21 Greatest Classic Rock and Roll Women
The world of rock and roll wouldn’t be what it is today without the phenomenal contributions of women. They don’t just play soft rock either. In fact, nobody rocks harder than some of the ladies on this list (many can play the guitar just as good as the guys, bending notes like Keith Richards).
Nobody can sing the blues 'till the tears fall like rain better than these classic rock and roll women. Now, let’s begin the countdown! (Please keep in mind that every lady on this list is at least 40 and still alive and kicking.)
21. Susanna Hoffs
Birthday: January 17, 1959
Origin: Los Angeles, CA
This rocker’s major claim to fame seems to be her leadership of the Bangles, and all-girl band formed in 1982. The Bangles first major album was Different Light (1986), from which sprang such hit singles such as “Manic Monday” (written for the Bangles by Prince), “If She Knew What She Wants” and “Walk Like an Egyptian.” In addition to playing guitar, Hoffs also sings and writes songs. She launched a solo career in 1991, producing the album When You’re a Boy (1991) and its hit single “My Side of the Bed.” Hoffs has also recorded songs for the sound tracks in the movies Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992). Hoffs, along with Mike Myers and Matthew Sweet, performed in Ming Tea, a fictitious British rock band appearing in the Austin Powers films. Hoffs has also acted in many movies and TV shows.
Susanna Hoffs with the Bangles
20. Patti Smith
Birthday: December 30, 1946
Origin: Chicago, IL
Patti Smith emerged from the New York City punk rock scene in 1975. She’s known as the Godmother of Punk. Smith’s debut album was Horses,whose lead tune was a cover of Van Morrison’s “Gloria.” But perhaps Smith’s most popular song is the very unpunk “Because the Night.” Smith also has many artistic interests, including poetry, writing, painting, photography, and performance art. Interestingly, she once had a fling with iconoclastic photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. An excerpt from one of her early poems reads: “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.” Incidentally, Smith loves Tibet and its style of Buddhism. Nowadays, Smith, while receiving awards for her poetry, has written her autobiography, Just Kids (2010); and in 2012 she released the album Banga.
19. Grace Slick
Birthday: October 30, 1939
Origin: Highland Park, IL
Grace Slick was a seminal artist in the acid rock scene of the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960s. She performed in the Great Society and then the Jefferson Airplane, for which she was the primary vocalist on “White Rabbit,” “Somebody to Love,” and “We Can Be Together." Then, in the 1970s, Slick left the Airplane and helped form the Jefferson Starship, a more pop oriented group, which later became Starship, whose hit singles included “We Built This City,” “Sarah,” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” Slick also had a solo career as a singer/songwriter. Now she’s retired. Famously, about aging rockers, she said, “All rock-and-rollers over the age of 50 look stupid and should retire. You can do jazz, classical, blues, opera, country until you're 150, but rap and rock and roll are really a way for young people to get that anger out."
18. Cyndi Lauper
Birthday: June 22, 1953
Origin: Astoria, New York, NY
Cyndi Lauper certainly had the tools to start a singing career. Her voice hit four octaves; she had perfect pitch and a unique singing style. Lauper became a super star is 1983 with the release of her first solo album, She’s So Unusual, which spawned four top-five singles. This was the first time a female singer had achieved such a feat. Probably the greatest hit of the album is “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” the video of which won Best Female Video at the 1984 MTV Music Video Awards. In 1990, Lauper collaborated with Yoko Ono and appeared in a John Lennon tribute concert aired on the Disney Channel. Lauper continues to act, produce albums, and perform. In 2009, Lauper appeared on the Celebrity Apprentice, and in May 2010 Donald Trump told her “You’re fired!” In June 2019, Lauper sang in the opening ceremony for Stonewall 50–WorldPride NYC 2019.
17. Debbie Harry
Birthday: July 1, 1945
Origin: Miami, FL
In the 1970s, Debbie Harry attained worldwide success as the singer/front girl for the new wave band Blondie, whose greatest hits may have been “Heart of Glass,” Rapture,” “Atomic,” and “Call Me.” Becoming a punk icon by 1980, Debbie Harry became an even bigger star when Andy Warhol shot a series of photos and created silk screen images of Harry at the Factory in NYC. She also began appearing and acting in TV shows and feature films, notably Videodrome (1983) and Forever Lulu (1987). Harry also started an intermittent solo career from 1981 to the present, having produced five solo albums. Often controversial in her choice of lyrics, subject matter, or attire, Harry continues to push the envelop of musical expression well into the twenty-first century and shows no signs of slowing down.
