In honor of Women's History Month, here is a video playlist featuring 44 women who made a significant contribution to the history of music as composers, instrumentalists or singers.
"Being the Queen is not all about singing, and being a diva is not all about singing. It has much to do with your service to people. And your social contributions to your community and your civic contributions as well."
(1988 - 〜 )
This English singer and songwriter with a deep and soulful voice is one of today's world best-selling music artists. Adele became the first female in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 to have three simultaneous top-ten singles as a lead artist, with "Rolling in the Deep", "Someone Like You", and "Set Fire to the Rain". She won 15 Grammy Awards, 9 BRIT Awards and has sold over 10 million albums!
(1983 - 2011)
Amy Winehouse became internationally famous after the release of her multiple Grammy Award-winning album Back to Black (2006). She is also one of the best-selling albums in UK's history. English singer and songwriter, Amy was known for her expressive, deep, contralto vocals and her eclectic mix of musical genres, including soul, blues, rhythm and jazz. After her death at the age of 27, Back to Black temporarily became the UK's best-selling album of the 21st century.
( 1995 - 〜)
Aya Nakamura is a French-Malian pop singer influenced by urban and afrobeat music. She was born in Bamako, Mali, into a family of griots (west African oral storytellers) and moved to France at a young age. Her song "Djaja" stayed number 1 on the French charts for several weeks and has now over 700 million views on YouTube.
(1981 - 〜)
Trained on the sitar by her father, the Indian sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, this prominent British Indian sitar player and composer worked to strengthen the bridge between Hindustani classical music and the West, through performing and touring with musicians from all around the world. She was the first Indian woman to be nominated for a Grammy. And the youngest-ever nominee in the World Music category.
(1942 - 2018)
Known as the Queen of Soul, she was a singer and songwriter who literally defined the essence of soul music in the 60's. She was also an actress, pianist, and civil rights activist. Franklin performed in diverse genres such as vocal jazz, blues, doo-wop, and rhythm and blues. Amongst other prizes, in 2019 she was awarded a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation "for her indelible contribution to American music and culture for more than five decades”.
(1930 - 1997)
Barbara was a French singer-songwriter and actress. Influenced by the French chanson, she developed her own unique style which made a significant contribution to French popular music. Her song "L'Aigle Noir" sold 1 million copies in only 12 hours.
(1942 - 〜)
American singer, actress and filmmaker, Barbara Streisand is one of the few artists who have been awarded an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony Award (EGOT), Golden Globe, Directors Guild of America and France’s Légion d’Honneur. Streisand established herself as a major Broadway star. With fifty-two gold albums, she is second in the all-time charts, ahead of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, exceeded only by Elvis Presley.
(1946 - 2019)
Brazilian singer, guitarist, and composer, she is among the most important female samba artists, along with Gal Costa and Clara Nunes and a historical figure in Brazilian culture, who worked to drive the modernization of the samba genre in the 80s, while preserving its roots. She won a Latin Grammy for Best Samba/Pagode Album and received a Latin Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award.
(1981 - 〜)
Beyoncé is one of the world's best-selling recording artists, having sold 118 million records worldwide as a solo artist. Her music includes R&B, pop and hip hop and also soul and funk. With her songs "Crazy in Love" and “Dangerously in Love”, she became the first female artist (and the fifth artist ever) to top both the singles and albums charts in the US and the UK simultaneously. She has won 24 Grammy Awards, both as a solo artist and member of Destiny's Child and The Carters, making her the second most honored female artist by the Grammys.
(2001 - 〜)
Her music blends pop, trap, hip-hop, electronic dance music and jazz. Pop singer-songwriter Billie Eilish is the first artist born in the 2000s to have a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 Chart. She is also the youngest person and the second in history to win the four main Grammy categories—Best New Artist, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Album of the Year—in the same year.
