How these 6 women shaped rock forever

These women defied conventions, broke barriers, and left an enduring mark on the world of rock and roll. Join us as we celebrate their legacy!

By bonneville on March 8, 2024
black and white portrait of Janis Joplin
5th April 1969: Rock singer Janis Joplin (1943 – 1970). (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)

Women in rock 

In classic rock, men have mostly dominated the airwaves, but women have long played a significant role in the genre’s development. Whether it’s Tina Turner blazing a new trail for women in rock or Patti Smith holding her own as both a literary and rock icon, these women—and even more that we don’t mention in this article—have made a huge impact in the music world. 

For International Women’s Day, we examined some of the women who shaped rock and roll history. 

Janis Joplin

Gone too soon (Joplin passed away at 27 in 1970), Janis Joplin was a powerhouse during the Woodstock era. She continues to be one of the best-selling musicians of all time and was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. 

Inspired largely by Beat poets of the era, Joplin’s career started in the early ‘60s when she hitchhiked to San Francisco and recorded several tracks with the future Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen. She eventually caught the attention of the psychedelic band Big Brother and the Holding Company and recorded with them from 1966 to 1969. 

Eventually, Joplin started recording solo material, releasing her first album, “Cheap Thrills,” in 1968. Her solo work took on more elements of R&B, drawing inspiration from the likes of Otis Redding and The Supremes. 

Aretha Franklin

Known primarily for her distinctive voice, Aretha Franklin crossed genres throughout her career with hits combining soul, jazz, R&B, and rock and roll elements. In fact, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognized her influence, nominating her in the second class in 1987, making her the first woman to win the honor. 

Her work influenced countless other musicians and rock stars, including Elton John, Carole King, and Bruce Springsteen. Her piano performances established her as a virtuoso in rhythm and control, and her singing voice elevated any melody. 

Franklin was also a fierce advocate for Black and Indigenous rights, donating to various causes throughout her career and refusing to keep silent on issues that were important to her. 

Patti Smith

Combining poetry with hard rock, Patti Smith has a unique singing style that awed fans when she first broke out into the 1970s New York punk scene. Her guttural voice and intelligent lyrics became a trend seen in alternative bands that emerged soon after her, inspiring acts such as Todd Rundgren, Hole, and R.E.M. Her memoir, “Just Kids” (2010) chronicled her life during that period, earning her a National Book Award. 

Joan Jett 

Joan Jett is best known as the frontwoman of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, but she was also active for several years with the Runaways, who released the hit “Cherry Bomb.” Her biggest hit, “I Love Rock and Roll,” earned her a number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks in a row, though “Bad Reputation” and “I Hate Myself for Loving You” have also earned her wide acclaim. 

Many in the music world refer to Jett as the “Queen of Rock and Roll” or the “Godmother of Punk,” others even refer to her as the original Riot Grrrl. Regardless of what title you use, she’s undoubtedly paved the way for artists like Kathleen Hanna, Pink, and even Britney Spears, who covered her hit song, to be unapologetically fierce in their work. 

Jett also founded her label, Blackheart Records, in 1980, becoming one of the first female recording artists to do so. The label has promoted a number of acts, including The Eyeliners, Girl in a Coma, Fea, the Dollyrots, and more. 

Ann Wilson

Ann Wilson is the lead singer of Heart, one of the first hard rock bands fronted by women (her sister, Nancy, was also in the band). She was never formally taught as a vocalist, which is incredible considering the operatic vocal range she shows off in power ballads such as “Barracuda.” 

Wilson would later release solo albums, with the first, “Hope & Glory,” released in 2007. Though she is not commonly associated with the Seattle grunge scene, she spent her formative years in the region, becoming familiar with many of the artists in the area. Most notably, she collaborated with Alice in Chains, appearing twice on their 1992 album “Sap,” and was a friend of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell. She’s also collaborated with country artists Dolly Parton and k.d. lang, proving that her vocal prowess knows no bounds. 

Kim Gordon

Kim Gordon is commonly known as part of the duo with Thurston Moore, who formed Sonic Youth, which gained notoriety in the 1980s as a more experimental art house rock band. The two were married in 1984 and divorced in 2011, leading to the band’s split. Since then, Gordon has released solo work, participated in other bands such as Body/Head and Glitterbust, wrote a memoir (“Girl in a Band,” 2015), starred in films, started a clothing line, and exhibited paintings and other visual art. To say she stays busy would be an understatement. 

Gordon is still active in the music scene, releasing “The Collection” today, an industrial-style record that experiments with moodier sounds and trap beats. 

 

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