16. Pat Benatar
Birthday: January 10, 1953
Origin: Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York
Pat Benatar has used the tough little chick persona to good effect, though her feminine side always shines through. Benatar has produced numerous Top 40 singles, including “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” and “Love Is a Battlefield.” Rising to stardom in the 1980s, Benatar won award upon award, including four consecutive Grammy Awards for Best Female Rock Performance from 1980 to 1983. Perhaps Benatar's best album from that period is Live from Earth. Her name is pretty much synonymous with rock in the 1980s.
Benatar continues to perform, often with her long-time husband and lead guitarist Neil Giraldo. In June 2010, Benatar’s autobiography, Between a Heart and a Rock Place, was published. And, in 2019, Benatar launched her 40th Anniversary Tour.
15. Ann Wilson
Birthday: June 19, 1950
Origin: San Diego, CA
Ann Wilson is one-half of the duo of lead singers in Heart, an arena rock band formed in 1973. Nancy Wilson, Ann’s younger sister, has the dulcet voice, while Ann’s is considered a dramatic soprano and seemingly much more suitable for hard rock lyrics. Ann sang the lead on three of Heart’s greatest hits: “Crazy on You,” “Barracuda,” and “Magic Man.” Appropriately, in 2006, Hit Parade magazine named Ann Wilson one of the top heavy metal vocalists of all time. Notably, in the mid-1990s, the Wilson sisters formed a secondary band called the Lovemongers, whose debut album was Whirlygig (1997). In 2006, Ann Wilson recorded a solo album featuring the work of numerous artists such as Elton John and k.d. lang. And, in 2018, Ann Wilson released another solo album, Immortal, featuring the single “You Don’t Own Me.”
14. Chrissie Hynde
Birthday: September 7, 1951
Origin: Akron, Ohio
Chrissie Hynde is the only continuous member of the Pretenders, a rock group the singer/songwriter/guitarist formed in the late 1970s. The Pretenders breakthrough album was Learning to Crawl (1984), which contains the band’s most popular tune, “Middle of the Road.” In the 1980s, drug trouble and other problems plagued the band, but Hynde continued the band’s sound if nothing else, using studio musicians when necessary. Over the years, Hynde has performed with a diverse array of artists, including Frank Sinatra, Emmylou Harris, Ray Davies (with whom she had a child), Bruce Willis, Moreno Veloso, Ringo Starr, Incubus, Sheryl Crow, Cher, and Eric Clapton. Though never straying far from the Pretenders, Hynde in August 2010 formed the band J.P., Chrissie and the Fairground Boys. And, in 2019, Hynde produced the solo album Valve Bone Woe.
13. Joan Jett
Birthday: September 22, 1958
Origin: Wynnewood, Pennsylvania
Joan Jett has been called the Queen of Rock and Roll during her impressive career as a singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer, and actress. Developing a decidedly hard rock inflection, Jett debuted as the rhythm guitarist in the all-chick band The Runaways in 1975. Then, in 1980, Jett formed Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. The band’s second album, I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll contained her iconic hit of the same name, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks. By the early 1990s, people were calling Jett the Godmother of Punk or Original Riot Grrrl. This woman has garnered her share of nicknames! In the late 1990s, Jett worked with The Gits, the band for which Mia Zapata sang before her murder in 1993. The proceeds from some of this work helped nab Zapata’s killer in 2004. And, in 2015, Jett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
12. Janet Jackson
Birthday: May 16, 1966
Origin: Gary, IN
Janet Jackson, the ninth and the youngest of the famous Jackson family, worked as an actress on various TV shows in the 1970s and ‘80s, and then in 1982 she launched a singing career. At this time she produced the album Control (1986), which was filled with hit singles, including her signature hit, “Nasty.” Also becoming a great dancer, Janet seems a female version of her older brother Michael. In the 1990s, she became one of the greatest sex symbols in the world and began acting in feature films. Then, in the early aughts, she became one of the bestselling recording artists in contemporary music. The hits keep coming for Janet with the release of Unbreakable (2015), her first album produced by the independent label Rhythm Nation.
