In the aftermath of the passing of the incredible Aretha Franklyn, it's only right to take the time to celebrate her life, along with the lives of the most ground-breaking female musicians that ever lived, who not only revolutionised the music world but inspired and reflected on social change across the globe (in no particular order…).
1. Aretha Franklin
First and foremost comes her late Majesty the Queen of Soul. Aretha Franklin’s sparkling career began with humble roots when she began singing in her local gospel choir. Her uniqueness, however, was apparent from early on, and she recorded her first album at the tender age of 14. She then transitioned to secular music and became a worldwide superstar. Franklin’s music later became an important part of the civil rights movement, and songs such as her version ‘I Say A Little Prayer’ became a tribute to Martin Luther King.
Her voice was described as the definition of soul, with its warm, rich tone. She touched many with the rawness of the message of her songs, as she once said, ‘I sing to the realist. People who accept it like it is’. After hearing her feminist take of Respect, Otis Redding remarked ‘I just lost my song. That girl took it away from me.’
2. Nina Simone
Another musician who used music as a powerful tool for social change during the civil rights movement, Nina Simone’s powerful musical response to injustice makes her legacy still stand today. Born Eunice Wayton, she initially set out to be a classical pianist, however, she was rejected from the Curtis Institute of Music due to the fact that she was black. Broke and in New York, she reinvented her image and turned to singing in nightclubs to make money. She became a popular music phenomenon, as she covered a remarkable scope of jazz, blues, soul, gospel, and folk music, but her classical training makes her technically flawless Bach-style piano solos truly unique to the jazz scene.
3. Kate Bush
In the late 70s, Kate Bush made waves across the avant pop scene, as her esoteric aesthetic, ethereal sound and obscure references brought high art to the world of pop. Her iconic ‘Wuthering Heights’ video was her debut single with which, at the age of 19, she became the first female artist to get a UK number 1 with a self-written song. However, after just six weeks on the road, she made the decision that she would never play live again. Despite this, she successfully produced hit after hit for the proceeding 15 years, and remains one of the most important and enigmatic female artists to this day, paving the way for singers such as Bjork, Madonna and many more.
Who next but the one and only Goddess of Pop. The only singer to ever get top 10 hit singles in four consecutive decades has reinvented her look more times than you've changed your outfit before a first date. She is known for representing female emancipation in an industry which is governed by men, and has conquered TV, music and film. At the age of 52, her song ‘Believe’ made her the oldest women ever to achieve a number one. Now at 72 years old she is still going strong, due to release an Abba cover to celebrate the release of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again – it’s almost too good to be true!
5. Amy Winehouse
Despite being taken from us at the tender age of 27, the imprint Amy Winehouse left in the music industry was unforgettable and irreplaceable. The London-based singer who created music with a unique fusion of blues, soul and jazz began writing music at age 13. She later became the first British woman to win 5 Grammys in one night after the release of Back to Black, which was inspired by her on-and-off relationship with her boyfriend Blake. She was known for her down-to-earth personality and bluntness, and her amazing ability to expose her emotions, once saying, ‘I’m not frightened of appearing vulnerable.’
6. Billie Holiday
Born Elinore Harris, Billie Holiday was one of the most important jazz singers of the 30s, 40s and 50s. She began her career singing in a Harlem nightclub and was brought to recognition in 1937 when she toured with Count Basie’s band. Her haunting song about lynching, ‘Strange Fruit’, became one of the most important protest songs of all time. Perhaps an urban myth, her song ‘Gloomy Sunday’, was nicknamed the ‘Suicide Song’ and was banned in the early 40s by the BBC, as they regarded it ‘too upsetting’ for the public.
7. Janis Joplin
The American blues singer at the zenith of her career in the 1960s, Janice Joplin dropped out of the Lamar State College of Technology to sing in the Texas clubs. She went on to join the band Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the band went on to release the number one album ‘Cheap Thrills’ in 1968. The Woodstock performer once said, ‘on stage I make love to 25,000 people, then I go home alone’.
8. Lauryn Hill
The New Jersey rapper and songwriter Lauryn Hill was the first woman or hip-hop artist to win five Grammy awards. With lyrics which explore topics such as racial identity and young motherhood, Lauryn Hill burst out into the scene as a member of the group 'The Fugees'. After splitting up with the band member Wyclef Jean, Lauryn released The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, with songs like ‘Ex-Factor’ exploring their relationship. The album became the highest first-week sale by a solo female artist and won Album of the Year. Lauryn retired from the limelight to raise her five children with her partner Rohan Marley, the son of Bob Marley. John Legend, who played piano in her song ‘Everything Is Everything’, said ‘Lauryn had that blend of toughness and soulfulness, melody and swagger. She did it better than anybody has done it. People are still trying to capture that moment.’
9. Joni Mitchell
Born Roberta Joan Anderson, the Canadian Joni Mitchell first started singing for her parents at the age of 9 when recovering in hospital after contracting polio. First influenced by Classical music, she went on to teach herself to play guitar, ukulele and dulcimer, and she is known for the complexity of her compositions. Producing a mixture of folk, pop, rock and jazz, her songs often reflect on social and environmental issues. She has won eight Grammy Awards, and her song ‘Both Sides Now’ was played in the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver in 2011.
The Icelandic singer Bjork (meaning ‘birch-tree’ in Icelandic) is known for being truly non-conformist. Once a member of a band whose name translates to ‘Cork the Bitch’s Ass’. She later formed the gothic punk band KUKL, meaning ‘witchcraft’ in Medieval Icelandic. Her eclectic solo career has since secured 8th place on MTV’s ’22 Greatest Voices in Music’ in 2005.
She was once offered an island, now known as ‘Bjork Island’ as a gift from the Icelandic government, and, although she was tempted, she declined the offer due to concerns for her privacy.
If you liked this article, we think you'll love:
- 10 Movies With Fierce Female Leads
- 17 of the Most Ridiculous Expectations That Society Puts on Women