Today is International Women’s Day, which means it’s time to acknowledge and celebrate the women that have come before us, as well as the women who continue to push us forward for progress towards equality and gender parity.
With the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements currently sweeping the globe, taking their biggest hold on Hollywood, let us take a look at the female trailblazers in music that have paved the way for the modern and future generations of female musicians.
First, we have Billie Holiday, who rose to popularity in the 1950’s and is revered as one of the greatest jazz singers of all time. Billie Holiday is an iconic woman in music because she changed the game when it came to musicality and emotive singing. Holiday didn’t just sing the notes on the page, she felt sorrow with every bluesy note. Although she had no classical music training, her experience singing in Harlem Jazz clubs seasoned her into a singer most professionals couldn’t rival. Not merely being a woman, but a woman of color, makes Holiday’s influence on modern music legendary. Without Billie Holiday you wouldn’t have the bluesy soulfulness of Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald, or Adele and Sam Smith. Billie Holiday left a huge mark on the music world that can still be felt in modern pop music today.
Moving from the 1950’s into the 1960’s, we can pretty much all agree that one of the most powerful women of the decade was none other than Miss Diana Ross!
In the 1960’s Ross rose to fame as the lead singer of the infamous Motown group, The Supremes. Diana Ross and The Supremes are one of the highest-charting girl groups of all time, and Motown’s most successful act. Ross’ success, along with the women of The Supremes, paved the way for future African-American R&B and soul artists to find mainstream success.
During the height of Civil Rights Movement, the visibility of successful black artists in television, film, magazines, and radio was essential to future generations of black Americans. The ’60s were only the beginning of Ross’ career, and the following decades would only bring her more success and notoriety in mainstream media and pop culture. Today, Diana Ross is a powerful female presence in music history and gay culture. Being one of the first successful mainstream black artists makes Miss Ross a queen in modern pop culture.
Although Diana Ross’s successful career carries over well into the 1970’s, another influential female artist of the 70’s was Cher. Cher began her career as one half of the folk-rock group Sonny & Cher. The duo hit major success with their song I Got You Babe, rocketing them to number one on the American and UK music charts. What set the duo apart from other acts was Cher; not only was she beautiful, but her voice was very different from most female singers of that time. Cher has what is known as a contralto singing voice, which is the lowest vocal range for a female singer.
Sonny and Cher also shared a variety television show called The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, where Cher became a fashion icon debuting elaborate costumes on the air. The two shared major success during the early ’70s until their notorious split in 1975, which not only broke up their personal relationship, but their business relationship as well. Much like Diana Ross, Cher went on to have an illustrious career rivaling most men in their industry, but what makes Cher so iconic is her ‘take no prisoners’ attitude. She showed that she didn’t need the help of a man to make her career. She was even quoted saying, “A man is not a necessity, a man is a luxury”… Now if that isn’t some girl power, we don’t know what is!
Lastly, we move onto the ’80s and the woman who dominated the era… Madonna! Madonna is the quintessential ’80s Queen of Pop. She burst onto the music scene in the early part of the decade dominating pop music with singles such as Like a Virgin, Papa Don’t Preach, and Vogue. Throughout her career, she was known for continuously pushing boundaries with her lyrics and visual imagery in music videos. Madonna quickly gained popularity for this exploratory use of pop culture.
Madonna’s influence on female musicians can be seen most recently in Lady Gaga’s career. Without Madonna, Lady Gaga might not have been able to experiment so freely with her own music like she has. Much like the previous artists mentioned, Madonna’s career cannot be summed up in one decade, but that’s what makes her and all of the other iconic female musicians I’ve mentioned so influential. Their style and grace transcends generations and leaves its mark on the up-and-coming female artists of the future. These iconic women stood the test of time and continue to inspire and influence the music and culture of today. So, in looking back, be reminded of all the bad-ass females who came before us and inspire us moving forward. Onwards and upwards, ladies!