Rock and roll has been known to be dominated by men at the start, in the late ’40s. Since then, however, there have been plenty of incredible women to pick up the microphone for rock bands.
From Sister Rosetta Thorpe to Courtney Love to Tina Turner to Avril Lavigne, many of these women completely changed the genre and made critics question just who rock and roll can be performed by.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at 19 of the greatest and most famous female rock singers to grace the stage. Whether you are a fan of classic rock or modern alternative, there is sure to be a singer you love. Let’s get started.
Related: Check out our list of the most famous rock singers here.
1. Stevie Nicks
Topping our list, we have Arizona native Stevie Nicks. Growing up in the ’50s, she got her start in music by singing duets with her grandfather.
The future rock star traveled often while growing up and met her future bandmate Lindsey Buckingham during her senior year of high school in California.
The two joined the band Fleetwood Mac, and their debut album in 1975 catapulted all the members into stardom. Their song “Rhiannon” was released as a single and has been consistently named one of the greatest songs ever, while their 11th album, Rumors, has been one of the best-selling albums of all time.
Going solo did not slow Nicks down; in fact, she gained even greater fame. Her albums, including Bella Donna and Wild Heart, were equally successful. Five decades after her debut as an artist, Nicks continues to tour as a reigning queen of rock.
2. Janis Joplin
Born in 1943 in Texas, Janis Joplin’s name is nearly synonymous with rock. Joplin originally began singing with a band but became famous as a solo artist for her exciting concerts.
One of the stars of Woodstock and documentary film Festival Express, she was known for her raspy voice and covers of “Piece of My Heart” and “Summertime.”
Though she passed away in 1970 at the age of 27, she is considered to be a major influence in modern artists and still a top-selling musician, with 18.5 million albums sold. Joplin was added to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame posthumously in 1995.
Related: Check out our post on other singers who died aged 27.
3. Tina Turner
Widely referred to as the Queen of Rock and Roll, Tina Turner’s career has had its ups and downs. Born Anna Mae Bullock in 1939, she was the youngest daughter of a Tennessee family. She began singing in church and moved to St. Louis when she was in high school.
There, she met Ike Turner when he was performing with his band. The two went on to find success with songs like “Proud Mary” before they split in 1976.
In the 1980s, Turner launched a major comeback and went on to release the multi-Platinum album Private Dancer. Since then, she’s won 12 Grammy awards, become a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, and become famous for helping smash down deeply held racial barriers in rock music.
Related: Greatest female singers of the 1980s
4. Joan Jett
Born in 1958, Joan Jett offered an exciting new era of rock and roll. She came to fame with the all-girl band the Runaways and their song “Cherry Bomb.”
Though popular in her own right, Jett later formed her own band called Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. They soon released the album I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Her guitar-punk songs like “Bad Reputation” and “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” from the album have remained popular since they were released, with the latter being a cover from the band Arrows. I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll has since gone double Platinum and Gold, with over 1 million sales.
5. Ann Wilson
Born in 1950 in California, Ann Wilson is famous for being half of the first-ever hard rock band fronted only by women with her sister Nancy Wilson. The pair grew up listening to everything from opera to experimental electric music.
The sisters began their band, Heart, in the ’70s and have since sold over 35 million records worldwide. Their 8th, 9th, and 10th studio album, in particular, were very successful, ranking 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, repectively, on Billboard 200.
Wilson is famous for songs like “Magic Man” and “Barracuda,” and achieved several top-10 albums in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2010s. She and her sister continue to tour together, playing old and new hits.
6. Debbie Harry
Born Angela Trimble in 1945, Debbie Harry is famous for being the lead vocalist of the award-winning band Blondie. But before starting her singing career, Trimble had worked as a secretary, waitress, go-go dancer, and Playboy Bunny.
In the 1970s, she joined a band called the Stilettoes, and while the band didn’t last more than a year, it did introduce her to Chris Stein. The two went on to form the band Blondie in 1974.
The band’s album Parallel Lines catapulted Harry to major fame—specifically the global hit “Heart of Glass.” Harry quickly became the “it girl” of punk rock and has since become an icon of the ’70s and ’80s NYC art movement.
7. Linda Ronstadt
What did Linda Ronstadt not do? The singer has earned 11 Grammy awards and has recorded in many genres, including country, opera, Latin, and rock and roll.
