10 Female Rock Stars Who Made Rock History

These Women Helped Define the Genre of Rock

For as long as there has been what we now know as classic rock, women have played a big part in its development and success. As early as the late '60s, artists like Grace Slick and Janis Joplin were fronting A-list bands. Shortly thereafter, the genre began to see its first all-female bands, such as The Runaways and Fanny.

Throughout the '70s and early '80s more and more women became bona fide rock stars, paving the way for more female artists to rise to the top in the rock genre.

Some were a major influence on artists of their generation and the next; some were a major influence on the success of the bands with which they worked. All excelled at creating and performing rock music, as songwriters, instrumentalists, and singers.

Here is a list of women in rock whose influence is still felt today.

Pat Benatar

Pat Benatar
Raoul / IMAGES / Getty Images

One of the first women associated with hard rock, Pat Benatar's rise from bank teller to arena rock star was meteoric. Success began with her first album, In the Heat of the Night in 1979. Her second album, Crimes of Passion put her in an ideal position to become one of the first and most frequently played artists on MTV when it launched in 1981.

Quick Facts:

  • First album: In the Heat of the Night (1979)
  • Styles: Rock, hard rock
  • Specialty: Singer-songwriter
  • Best-known song: "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"
  • Discography: 12 studio albums, two live albums, one EP
  • Other pursuits: Author 

Chrissie Hynde

Chrissie Hynde
Fin Costello / Redferns / Getty Images

Despite spending much of the '70s unsuccessfully trying to form or permanently join a band, Chrissie Hynde finally got her demo tape to a record label owner whose backing enabled her to put together The Pretenders. On the strength of their self-titled debut album in 1979, the band rode rock's new wave movement through the '80s, succeeding in spite of internal conflict and numerous personnel changes.

Quick Facts:

  • First album: Pretenders (1979)
  • Styles: Alt-rock, new wave, punk
  • Specialty: Singer-songwriter, guitarist
  • Best-known song: "Back on the Chain Gang"
  • Discography: (Pretenders) nine studio albums, two live albums, one EP
  • Distinction: Has been a member of Pretenders since its formation in 1978
  • Other pursuits: Animal rights activist, restaurateur

Joan Jett

Joan Jett
Michael Marks / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

After success in the mid-'70s with one of the first all-female rock bands, The Runaways, Joan Jett went on to even greater success with her own band, The Blackhearts. Their first album, I Love Rock 'n' Roll in 1981 was an immediate hit. In addition to her talent as a vocalist, Jett has distinguished herself as a guitarist, songwriter, and producer.

Quick Facts:

  • First album: Joan Jett (1980)
  • Styles: Hard rock, punk
  • Specialty: Singer-songwriter, guitarist
  • Best-known song: "I Love Rock 'n' Roll"
  • Discography: (including solo, The Runaways, Joan Jett and The Blackhearts) 16 studio albums, one live album
  • Other pursuits: Actress, producer, radio host

Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin
Estate Of Keith Morris / Redferns / Getty Images

Janis Joplin was one of the first female artists to break the "girl singer" mold that existed in folk and pop music in the mid-'60s. Her fusion of rock and blues influenced both male and female artists. Her breakthrough came after performing with Big Brother and The Holding Company at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. She also performed at Woodstock in 1969. She was approaching the height of her success in 1970 when she died of a drug/alcohol overdose.

Quick Facts:

  • First album: Big Brother and the Holding Company (1967)
  • Styles: Psychedelic, hard rock, blues
  • Specialty: Singer-songwriter
  • Best-known song: "Piece Of My Heart"
  • Discography: (including Big Brother and the Holding Company, Kozmic Blues Band, Full Tilt Boogie Band) four studio albums, two live albums
  • Artists influenced: Stevie Nicks, Nancy Wilson, and Ann Wilson (Heart), Chrissie Hynde, Joan Jett

 

Stevie Nicks

Stevie Nicks
Rick Diamond / Getty Images

Since joining Fleetwood Mac in 1975, Stevie Nicks established herself as a major vocal and songwriting talent. While still a member of the band, she also launched a solo career in 1981. Artists in various genres have cited Nicks as a major influence on their music.

