When you hear the term “rock star,” who comes to mind first? Elvis Presley maybe, or The Rolling Stones? When I was little, I was introduced to Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen, and Led Zeppelin. All male-based rock bands. When I stepped out of my parent-influenced taste in music – all while still loving them – I found the ladies. Heart, Joan Jett and Blondie were some of the earlier treats that made me realize rock music is not a man’s world after all. Later on, I grew up with Alanis Morisette, Courtney Love, and Gwen Stefani. All of whom made me aware of my feminist side and my teenage angst to be treated just the same as the boys. They made me look up to each of them and want to take on the world as I stared at my magazine cut-outs of them on my bedroom wall.
There are way too many amazingly talented females in the music industry that don’t get enough credit. A good chunk of them are rock musicians. There aren’t enough pages in the Advocate to fill with the fun facts about all these women. Narrowing it down was quite difficult. In the next few pages you will see some familiar faces with some interesting facts you may not know. You will, I’m sure, also find some unfamiliar faces that will leave you intrigued to learn more. I guarantee, after reading this, you’ll be heading over to YouTube.
Goldie & the Gingerbreads were one of the first all-female rock band signed to a major record label. 1962-1967 The Liverbirds were also among the first all-female rock bands. Based in Liverpool. 1963-1968 The Pleasure Seekers were a ’60s-era garage rock band from Detroit, Michigan. The band later changed their name to Cradle, switching direction musically. 1964–1973 Fanny was another of one the first all-female rock bands to sign with a major label and the first to release an album on a major label. 1969–1975 The Runaways, a Los Angeles rock group, came along in the second half of the ’70s and were a major hit in Japan. 1975–1979
1938 – Sister Rosetta Tharpe – In 1938, at the age of 23, singer/songwriter and guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe recorded for the first time. A supreme pioneer of the music industry, she was famous for taking her gospel music and blending it with early rock accompaniment. Pegged as “the godmother of rock and roll,” she was an early influence on big names such as Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. She played a Gibson Les Paul SG Custom in the ‘40s. There’s nothing more bad-ass than that.
1958 – Johnnie Mae Matthews – Johnnie Mae Matthews was an American blues and R&B singer, songwriter, and record producer from Bessemer, Alabama. She was known as the “Godmother of Detroit Soul.” In 1958 she formed her own record label, Northern Recording Company, in Detroit, Michigan. She borrowed $85 from her husband’s paycheck to become the first female to own and operate her own record label.
1960s – Barbra Streisand – Barbra Streisand’s career spanned over six decades. She has become an icon on multiple levels in the entertainment world. She has been named “Mother of All Contemporary Pop Divas.” Streisand is also one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with more than 72.5 million albums sold in the U.S. and with a total of 245 million records sold worldwide. This makes her the best-selling female artist among the top-selling artists recognized by the Recording Industry Association of America.
1963 – Anne “Honey” Lantree – Anne Lantree, better known as Honey Lantree, is noted as one of the first female drummers in a rock band and one of the few female musicians to come out of the British Invasion. Originally a hair salon employee, Lantree and her coworker switched directions and birthed the pop group The Honeycombs in 1963.
1965 – Grace Slick – Grace Slick is one of the first female singer/songwriters to become highly recognized in the music industry. She wrote the classic tune “White Rabbit” in an hour. She’s also known for her candid and sensuous personality in the ’60s counterculture movement in the U.S. Her career spanned four decades while being in four different bands and a brief solo career.
1967 – Janis Joplin – Janis Joplin is famously known for being one of the first female lead singer/songwriters in a folk/pop band. She rose to fame in 1967 as the lead singer of the psychedelic/rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. In 1969, she split with Big Brother and formed her own backing group, The Kozmic Blues Band. She has been labeled “First Lady of Rock and Roll.”
1973 – Suzi Quatro – Suzi Quatro is an American singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. She was one of the first female bass player to become a major hit. After releasing her debut album, she had a string of hit singles that made her very successful in Europe and Australia.
1975 – Patti Smith – Pegged as the original female punk rocker, Patti Smith took on a whole new force within the punk rock movement. She debuted her first album in 1975 as a “punk poet laureate” who fused poetry with rock music. She was not afraid to voice certain words that hadn’t been voiced by a female musician before.
1975 – Lita Ford – Lita Ford was recruited at age 16 to be in The Runaways in 1975. After a short time with them she went on to do a handful of solo projects. She also worked alongside some big names in rock and metal music. Ford was nicknamed “Original female shredder” for her guitar skills. In 2013 Ford received the Certified Guitar Legend Award from Guitar Player.
1976 – Debbie Harry – Debbie Harry quickly became a punk icon in the new wave underground punk scene in ’70s NYC. Her female-led punk band Blondie kept their underground cool until their third record in 1978, which was an international hit. She is also considered the first rapper to chart at number one in the U.S. because of her little rap in “Rapture.”
1978 – Girlschool – The first all-female metal band, Girlschool, have been kicking around since they first hit the British metal scene in 1978. They are the longest running all-female band still making albums, touring and kicking metal ass. They have been associated with Motörhead, who still have a metal-solid relationship today.
1981 – Pat Benatar – How many Pat Benatar songs do you know by heart? The video for her song “You Better Run” was the first video by a female artist to air on MTV. She also became one of the most played artists during MTV’s early days in the ‘80s.
1987 – Aretha Fanklin – The soulful Aretha Franklin has a musical resume longer than a book. She has won 18 Grammy awards throughout her career. She is also considered one of the best selling artists of all time, selling over 75 million records worldwide. To add to her long list of essentials, she was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 198
1991 – Sinead O’Connor – Everyone knows Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” The song was actually a Prince song that won her worldwide success for her new arrangement. She was the first female lead to win the Grammy award for Best Alternative Music Performance in 1991.
1990s – Kathleen Hanna – If you don’t know who Kathleen Hanna is, I’m sure you’ve at least heard the term “Riot Grrrl.” Her band Bikini Kill became part of the seminal Olympia, Washington music scene in the early ‘90s. The band is widely considered to be the pioneer of the riot grrrl movement. They were known for their radical feminist lyrics and intense live performances. At concerts, Hanna would call out to the women at the show to move to the front of the stage to avoid harassment from males in the audience. To learn more about her intensity, I’d recommend watching her documentary The Punk Singer (now on Netflix).
1990s – Courtney Love and Kay Bjelland – Before Courtney Love created her band Hole — and before Kat Bjelland formed Babes in Toyland — the two were in a band briefly in 1985 called Pagan Babies. The duo had a longtime on again, off again friendship. One of the most notorious things for which they have been credited together is the “kinderwhore” fashion. That look was very popular in the early to mid ‘90s: the babydoll dresses, barrettes and Mary Jane shoes. Love and Bjelland were also part of the riot grrrl movement and sprinkled feminism throughout their music.
1990s – Ani DiFranco – Ani DiFranco is one powerful woman. Not only is she a hugely successful and talented multi-instrumentalist, poet, songwriter, and businesswoman — but she is the feminist icon of our generation. Even from the earliest days of her career, DiFranco has made her name known and voiced her opinions over a wide range of benefit concerts, albums and speaking at rallies. She has supported controversial causes ranging from abortion rights to gay visibility. DiFranco, now 45, has managed to release 20 albums throughout her career so far, as well as owning her own label, Righteous Babe Records. She may just be immortal.
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