Did you happen to see H.E.R. play “America the Beautiful” before Super Bowl LV this year? Holy smokes, she shredded the guitar solo. It was really amazing and blew other versions out of the water! And it was also frustrating, too, because even though we are now two decades into the 21st century, a lot of people still said, “Wow! Look—it’s a woman playing guitar!”
But it’s true: women play electric guitars. Or bass, or drums, etc. And they’re amazing singers, too. For as long as men have been rocking out, women have too, but thanks to the patriarchy, societal expectations, and sexism, they are often delegated to background roles or overlooked all together. Bessie Smith was the most renowned blues singer of the Jazz Age, but today her name is hardly mentioned. Susie Quatro is a killer bass player and Lita Ford is an incredible guitarist, but they don’t get nearly as much recognition as their male counterparts.
Luckily, because of the internet and also streaming radio, we are able to hear more of the musical performances by women throughout history. And thanks to books such as the ones below, the stories of these women have also been told. With International Women’s Day just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to learn about some of the greatest and unsung (ha!) music heroes.
Edited by Evelyn McDonnell
The title couldn't be more on the nose: Here is a look at 104 of the greatest female musicians in history, with explanations about why their contributions to music have been important. The incredible line-up includes Bessie Smith, The Supremes, Joan Baez, Madonna, Beyoncé, Amy Winehouse, Dolly Parton, Sleater-Kinney, and Taylor Swift. And the book is organized chronologically and includes a full-color illustration of each artist or group.
If you're interested in learning about influential rock bands, you can't miss reading about The Runaways. In the four years this all-women teenage group was together, they released four albums on a major label and toured all over the world. Although their run was brief, The Runaways were responsible for launching the careers of some of the most influential women in history, including Joan Jett and Lita Ford.
With Jeanne Fury
This is the story of one of the most influential bands of the Riot Grrrl movement, straight from the source itself. Lunachicks is a hard-rocking band who formed as on the streets of NYC in the late 1980s when they were teenagers, and gained fame when Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore got them into a studio to record. Their rebellious antics and hardcore sound solidified them as leaders in struggle for female empowerment in the music industry.
Virginia Grohl may not be a musician, but she's related to one of the most famous musicians of the last few decades: She's the mother of Dave Grohl from Nirvana and The Foo Fighters. And as the mother of a rock star, she became interested to learn about the mothers of other musicians and how they raised their children—so she wrote a book! Included in this charming, inspiring book are interviews with the mothers of such legends as Amy Winehouse, the Haim sisters, Miranda Lambert, and Kelly Clarkson.
by Loretta Lynn
Foreword by Dolly Parton
Loretta Lynn is undeniably one of country music's biggest living legends. She began her career in Nashville at the same time another incredible woman was making her start: Patsy Cline. This is the never-before-told story of the heartwarming friendship between Lynn and Cline, who blazed their own path in the music world before Cline's life was cut short by a tragic accident.
by Ethel Waters
by Charles Samuels
And this is the fascinating story of Ethel Waters, an American blues and jazz singer who took the music world by storm in the 1920s and 30s. In her own words, she talks about her rise from a childhood of poverty to become one of the most famous and influential voices of her day, not to mention her role in helping to change the landscape for African American entertainers during her time.
by Maria Raha
And last, but not least, a rocking tribute to often-overlooked women of the punk rock and indie music movement, then and now. From punks to Riot Grrls, Cinderella's Big Score examines the stories and struggles of the members of these transgressive musical genres and how they shaped today's music, including such heavy hitters as Patti Smith, Exene Cervenka, Poison Ivy, Siouxsie Sioux, the Slits, Wendy O. Williams, Kim Gordon, Kim Deal, Mia Zapata, Hole, L7, PJ Harvey, Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, and many more.