11. Suzi Quatro
Birthday: June 3, 1950
Origin: Detroit, MI
Suzi Quatro is a rock and roll chick who plays bass and is also the lead singer of her band. Quatro began her musical career in the 1960s as a member of the Pleasure Seekers, an all girls act. Then Quatro hit her stride during the glam rock era of the 1970s, when some thought she could become the new Janis Joplin (which makes sense, because when she was growing up she wanted to be Elvis Presley). At any rate, over the years, some have called her the Queen of Cock Rock. Quatro has produced 17 studio albums, including No Control (2019). And, Quatro’s list of singles seems as long as that of most rock stars (her list of cover songs is pages and pages long). You name it, Suzi’s sang it—and usually while playing her Fender bass!
10. Kate Bush
Birthday: July 30, 1958
Origin: Bexleyheath, United Kingdom
British singer Kate Bush has had a spectacular career in the UK. Her first single, “Wuthering Heights,” hit #1 in the UK when she was only 19. She’s released 25 Top 40 UK singles and all of her studio albums have climbed to the UK Top 10, including two #1 albums —Never for Ever (1980) and Hounds of Love (1985). Mentored by and collaborating with Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour throughout her career, Bush has written hundreds of songs and produced 10 studio albums, the latest, 50 Words for Snow (2011). Unfortunately, Bush hasn’t been as popular in the US. She says she shouldn’t have been promoted as a sex object in the US and that her theatrical and heavily choreographed performances weren’t shown properly. Bush went on family hiatus from 1994 to 2006, and then in 2014 she produced “Before the Dawn,” a series of 22 concerts at the London Hammersmith Apollo.
9. Lita Ford
Birthday: September 19, 1958
Origin: London, England
Lita Ford began her musical career by singing and playing guitar in the Runaways, an all-female hard rock band in the 1970s (Joan Jett also played in this group), but it broke up in 1979. Then, Ford turned solo and eventually developed a pop metal sound with strong commercial potential. In 1988, Ford released her most popular album, Lita, which included many of her hits: “Kiss Me Deadly,” “Back to the Cave,” and “Close My Eyes Forever,” which featured a duet with her and Ozzy Osbourne and was highlighted by a soulful guitar solo by Ford. The song reached #8 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Ford went on hiatus between 1996 and 2007, then resumed her touring and recording career and released the album Time Capsule (2016), a collection of old songs recorded with artists such as Gene Simmons, Billy Sheehan, and others.
8. Stevie Nicks
Birthday: May 26, 1948
Origin: Phoenix, AZ
Nicks career jumped into overdrive when she joined Fleetwood Mac in December 1974. Three years later the band produced Rumours, the tenth highest selling album of all time and perhaps the greatest soft rock compilation ever. The album features Nicks’ penned tunes such as “Landslide,” “Rhiannon,” and “Dreams.” Nicks went solo in the 1980s and perhaps her best singles over that period were “Stand Back” and “Nightbird.” Intermittently, she’s reunited with Fleetwood Mac–that is, when she and former beau Lindsey Buckingham can keep from fighting. Over the years, Nicks has battled substance abuse and weight gain, though she seems lucid and healthy these days. Nicks released the solo album In Your Dreams in 2011. And, in 2019, Nicks was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the second time (the first was for her inclusion in Fleetwood Mac).
7. Melissa Etheridge
Birthday: May 29, 1961
Origin: Leavenworth, Kansas
Melissa Etheridge is an alumnus of the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, though she dropped out before graduating, choosing instead to launch her solo career. (Etheridge eventually received an Honorary Doctor of Music degree at the school in May 2006.) Before releasing her debut album, Melissa Etheridge, in 1988, Etheridge played the club circuit for years, highlighting her powerful, smoky voice. Commonly known as her breakthrough album, Yes I Am was produced in 1993. Its hit single was “Come to My Window,” a Billboard Top Ten single and Grammy Award winner. But life has been a bumpy road for Etheridge; in October 2004 she was diagnosed with breast cancer (luckily, that turned out well). She also had a “coming out” in 1993. In the late 1990s, Etheridge and her partner Julie Cypher gave birth to two children, using iconic rocker David Crosby as the sperm donor. And, in 2019, Etheridge released the album The Medicine Show.
