Who runs the world?
Most people nationally and internationally would instinctively answer that question with "girls" because Beyonce made it known in her 2011 girl power anthem.
We all know that without the presence of women blasting through our headphones, music just would not be the same. Throughout history, female musicians have had to power their way past haters and barriers only to come out on top and prove that they can rock out even better than their male counterparts. So for International Women’s Day, AXS shines a well-deserved light on some of the trailblazers who fought their way through the trenches and onto the biggest stages to make it possible for younger versions of women like Beyoncé and Lady Gaga to follow their own dreams and become the superstars they are today.
Stevie Nicks/Christine McVie
The one-two punch and vocal backbone of Fleetwood Mac’s iconic classic rock sound comes from none other than Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie. Together the pair’s soprano and alto vocal styles helped establish a new kind of arena rock sound of the 1970s, which had been a dominated by male singers up until that point.
Carole King started her career writing and producing songs for other recording artists, and quickly made a name for herself after penning hits throughout the 1960s including "The Loco-Motion," “Up On The Roof,” "I'm into Something Good," "One Fine Day" and the huge Aretha Franklin hit, "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman." She eventually set off on her own career as a recording artist. Her 1971 album 'Tapestries' remains one of the great albums of that singer-songwriter generation of the early 70s.
In addition to helping keep blues, folk and country styles relevant within the rock and pop landscape over her forty-year career, Bonnie Raitt could also be considered one of the best slide guitar players on the planet. It was her 1991 album 'Luck of the Draw' which really cemented her crossover influence with the singles “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” and “Something To Talk About.”
Very few artists are admired and looked up to like the way that Billie Holiday is. The legendary singer came up through the competitive club circuit in Harlem, and would go on to record numerous hits throughout jazz's heyday of the 1930s and 40s with songs like "God Bless the Child," "Strange Fruit" and “Summertime” alongside George Gershwin.
Dolly Parton emerged from her formative years growing up in rural poverty within Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains to become arguably the most successful country singer of all time. Parton is also considered one of the greatest songwriters of all time, having composed over 3,000 songs throughout her career. She’s the only musician on the planet to have her own theme park, which hires many people from the communities near where she grew up.
In an era of the 1970s when arena rock was heavily dominated by men, Joan Jett and Lita Ford helped introduce millions of girls to their rebellious attitudes and unapologetic style of rock and roll as part of The Runaways. The all-girl rock group would reach success with classic rock anthems like “Cherry Bomb” and covering the Velvet Underground’s "Rock & Roll."
Very few artists in music can enter a room and capture everyone's eyes with the iconic status that the Queen of Soul can. After growing up singing gospel hymns, Franklin would go on to have a hugely successful career in the pop/soul realm with hits like "Respect," "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" and "Think." She would also become the first female performer to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Madonna came into the world of music like a bat out of hell with hit pop albums like 1984’s ‘Like a Virgin,’ 1986’s ‘True Blue’ and 1989’s ‘Like A Prayer.’ Her brash and seductive persona and performance style could’ve been responsible for stress of many parents of teenagers throughout the 80s, but without Madonna you’d have no Katy Perry, Rihanna, or Lady Gaga.
The beautifully toned voice and piano playing of Nina Simone would go on to inspire generations of pianists and songwriters. Her religious musical upbringings eventually lead her to study at the Juilliard School of Music before earning fame as a jazz pianist and singer. She was also very vocal about the civil rights movement in the 1960s and her political initiatives blended into her songwriting.
The Queen of Rock and Roll can do it all. She can sing, she can dance with unlimited energy and she can look great doing it. Not an easy accomplishment while running around in high heels on stage every night. The “What's Love Got to Do with It” singer maintained a career over the decades with power and grace with her music ranging from soul and rock to dance and pop.
Bessie Smith sometimes gets overlooked when the discussion of best female singers comes up. Without the blues you’d have no rock and roll boom in the 1950s and 60s. Without influential blues artists, pop music would certainly sound a whole lot different than it does today. Smith was the biggest female name in blues music throughout the 1920s and 30s, and her singing influenced countless musicians to help develop what would ultimately become the British Invasion of the 1960s.