respond at times with critique and backlash.

That said, sparking debate and critique is not always a negative. In fact, some controversies have sparked important conversations about what is deemed “acceptable” and who bears the blame when controversy arises.

For instance, Madonna’s use of sexually-charged religious iconography in her 1989 “Like a Prayer” music video led to outcry from those who saw it as disrespectful and sacrilegious. Moreover, the Vatican urged people to boycott her tour. She later noted “artists are here to disturb the peace.” Furthermore, she refused to change any aspect of her video or its sexuality for commercial opportunities.

Another female musician who’s not afraid to be controversial is Lady Gaga. This icon pushes boundaries through avant-garde fashion, fervent support of the LGBTQ+ community and rights, and open discussions about self-expression and acceptance. Extolling the power of being yourself, Gaga shared, “Don’t you ever let a soul in the world tell you that you can’t be exactly who you are.”

Controversy can often be a catalyst for deeper conversations and greater understanding. We can all take inspiration from the bold and courageous approach of female musicians who aren’t afraid to create some controversy in the name of self-expression and societal progress.


The Evolution of Women in Music

From breaking through gender barriers to achieving crossover success in various genres, women have made an impact across generations.

In addition to those listed in this post, there are countless other female artists who have shaped the landscape of music and society. Missy Elliott, Cher, Tracy Chapman, Billie Holiday, Diana Ross, Amy Winehouse, Adele, Etta James, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Nicks, Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, Janelle Monáe, Alicia Keys – the list goes on!

All of us whose lives have been impacted by music owe a debt of gratitude to female musicians, past and present. These powerful, strong women were unafraid to use their voices, often in the face of adversity, misogyny, racism, and other significant barriers. By learning about and honoring these amazing artists, we can gain a greater appreciation for the music that has become the soundtrack to our lives. Moreover, we can gain a deeper understanding of the power of allyship and work to further amplify female voices.


Celebrating Accomplished Female Musicians

While we cannot possibly recognize all of the amazing and accomplished women who have made their mark on the music industry, below are a few legends with an enduring influence.

Cultural Icons in Music

Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill performing onstage in 2019. Photo by Justin Higuchi from Los Angeles, CA, USA, licensed under CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Ms. Lauryn Hill

Regarded as one of the greatest rappers of all time, Ms. Lauryn Hill’s impact is profound. As a member of the hip-hop group The Fugees and later as a solo artist, Hill’s fusion of hip-hop, R&B, and soul has left an indelible mark on the music industry. Her 1998 multiplatinum album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” earned critical acclaim and became a cultural touchstone.

As the first hip-hop album to win the Grammy for Album of the Year, Lauryn’s only solo studio album remains popular today. Hill was nominated for 10 Grammys in 1999, winning five of them – including Best New Artist. In doing so, Hill became the first woman to ever win that many awards in a single night. Her lyrics span themes including identity, family, community, spirituality, heartache, motherhood, and more. In addition to her musical impact, Hill also established the Refugee Project, an organization she created to help underprivileged children.

Dolly Parton

If there’s anyone in the world who dislikes Dolly Parton, we have yet to meet them! Dolly’s beautiful voice, warm smile, and inspirational acts of kindness have made her memorable for generations of music lovers and fans. A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, Dolly brings a sense of authenticity and positivity to all that she does. She claims the title for being the female artist with the longest span of number one hits on the Top Country Albums Chart. Additionally, Parton holds the Guinness World Record for the most studio albums released by a female country singer (65!).

Dolly grew up in poverty, living in a one-bedroom cabin in the Tennessee woods without electicity or running water. Today, Dolly has become true force for good in the world and a vocal advocate for many causes. She is unafraid to use her voice to change the world for the better. Since 1995, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has gifted over 229 million books to more than 2.8 million children under age 5. Additionally, during the pandemic, Parton helped fund the Moderna vaccine. She was even an uncredited producer on the empowering show Buffy the Vampire Slayer! Watch the video below to learn more about Dolly’s amazing life, philanthropy, and allyship.

Selena Quintanilla-Perez

Better known as simply “Selena,” this artist is a symbol of Latin music and cultural pride. As a trailblazer in the Tejano music genre, Selena paved the way for future Latinx artists. In fact, fans have given her the affectionate nickname of “Queen of Tejano Music!” In 1987, Selena won Best Female Vocalist of the Year and Performer of the Year at the Tejano Music Awards. She also became a member of the Billboard Latin Music Hall of Fame and the Tejano Music Hall of Fame.