Not surprisingly, with 120 albums featuring her voice, she’s become one of the best-selling artists of all time.
Ronstadt began her career in the ’60s with a folk-rock trio, the Stone Poneys. In 1975, she was touring with bands like the Eagles. By the end of 1978, she was the highest-paid woman in rock.
Her signature song, “Blue Bayou” ranked #3 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart for four weeks and became a worldwide hit.
8. Patti Smith
Singer-songwriter Patti Smith originally had no plans to be a musician—she wanted to be a writer.
Now known as the punk poet laureate, Smith combined her love of poetry and rock music to release the album Horses in 1975. At the time, it had modest commercial success, but it has since become recognized as a seminal recording in the history of rock and roll.
Smith has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has been noted as one of the greatest artists of all time.
9. Courtney Love
Born to counterculture parents in California, Courtney Love has always wanted to be a rock star.
She played in a series of punk bands growing up until she formed the alternative rock band Hole in 1989, which catapulted her to grunge fame. Their debut album, Live Through This, was released to critical acclaim and soon became multi-Platinum.
Music aside, Love made headlines for her highly publicized personal life, which included her marriage to fellow rock star Kurt Cobain and legal issues.
But through it all, she made music. Now, Love has a golden globe nomination, three Grammy nods, and continues to tour with Hole.
10. Alanis Morissette
Born to two teachers in 1974, Canadian native Alanis Morissette began playing piano at just six years old.
She began recording music in the late ’80s, and her first hits came from her self-titled debut album, which was all dance-pop. At the time, she was compared to pop sensations like Tiffany and Debbie Gibson.
It wasn’t until her third album, Jagged Little Pill, that she hit international fame as a rock star. The song “You Oughta Know” set the album soaring up the charts and went 12x platinum in Canada.
Related: Most famous female singers of the 1990s
11. Melissa Etheridge
Born in Kansas in 1961, Melissa Etheridge gigged around in California before her debut album, which spawned her first hit, “Bring Me Some Water.”
However, she hit it big time when she released her second album, Yes I Am, which included the songs “Come to My Window” and “I’m the Only One.”
Ethridge came out publicly as a lesbian in 1993, and some feared that her announcement would affect the album’s popularity. However, they didn’t need to worry—the album went 6x Platinum.
In 1995, Etheridge won a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocalist, and she’s been touring ever since.
12. Pat Benatar
Born Patricia Andrzejewski, the New York City native was interested in singing from a young age. Her first solo was at her elementary school when she was eight years old.
After high school, she planned to go to Julliard. Instead, she married her high school sweetheart and pursued health education, becoming a bank teller.
However, she quit her job after seeing Liza Minnelli in concert and never went back. Her debut album, In the Heat of the Night, came out in 1979.
The four-time Grammy winner’s albums have gone Platinum multiple times, and her songs “Heartbreaker” and “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” continue to be karaoke staples.
13. Avril Lavigne
Pop-rock princess Avril Lavigne wasn’t always going to be a rock star; in fact, she started out singing country music.
Lavigne began her career singing at country fairs and was just 15 when she won a contest to sing with Shania Twain. The next year, she signed a record deal.
In 2002, she released her first album, Let Go, and the songs “Complicated” and “Sk8er Boi” immediately became some of the decade’s biggest hits across North America. In that first year alone, Lavigne was nominated for eight Grammy awards and won other accolades from various awarding organizations.
14. Ronnie Spector
The first-ever bad girl of rock and roll wasn’t always that way. Ronnie Spector began singing at a young age with her two sisters. Together, they formed the Ronettes and signed a contract in 1963 with Phil Spector, whom she began an affair with shortly after.
That same year saw the release of their superhit, “Be My Baby,” and soon enough, they were opening for the Beatles.
Ronnie’s career and personal life were marred by her abusive relationship with Spector. In 1968 they married, but in 1972, she fled their mansion barefoot through a broken window.
What followed was a long and vicious legal battle over her music, which eventually ended in Ronnie winning $1 million in royalties.
15. Annie Lennox
Rated by Rolling Stone as one of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time, Annie Lennox has earned the unique distinction of being one of the most successful female British artists in all of UK music history, primarily due to her popularity in the ’80s.
The Scotland native studied at the Royal Academy of Music in the ’70s. She started her music career playing the flute but soon moved on to create the duo Eurythmics.