(1915 - 1959)
Considered the greatest jazz singer of the 20th century, Billie Holiday was one of the finest jazz artists from the 1930s to the 50s. She was known for her unique vocal style, defined by a deeply moving dramatic intensity and by a distinct way of utilizing diction, phrasing and tempo. Billie used her voice as an expressive musical instrument. She once said: “I do not think I’m singing. I feel like I am playing a horn".
(1965 - 〜)
Björk is an Icelandic singer-songwriter, actress and DJ. Her eclectic music style integrates electronic and organic sounds: it includes a range of influences and genres spanning electronic, experimental, trip hop, classical, pop and avant-garde music. In 2010, Björk was awarded the Polar Music Prize (known as the “Nobel Prize for Music”) for lifetime achievement by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.
(1981 - 〜)
Brenda Navarrete is a Cuban jazz player, singer-songwriter, percussionist, composer and dancer. With a solid foundation of Latin Jazz and Afro‐Cuban influences, her music also explores the World Music genre.
(1925 - 2003)
Celia was a Cuban singer who lived in the USA for most of her life. After becoming famous in Cuba she moved to New York where she became the Queen of Salsa. Her soulful voice and vibrant performances revolutionized latin music and made her of the most popular Latin artists of the 20th century. Cruz really mastered diverse Afro-Cuban music genres and has been considered the Aretha Franklin of Latin Music. She recorded 23 gold albums and won three Grammy Awards and four Latin Grammy Awards.
(1941 - 2011)
She was a prominent singer-songwriter from Cape Verde who performed in the genres of coladeira, folk, and morna (a traditional music and dance genre from Cape Verde that often includes cavaquinho, clarinet, accordion, violin, piano and guitar. It was approved by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity). In 2003, her album Voz d'Amor was awarded a Grammy in the World Music category.
Clara Schumann was one of the most recognized pianists of the 19th century. Born in Germany, Clara performed for over six decades across Europe. She played some of her own music as well as Beethoven's, Bach's, or Chopin's. Chopin himself described Clara as: “the only woman in Germany who can play my works”. Clara was married to composer and pianist Robert Schuman, with whom she had 8 children.
(1972 - 〜)
The music style of this Spanish singer, poet, composer, and music producer is influenced by flamenco, jazz, pop, funk, soul, and African rhythms. And also by 2 different worlds: Spain, where she was born, and Equatorial Guinea, the native country of her parents. Her album El Último Trago, with the collaboration of Chucho Valdés, won the Latin Grammy as the Best Traditional Tropical Album.
(1916 - 2005)
Mexican concert pianist, songwriter, and recording artist, Consuelo Velazquez was the songwriter and lyricist of many popular songs in Spanish. Her romantic ballad “Besame Mucho” was an international hit that was recorded by artists around the world, including The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, and Luis Miguel. It is the only Mexican song ever to have topped the U.S. hit parade for 12 straight weeks.
(1917 - 1996)
Also referred to as the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz, and Lady Ella, Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the US for more than half a century. Her singing was worldwide famous for her purity of tone, wide vocal range, impeccable diction, rhythm, intonation, and a unique "scat” improvisational ability. She won 13 Grammy Awards and performed with some of the best jazz musicians, including Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and more.
(1915 - 1963)
“La Vie en Rose” ("Life in Pink", 1946) and “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" ("No, I Don't Regret Anything", 1960) are among her signature songs. Edith Piaf is one of France's most-loved singers and internationally celebrated for her interpretation of the chanson or French ballad. And she was one of the most prominent performers in France during World War II. Piaf was also a remarkable theatre and film actress.
(1982 - 〜)
Fatoumata Diawara is an emblem of modern African music. Malian singer-songwriter and guitarist, she sings predominantly in Bambara, the national language of Mali and her music mixes Malian Wassoulou folk with blues, funk, jazz, and soul. Her songs address issues such as the struggles of African women, the need for mutual respect, or the pain of immigrating.