Quick Facts:

  • First album: Fleetwood Mac (1975)
  • Styles: Rock, blues rock, soft rock
  • Specialty: Singer-songwriter, keyboardist
  • Best-known song: "Dreams"
  • Discography: (including solo, Fleetwood Mac, Buckingham Nicks) 16 studio albums, three live albums
  • Artists influenced: Sheryl Crow, Courtney Love, Taylor Swift, Dixie Chicks, Michelle Branch, Mary J. Blige, Kelly Clarkson, Tori Amos

Suzi Quatro

Suzi Quatro
David Warner Ellis / Redferns

Suzi Quatro was the first female bass guitarist to become a major rocker. Her sister, Patti Quatro, had blazed the trail as a member of Fanny, one of the first all-female rock bands to sign with a major label. A long list of artists cites Suzi as a major influence on their work, including two rockers who are on this list: Joan Jett and Chrissie Hynde.

Suzi got her first big break in the UK in 1971 when she came to the attention of producer, Mickie Most, who also nurtured artists like The Animals, Jeff Beck Group, Donovan and Herman's Hermits. She started getting attention in her native America thanks to her recurring role on the TV series, Happy Days. In 1978, she released "Stumblin' In" -- a duet with British vocalist Chris Norman.

Quick Facts:

  • First album: Suzy Quatro (1973)
  • Styles: Rock, hard rock, garage rock
  • Specialty: Singer-songwriter, bassist
  • Best-known songs: "Can the Can" / "48 Crash" / "Devil Gate Drive" / "Stumblin' In"
  • Discography: 16 studio albums, one live album
  • Artists influenced: Joan Jett, The Runaways, Chrissie Hynde, Tina Weymouth
  • Other pursuits: Actress, record producer, radio host

Watch Suzi Quatro perform "48 Crash"

Grace Slick

Grace Slick
Michael Putland / Getty Images

Grace Slick's sometimes haunting voice and "let it all hang out" lifestyle (she once removed her blouse on stage and performed topless because of the hot weather) made her a perfect fit for psychedelic rock pioneers, Jefferson Airplane (and its successors, Jefferson Starship and Starship.) As a songwriter, Slick was responsible for two of the band's best known songs, "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love." She retired from the music business in 1989 and began painting and drawing professionally.

Quick Facts:

  • First album: Surrealistic Pillow (1967)
  • Styles: Psychedelic, hard rock, blues rock
  • Specialty: Singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist
  • Best known song: "Somebody To Love" / "White Rabbit" /
  • Discography: (including solo, Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, Starship, The Great Society and with Paul Kantner) 27 studio albums
  • Artists influenced: Patti Smith, Stevie Nicks
  • Other pursuits: Artist, former model

Patti Smith

Patti Smith
Peter Still / Redferns

She has been nicknamed "Godmother of Punk," but Patti Smith has influenced artists ranging from U2 to Shirley Manson. Her classic debut album, Horses (1975), found a place on "greatest albums" lists of magazines like Rolling Stone, Time, and NME. In addition to performing, she is also a prolific author and social activist.

Quick Facts:

  • First album: Horses (1975)
  • Styles: Punk, art rock
  • Specialty: Singer-songwriter
  • Best known song: "Because The Night" (co-written with Bruce Springsteen)
  • Discography: 12 studio albums, three live albums, two ​EPs, one spoken word album
  • Artists influenced: U2, Michael Stipe (R.E.M.), Shirley Manson (Garbage), Sonic Youth, The Smiths
  • Other pursuits: Author, poet, social activist

Nancy Wilson, 10. Ann Wilson

Ann and Nancy Wilson
Michael Marks / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

When Heart came along in 1973, it soon became clear that two attractive women (sisters, no less) fronting a rock band was way more than just a young man's fantasy. After their debut album, Dreamboat Annie in 1975, Ann and, with Heart, Nancy Wilson have had Top 10 albums in every decade since.

Quick Facts:

  • First album: Dreamboat Annie (1976)
  • Styles: Folk rock, hard rock, progressive rock
  • Specialty: Ann - lead singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, Nancy - guitarist, songwriter
  • Discography: (including two solo albums - one each by Ann and Nancy) 14 studio albums, five live albums
  • Best known songs: "Magic Man" / "Crazy On You" / "Barracuda"