19 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Female Rock Singers

Rock and roll has always been known to be a but of a boys club. But there have been plenty of incredible women to pick up the microphone for rock bands over time.

From Sister Rosetta Thorpe to Courtney Love to Tina Turner to Avril Lavigne, many of these women completely changed the genre and made critics questions 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. So, 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 rockstar traveled often 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, but none more so than Nicks.

Her song “Rhiannon” was released as a single and has been consistently named one of the greatest songs ever.

Their sophomore album, Rumors, has been one of the best-selling albums of all time. Her solo albums, including Bella Donna and Wild Heart, were both 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 raspy voice and exciting concerts.

One of the stars of Woodstock, she was most famous for her gritty voice and covers of “Piece of My Heart” and “Summertime.”

Though she died 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.

Related: Check out our post on other singers who died aged 27.

3.  Tina Turner

Widely referred to as the Queen of Rock n’ 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,” and later formed her own band called Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.

Her guitar-punk songs like “Bad Reputation” and “I Love Rock’n’Roll” have remained popular since they were released, with the latter being a cover from the band Arrows. The album, named after the song, has since gone 2x platinum and gold, with over 1 million sales.

5. Ann Wilson

Born in 1950, 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.

Wilson is famous for songs like “Magic Man” and “Barracuda,” and achieved several top ten albums in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2010s. They continue to tour together, playing the 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 1960s she joined a band called the Stilettoes in 1973. 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.

8. Patti Smith

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. It has since become recognized as a seminal recording in the history of rock and roll.

She 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. 

She made headlines for her highly publicized personal life, which included her marriage to fellow rock star Kurt Cobain and her legal issues.

But through it all, she made music. Now, she 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 12 times platinum in Canada. 

Related: Most famous female singers of the 1990s.

11. Melissa Etheridge

Melissa Etheridge, born in Kansas in 1961, 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 sophomore album Yes I Am, which included hits such as “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.

But 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 started her career singing at country fairs and was just 15 when she won a contest to sing with Shania Twain. The next year she had signed a record deal.

In 2002 she released her first album, Let Go, and the debut single, “Complicated,” became one of the decade’s biggest hits across North America. In that first year alone, she was nominated for eight Grammy awards.

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, who 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.

Her 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

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.”

She 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. O’Riordan 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 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 number one albums, and O’Riordan became one of the richest women in Ireland.

She 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

Kim Deal was introduced to rock music at a young age – born in 1961, Deal grew up listening to bands like AC/DC and Led Zepplin. 

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” that came to embody the rock DIY scene of the 90s.

She continues to tour with her sister in their band, The Breeders and has reunited with former Pixies band members several times for various events.

19. Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a pioneer in music, and 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 and 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.

Her contributions to the genre have become more widely recognized since her death in 1973. Now, many music critics point to her 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

These are just 19 of the hundreds of female rock vocalists out there.

These 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 hope you enjoyed our list and let us know who you think we missed off!

Photo of author
Written by Laura Macmillan
Laura has over 12 years experience teaching both classical and jazz saxophone and clarinet. She now resides in California where she works as a session and live performer.