With Eurythmics, she had a long string of superhits, including “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and “Missionary Man,” the latter of which won her a Grammy award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group.
Related: Our list of the most famous Scottish singers.
16. Hayley Williams
Born in 1988, Hayley Williams was discovered when she was just fourteen. While her managers wanted her to be a solo pop artist, Williams had a different plan—she wanted to play punk and rock music.
This worked out, as her band Paramore saw success in the mid-2000s, with their second album going Gold with hits like “Misery Business.”
Despite stating not wanting to go solo, Williams recently released a solo album, Petals for Armor. It features the hit song “Simmer.”
Williams has been lauded for her acrobatic and unique voice, which spans four octaves, as well as her ability to sing in the whistle register.
17. Dolores O’Riordan
One of the most famous Irish singers to live, Dolores O’Riordan was born the youngest of nine children to a farm laborer and school caterer. She was singing before she could talk and played the Irish whistle as a child.
She was a secondary school student when she joined the Cranberries but left it before she could graduate. The band began touring around the same time. O’Riordan, who was very shy, originally sang with her back to the audience.
The band released four #1 albums and several hit singles, like “Linger” and “Zombie.” These songs featured O’Riordan’s signature yodel, which helped her quickly become one of most recognizable rock voices in history.
Tragically, O’Riordan passed away in 2018, which was ruled an accidental drowning in the bath. She had a life-threatening blood alcohol content of .33 g/L at the time.
Related: Our list of the greatest Irish singers.
18. Kim Deal
The Ohio native Kim Deal was introduced to rock music at a young age. Born in 1961, she grew up listening to bands like AC/DC and Led Zeppelin.
She emerged on the rock-and-roll scene in the ’80s as the bassist and co-singer of the indie rock band Pixies and became famous for songs such as “Cannonball” and “Gigantic,” which came to embody the rock DIY scene of the ’90s.
Deal continues to tour with her sister in their band the Breeders and has reunited with former Pixies band members several times for various events.
Alecia Beth Moore Hart, best known as the pop rock singer Pink (or P!nk), started her career in a now defunct band called Choice. After this, she went the solo path and has not backed down since.
Having a very distinct, raspy voice, most probably know Pink for the hit single “Just Give Me a Reason” and its album The Truth about Love, which is her first #1 on the Billboard 200 chart. The song earned the singer two Grammy nominations.
Pink was named Pop Artist of the Decade by Billboard in 2009 as well as Woman of the Year in 2013. This day, the Pennsylvania native is still going strong; she’s recently released her ninth album, Trustfall (2023).
20. Gwen Stefani
Our second to last singer, Gwen Stefani, is best known for fronting the alternative rock band No Doubt from 1987 to 2004 and then from 2009 to 2015. During that five-year break in between, she ventured in a solo career.
With No Doubt, Stefani’s most popular song is “Don’t Speak,” which topped the charts in eight countries, including US, Australia, Canada, and UK.
As a solo artist, Stefani hit it big in 2005 with the single “Hollaback Girl,” which received a number of Grammy nominations, including Record of the Year. The following year, she released “The Sweet Escape” featuring Akon, to similar success.
The pop rock singer has also ventured in acting, with roles in the film The Aviator and TV series Gossip Girl. She was also the voice behind DJ Suki in Dreamwork’s Trolls.
21. Sister Rosetta Tharpe
If you want to talk about pioneers in music, Sister Rosetta Tharpe would be one. It was her work that helped originate rock and roll.
She came from a musical family—both of her parents were singers—and she began playing guitar at just six years old. Later in her career, she came to be known as the the Godmother of Rock and Roll.
Tharpe was an originator in her guitar-playing technique and willingness to use heavy distortion on the electric guitars.
While popular in her time, her race and gender stopped her from achieving major mainstream success of her peers. However, her contributions to the genre have become more widely recognized since her death in 1973.
Now, many music critics point to Tharpe’s influence on Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, and many others.
Related: The greatest female blues singers.
Summing Up Our List Of Great Women Rock Singers
The talents of these legendary women range from original rock to grunge to punk and far beyond, but they all have one thing in common: they are blazing new trails in music and continue to rock and roll to this day.
We have only listed a few of the hundreds of female rock vocalists out there, but we hope you enjoyed it and were able to gain a new favorite artist (or more!).
Let us know who you think we missed off, and we’ll add them!