(1938 - 2012)
Famous for hits such as “At Last” or “Something’s Got Hold of Me”, Etta James was an American singer and R&B icon who performed in various genres, including R&B, blues, soul, jazz, rock and roll, and gospel. She was recognized with six Grammy Awards, including one in 2003 for lifetime achievement, and 17 blues awards.
(1984 - 〜)
American jazz bassist, singer, songwriter, and composer. She was the first jazz artist to win a Grammy Award in the category Best New Artist. Esperanza was invited by President Barack Obama, as per the tradition of one laureate-invited-artist, to perform during the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremonies.
(1947 - 2018)
France Gall was a French pop singer who became an international success with her song "Ella, Elle l’a", a tribute to jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald. At only 17 years old, Gall had won the Eurovision Song Contest for Luxembourg, then became a star of the ‘Ye-yé’ during the sixties and from the 1970's she started to collaborate with composer Michel Berger, who became her husband.
(1943 - 1970)
She was an American singer-songwriter who sang rock, soul, and blues music. Her distinctly raspy voice and uninhibited, intense, and fierce performing style have made her an icon of ’60s American music. Janis Joplin died of an overdose at the age of 27, after releasing only one solo album. Her second solo album, "Pearl", was released in January 1971, just over three months after her death. She was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.
Joan Baez is an American singer, songwriter, musician, and activist who played a leading role in the 1960's folk music apogee. She became known for topical songs promoting social justice, civil rights and pacifism. Baez also played a critical role in popularizing Bob Dylan, with whom she dated and performed regularly in the mid-1960s.
Known for her energetic and emotional performances, `La Lupe’ was a Cuban singer of boleros, guarachas, and Latin soul. She moved to New York, where she became known as the Queen of Latin Soul in the 60’s and ’70s, performing alongside Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, and Mongo Santamaría.
Omara Portuondo is a Cuban singer with a 70 year career of exploring a wide range of music styles, from jazz to son cubano and bolero. Omara was also known as the "girlfriend of feeling", a post-World War II blend of the jazz and Cuban bolero movement. Since 1996, she has been part of the Buena Vista Social Club project, recording several albums with the band and touring broadly.
(1968 - 〜)
Oumou Sangaré is a Grammy Award-winning Malian musician and songwriter who became well-known in the early 90's. Ambassador of the Wassoulou culture, her music was mainly inspired by the popular music and traditional dances of southern Mali. Many of her songs advocate for women’s rights, love, and marriage (especially, freedom of choice in marriage).
Born and raised in a family of Italian immigrants in Michigan, she became the Queen of Pop in the late 80's. By 1991 Madonna had scored 21 top ten hits in the United States and sold some 70 million albums internationally. Her immense popularity in the 1980s and ’90s allowed her to achieve levels of power and control that were nearly unprecedented for a woman in the entertainment industry.
María Tereza Carreño
(1853 – 1917)
Venezuelan pianist, composer, soprano, and musical conductor, she became an internationally renowned virtuoso pianist at the end of the 19th century. She toured the world during years and composed approximately 75 works for voice and piano, choir and orchestra, chamber music, and merengues.
Mahalia Jackson, also known as The Queen of Gospel, was an American gospel singer with a contralto voice who was considered to be one of the most influential gospel singers. Her version of the song: “Move on Up a Little Higher” (1947) sold 2 million copies and reached the second spot on the Billboard charts. The single became the best-selling gospel record of all time.
(1935 - 2009)
Mercedes Sosa was an Argentine singer who was very popular all across Latin America. Her musical roots were in Argentine folk music and she also gave voice to songs written by many Latin American songwriters. The great part of her music dedicated to social justice made people refer to her as the "voice of the voiceless ones". She worked with different performers such as Joan Baez, Luciano Pavarotti, Sting, Caetano Veloso, Silvio Rodriguez, among many more.