6. Nancy Wilson
Birthday: March 16, 1954
Origin: San Francisco, CA
Heavily influenced by the Beatles, Doors, and other rock bands in the 1960s, Nancy Wilson, along with her older sister Ann Wilson, joined the hard rock assemblage Heart in 1974. Singing backup vocals, songwriting, and playing guitar, Nancy Wilson’s voice is more alto than Ann’s savage contralto. Together the duo comprised some of rock’s most spectacular vocals in the 1970s (and well beyond). Notably, Nancy sang the lead on “These Dreams,” Heart first #1 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100. Playing an impressive range of styles on the guitar, Nancy was ranked as the eighth best female guitarist ever by Gibson in 2016. Nancy continues to perform and record with Heart, most recently on Live in Atlantic City (2019).
5. Sheryl Crow
Birthday: February 11, 1962
Origin: Kennett, MO
Sheryl Crow has a slew of awards for her rock and roll career, including nine Grammy Awards. She sings, writes songs, and can play numerous musical instruments–guitar, bass, keyboards, mandolin, and many others. She’s also been an actress and a producer. Sheryl can also play a variety of styles, including hip-hop, country and Cole Porter American pop. As Sheryl once said, she likes anything with a drum beat.
As her career took off in the 1990s, she performed at both the 1994 and 1999 Woodstock Festivals. Sheryl’s greatest hit is perhaps “My Favorite Mistake,” a song about one of her love affairs gone awry. (Did it involve Eric Clapton? She won’t say.) At any rate, she calls it her favorite single. In 2018, Crow embarked on her “Greatest Hits” tour, which ended with a set at the Isle of Wight Festival.
4. Joni Mitchell
Birthday: November 7, 1943
Origin: Fort MacLeod, Canada
Joni Mitchell hit the coffeehouse and folk club circuit during the folk-rock scene of the middle 1960s. Mitchell amazed friends such as David Crosby (co-producer of her first album) by how quickly she could create a phenomenal song—and then start another one. Perhaps Mitchell’s greatest tune from those early days was “Woodstock.” She has also created numerous pop hits such as “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Help Me.” Perhaps her most memorable line from those songs was “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” In the 1970s, Mitchell fell in love with jazz, collaborating with such artists as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Pat Metheny, eventually producing the experimental album, Hejira (1976). Always well-respected by peers and critics, Rolling Stone magazine called her “one of the greatest songwriters ever.” In 2007, Mitchell produced the album Shine.
3. Annie Lennox
Birthday: December 25, 1954
Origin: Aberdeen, Scotland
Annie Lennox, a flame haired Scottish singer/songwriter, may be the most eccentric and theatrical artist on this list. Her singing career really took off when she and singer/guitarist David A. Stewart formed Eurhymics in 1980, and their first big hit was “Sweet Dreams are Made of This.”
Lennox launched a solo career in 1992 with her debut album entitled Diva. And, even though Lennox’s singing style and performances may seem edgy, she is a much awarded and honored artist, winning four Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and eight Brit Awards. Also a philanthropist and activist, in 2007 Lennox produced the album Songs of Mass Destruction, which included the single “Sing,” a collaboration of 23 female artists with the goal of raising funds and awareness for the HIV/AIDS problem.
2. Tina Turner
Birthday: November 26, 1939
Origin: Nutbush, TN
Tina Turner began her performing career in 1958 when she sang with Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm. Then, in the 1960s, Tina and Ike starred in the Ike and Tina Turner Review, though eventually that corroboration went bust as Tina alleged that Ike had physically abused her. In the 1980s, Tina Turner launched a solo career (essentially her comeback), releasing the album Private Dancer in 1984. The album was an international hit. Its single, “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” became Turner’s greatest hit and won four Grammy Awards. In fact, Turner has won a total of 12 Grammy Awards. She’s also sold over 200 million records. In 2008 to 2009 Turner made another comeback–Tina’s 50th Anniversary Tour, her 11th solo tour to date.
Birthday: August 16, 1958
Origin: Bay City, Michigan
Madonna may be the most multi-talented artist on this list. She’s acted in numerous movies, some receiving critical acclaim. She’s also a dancer, singer, musician, songwriter and entrepreneur. Astonishingly, according to Guinness World Records, Madonna has sold more records than any other female recording artist in history–300 million at last count. Back in the day, Madonna received international acclaim with the release of Like a Virgin in 1984. Always having the cojones of a guy, if you will, Madonna seems willing to do just about anything to prove how aggressive she is, such as rolling around on the floor while wearing a wedding dress at the MTV Music Video Awards in 1985.
She remains relevant to this day. Her album Madame X (2019) debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200, surprising few people, it seems.
© 2011 Kelley Marks