Selena’s incredible voice and charming personality transcended musical genres and cultures. Britannica notes, “She was poised to achieve crossover success with the release of her first English-language album” before her life was tragically cut short. Sadly, Selena was murdered in 1995. With the posthumous release of the aforementioned album, Dreaming of You, she became the first musical performer to have five Spanish albums simultaneously charting on the Billboard 200 list. Today, Selena remains one of the most beloved and celebrated Mexican-American artists of all time.

Whitney Houston

As a powerhouse vocalist, Whitney Houston is one of the most iconic female singers of the 20th century. She dominated the charts in the mid-’80s and ’90s with hits like “How Will I Know” and “Saving All My Love for You.” Even today, it’s nearly impossible to go to a wedding or party without hearing “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)!”

Despite the personal challenges she faced during her lifetime, Houston’s incredible legacy endures. During her life, Houston earned six Grammys, 2 Emmys, 16 Billboard Music Awards, and 22 American Music Awards. Furthermore, her rendition of “I Will Always Love You” (written by Dolly Parton, another icon on this list!) became one of the best-selling singles of all time. Billboard also notes, “She made her film debut in Mick Jackson’s ‘The Bodyguard,’ for which she recorded and produced a soundtrack that would become the best selling movie soundtrack of all time, topping the Billboard 200 for 20 weeks and winning album of the year at the Grammys.”

Beyond her musical career, Houston actively cared for those around her. In fact, she created the Whitney Houston Foundation (now the Whitney E. Houston Legacy Foundation) in 1989. Her goals for the foundation included helping children experiencing homelessness and illness, to help children learn to read, to build inner city parks and playgrounds, and more.


Breaking Boundaries with Some of the Most Influential Female Musicians

Black and white photo of Aretha Franklin - one of the most influential female musicians

Aretha Franklin, one of the most influential female musicians of all time. Photo by Atlantic Records (Life time: Published before 1978 without a copyright notice), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Aretha Franklin

Undoubtedly, Aretha Franklin is one of the all-time “greats” in music. Known as the “Queen of Soul,” Aretha was named the Greatest Singer of All Time by Rolling Stone in 2023. In fact, Mary J. Blige told the publication, that Aretha is “the reason why women want to sing.” Bridging musical styles from gospel to funk to the blues, she used her powerful voice to create a sound that was all her own.

With hits like “Respect,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and “I Say A Little Prayer,” Franklin’s music is well-known and beloved in countless households. During her lifetime, she won 18 Grammys and had 73 singles on the Billboard Hot 100. Moreover, she earned a Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Arts. Furthermore, she became the very first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

As Time Magazine notes, Aretha Franklin also used her voice to speak up for Civil Rights and the fight for equality. In her memoir, she noted that the anthem “Respect” had become “…one of the battle cries of the civil rights movement. The song took on monumental significance.” In an interview with Jet, she also shared, “I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace.”

Ella Fitzgerald

The legendary Ella Fitzgerald earned many “firsts” during her lifetime, paving the way for future female artists. She was the first woman to win multiple Grammy awards, with 13 wins during her lifetime. Additionally, she is the female artist with the most recordings (9) in the Grammy Hall of Fame. She was also the first woman to be recognized with the Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award, in 1967.

Fitzgerald’s music has touched hearts and changed lives. She collaborated with other legends of her time, like Duke Ellington and Nat King Cole, while performing at some of the most prestigious venues around the world.

However, her talent did not stop her from being discriminated against. In the ’50s, the popular club Mocambo refused to book Fitzgerald because of her race. In a demonstration of allyship, Marilyn Monroe called the club’s owner and insisted he book Fitzgerald. Monroe said she would take a front table every night to see Ella Fitzgerald perform. Fitzgerald noted, “After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again.” In fact, she became the first Black woman to headline the Copacabana nightclub! Dubbed “The First Lady of Song,” Fitzgerald’s legacy lives on through her 200 albums and the memory of her incredible perseverance.

Carole King

A legendary singer and songwriter, Carole King is celebrated for her soothing voice and rich, introspective lyrics. Her breakthrough 1971 album, “Tapestry,” solidified her status as a musical legend. With tracks like “I Feel the Earth Move,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” and “So Far Away,” the album’s enduring impact can still be felt today. Fans of “Gilmore Girls” will recognize “Where You Lead” as one of King’s Tapestry tracks, as well!

With 9 Grammy wins, King was also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987. The Songwriters Hall of Fame notes that Tapestry earned “the first Grammy grand-slam for a woman – ‘Best record,’ ‘Best song,’ ‘Best album,’ and ‘Best female vocalist;’ the Diamond Award (10 million units) from the RIAA. At over 25 million units sold, Tapestry was the best selling album by a woman for twenty five years.” A trailblazer in the industry, King opened the door for future female singer-songwriters to come.