Miriam Makeba is best known for the popular song “Pata Pata” and for a version of the traditional Xhosa song "Qongqothwane" ("The Click Song" in English). Nicknamed as `Mama Afrika’, Makeba was a South African-born and Grammy Award-winning singer, civil rights activist, and advocate against apartheid. Her music includes Afropop, jazz, and world music genres.
(1933 - 2018)
Spanish opera soprano singer Montserrat Caballé is best known as an exponent of the Bel Canto repertoire and Verdi’s work. Caballé became popular to non-classical music audiences in 1987, when she recorded, at the request of the International Olympics Committee, "Barcelona'', a duet with Freddie Mercury, which became an official theme song for the 1992 Olympic Games.
Marianne Mozart, nicknamed `Nannerl´, was Amadeus Mozart’s older sister. She was a talented harpsichord player, fortepianist and composer. From a very young age, she toured European cities with her father and young brother, Wolfgang Amadeus. Once she reached a marriageable age, she was no longer allowed to perform her music in public. Although she composed music, none of it survived.
(1933 - 2003)
Nina Simone’s style fused gospel and pop with classical music, blues, folk and jazz. Her musical career was rooted in activism and in protest against racism. By the mid-1960s, Simone became known as the voice of the Civil Rights Movement. She released more than 40 albums and was nominated 15 times at the Grammys, and was the recipient of a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2000 for her interpretation of "I Loves You, Porgy".
(1962 - 〜)
Originally from Jamaica, Sister Nancy is known as the first female dancehall DJ although she was also a roots reggae singer. “Bam Bam'' was her most popular song, and was inspired by the 1966 song of the same name by Toots & The Maytals. It has been re-recorded and sampled over 80 times since its release in 1983, including samples by Jay-Z, Kanye, and Lauren Hill.
(1915 - 1973)
Sister Rosetta, also known as the Godmother of Rock and Roll, was one of the first women to play electric guitar and to use heavy distortion in her guitar technique. She was also the first great recording star of gospel music in the 1930s and 1940s. And one of the first gospel musicians to appeal to rhythm-and-blues and rock-and-roll audiences. Her performances introduced gospel into concert theatres and nightclubs.
(1944 - 〜)
Singer-songwriter and folklorist from Perú, Susana Baca played a key role in the revival of Afro-Peruvian music. Her music mixes traditional and contemporary rhythms and incorporates elements of Cuban and Brazilian music. She won 3 Grammy Awards and in July 2011, she was named Peru's Minister of Culture. She is also an ethnomusicologist and a teacher.
(1939 - 〜)
Referred to as the Queen of Rock 'n' Roll, Tina Turner is also famous for her energetic stage presence and powerful vocals. American singer, songwriter, dancer, and actress, she is one of the best-selling recording artists of all time, having sold over 100 million records.
Toto la Mamposina
(1940 - 〜)
Toto la Momposina is a Colombian singer, songwriter, and dancer. Her music is a living tradition of Colombian Caribbean rhythms that also mixes Latin, African, Spanish, and Indian influences: cumbia, bolero, porro, mapale, and chalupa, among many other styles. In 1982 she was invited to perform ceremony honoring Gabriel García Marquez with the Literature Nobel Prize. Toto was awarded a Latin Grammy for lifetime achievement in 2013.
(1924 - 1973)
Umm Kulthum was known as The Voice of Egypt' thanks to her unique style, powerful contralto voice, and improvisatory creativity. Egyptian singer, songwriter, and actress, she was one of the best-selling Middle Eastern singers of all time, with over 80 million records sold worldwide.
(1963 - 2012)
Whitney Houston is one of the best-selling recording artists of all time and was certified as the most awarded female artist of all time by Guinness World Records. She is the only artist to have three number 1 albums to top the chart for 11 weeks or more. The soundtrack of the film The Bodyguard, including "I Will Always Love You”, is one of the best-selling soundtrack albums of all time with sales of 45 million copies worldwide.