A prolific songwriter, Carole King wrote many chart-topping hits for other artists. In fact, Rolling Stone has dubbed her “the most successful female songwriter – and certainly among the most influential songwriters, period.” Among the hits she wrote or co-wrote for other artists were “Up on the Roof” (The Drifters), “I’m Into Something Good” (Herman’s Hermits), “Take Good Care of My Baby” (Bobby Vee), and countless others. Impressively, she co-wrote “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” (The Shirelles) at just 17 years old! While King retired from music in 2012, her lasting impact and presence still impact the world today.


Modern Female Artists Breaking Records

Taylor Swift, one of the most influential female musicians of our generation, at the MTV 2023 Music Awards.

Taylor Swift poses at the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards. Photo by iHeartRadioCA, licensed under CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Taylor Swift

In recent years, Taylor has made headlines for her albums, The Eras Tour (and its film), and her record-breaking accolades. At the 2024 Grammys, she became the performing artist with the most-ever “Album of the Year” wins. In doing so, she beat her own record that was tied with Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, and Paul Simon. Additionally, The Eras Tour has become the highest-grossing tour ever, with 4.35+ million tickets sold. As one of the most famous female pop singers, Swift sets a positive example when it comes to philanthropy. In addition to supporting other causes, she quietly makes donations to food banks in cities where she tours. She also gave each truck driver on the U.S. leg of The Eras Tour a $100,000 bonus in appreciation for their hard work.

Swift has been vocal about the misogyny she’s faced throughout her career. In her song “The Man,” she notes that if she were a man, “They wouldn’t shake their heads and question how much of this I deserve.” Furthermore, when a radio host groped Swift without her consent, she sued him for just one dollar and won. Her lawyer noted that the single symbolic dollar had a value that is “immeasurable to all women in this situation.”

Rihanna

Even though Rihanna has not released a new album since 2016, her halftime show at the big game in 2023 was the most-watched ever. Moreover, Rihanna became the youngest self-made female self-made billionaire in 2022. She is also the first billionaire from Barbados. With a distinct blend of R&B, pop, and Caribbean influences, Rihanna is one of the most influential female musicians of her generation. She is also known for her social and political activism, speaking out on LGBTQ+ issues and against racism.

Beyond the music industry, her Fenty Beauty line and Savage x Fenty lingerie brand are beloved by consumers and fans around the world. In particular, Fenty Beauty is known for inclusive beauty products that come in a wide array of skin tone shades. Rihanna is shining bright like a diamond and empowers other women to do the same!

Mariah Carey

You might know her as the Queen of Christmas – but in the 1990s, Mariah Carey was everywhere, year-round! Renowned for her incredible five-octave vocal range, Carey has made a monumental impact on music and society. In fact, she is one of the best-selling musical artists of all time. Blending R&B, hip-hop, and pop styles, she delivered chart-topping hits you can’t help but (try to) sing along with. In 1999, Carey became the first artist to hit number one on the Billboard singles chart in each year of a decade. Her 2001 $80 million contract with Virgin Records made her the highest-paid recording artist at that time.

Additionally, Carey has supported and advocated for campaigns to end world hunger, LGBTQ+ rights, children’s causes, and more. Carey’s enduring legacy as a music icon and humanitarian continues to shape the cultural landscape, leaving an indelible mark on generations to come.


Learn More About the Most Influential Female Musicians

Illustration of four Black women in a band, with the text "She Rocks!" above.

As music continues to be a male-dominated industry, recognizing and celebrating the most influential female musicians, songwriters, producers, and more is a meaningful way to work toward equity. Additionally, intersectional inclusion that uplifts women from marginalized groups can be all the more impactful and important.

We encourage you to continue exploring the many contributions of women in music. In particular, you can honor the legacy of female musicians during Women’s History Month in March. Together with your team, delve into Women’s History Month music activities for a fun and educational entry point into the topic.

For a unique live virtual experience, sign up for our guided Women’s History Month music event, “She Rocks!”. This hour-long private team session shares about the most influential female musicians who have sung their hearts out, and shattered glass ceilings. Learn about the women of gospel, folk, rock, and more – with music trivia to add some friendly competition! Perfect for DEI-focused teams, this experience addresses intersectionality and the many contributions of Black female musicians to mainstream American music.

Then, browse our blog for more Women’s History Month ideas in the workplace, including a variety of activity prompts and suggestions. Additionally, you can browse and share inspiring International Women’s Day quotes with our blog post devoted to this topic!


Reach out below to connect with our team and book your “She Rocks!” Women’s History Month team building event, or one of our other virtual team building and training programs!