Coming from a woman myself, watching talented women in rock and metal was a huge inspiration for me. I got into rock and metal at a young age and quickly learned that men dominated the rock music space. So watching women rock out with men helped me feel accepted in the rock world. But who are these women I idolized? There are so many to name in one list. Here, I will attempt to name the best female rock singers of all time. I will also cover influential frontwomen in the punk and metal genres.
Bottom line up front: If I had to choose a favorite female rock singer, I would have to give that title to Grace Slick. At the same time, there are so many amazing female singers across the rock, punk, and metal genres that it’s impossible to just pick one.
What Makes a Female Rock Singer Great?
When researching this article, I couldn’t help but be a critic. Some women topped other lists that I didn’t care for, others I wouldn’t consider them to be rock singers, and so many of my favorite singers didn’t even make some lists.
So, what makes a singer so great? Specifically, what makes a rock singer so great? First, I want to say that rock singers are all different. From the operatic Ann Wilson to the raspy Janis Joplin, no two singers on this list are the same. But they do have one thing in common: a passion for rock music.
In addition, all of these singers are talented in their own way. They possess the skills to rise in the ranks of rock music. And don’t forget about the entertaining aspect! The live experience is one of the most important aspects of rock music, so these women all put on a good show.
Best Female Rock Singers of All Time
Without further ado, here are my favorite female rock singers of all time! Don’t be surprised if you see women in punk and metal on this list, too, as well as some fresh faces. I should also mention that this list isn’t in any particular order.
Donita Sparks (L7)
I love the riot grrrl movement in punk during the 90s. While L7 became one of the biggest names from that movement, you can’t deny that Donita Sparks has a great voice.
While Sparks and her band have received controversy, this band defied expectations of women in rock music and paved the way for the future of female musicians.
Today, Melissa Etheridge is a Grammy-winning and multi-million-selling artist. Plus, she is known as one of the most iconic singers in rock history. But what a lot of people don’t know is she worked her way up to receive the notoriety she has today. I love Etheridge’s raspy voice and her honest lyrics.
My old roommate and I were watching a Siouxsie and the Banshees video performance, and she had this to say: “there are queens and there’s Siouxsie Sioux.” I completely agree. First, her voice is amazing. Something about how she sings carries and you can feel the power in her voice.
She has also covered some intense yet relatable topics in her music, which is why she’s also seen as an influential figure. This plus her eye-catching gothic look made her one of the most iconic female British rock singers in history.
Janis Joplin had an inspiring and tragic career. She was blessed with that iconic raspy yet soulful voice, though mental illness and addiction took her life at age 27. Her career started as the lead singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company before starting her own solo career. She was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.
Beyond the fact that Joplin is one of the best female singers in rock music, she’s one of the best rock and blues singers of all time. Very few singers also had Joplin’s attitude and charisma. With her powerful voice and individualistic style, you couldn’t get but be mesmerized by her when she was performing. Joplin will always go down in history as a legend.
Cherie Currie (The Runaways)
The Runaways emerged on the LA music scene in the mid-70s. The band only lasted four years, but they made history and paved the way for women in rock music. I think singer Cherie Currie is the most overlooked Runaways member, especially compared to guitarists Joan Jett and Lita Ford.
Currie has powerful and fiery energy about her. Watching this music video, there’s something larger than life about her. Her pipes are very deep, inspiring a generation of female alto singers.
Ann Wilson (Heart)
Heart is one of the bands I listen to regularly. They made some of the catchiest songs and the talent behind sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson are unbelievable. Since this is the best female singers in rock list, I have to focus on Ann here.
Ann has a vocal range of over three octaves. Her voice is edgy enough for rock music but is operatic enough to reach notes that no one else can. Even if you’re not a Heart fan, you can hear any Heart song and know that’s Ann Wilson singing.
In short, she’s the perfect rock singer. I can’t find much information on her training; some sources say she was opera-trained while others say she was self-taught.
Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane)
Very few singers physically give me chills up my spine, but Grace Slick is one of the few that can. She’s the frontwoman of Jefferson Airplane, a band that pioneered the psychedelic rock genre in the 60s.
Even before Jefferson Airplane, Slick was already a force in the Bay Area’s rock scene, singing for multiple bands before meeting the members of Jefferson Airplane. But she released her most memorable songs with Jefferson Airplane, such as “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit,” the song linked here. During live shows, Slick had a charismatic yet uncanny presence that made her mesmerizing.
Even though Slick was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, she retired from music in 1990, focusing on visual arts instead.
Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac)
I have to be honest, I’m technically not the biggest fan of Stevie Nicks as a singer, but I love her voice for Fleetwood Mac. Her voice sounds mystical with Fleetwood Mac’s folk style.
I also really like her lyrics. I attached the song “Landslide,” which has a melancholic vibe but also tells a beautiful story. “Landslide” isn’t her most prolific song with Fleetwood Mac. I also love the songs “Dreams” and “The Chains.”
Fleetwood Mac was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 and Nicks entered the Hall of Fame as a solo artist in 2019.
Joan Jett has to be my favorite female figure in rock. I idolized her from a young age. She earned the nickname “Queen of Rock n’ Roll,” rightfully so. Joan Jett worked her way up the ranks. She experienced sexism during her career and brought The Runaways from the ground up.
After The Runaways broke up in 1979, Jett embarked on a successful solo career where she fronted her own band, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. All of this contributed to Jett’s legacy.
As a singer, don’t expect pretty songs. Jett is tough and has a punk rock attitude, even in her own music. Joan Jett was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.
I always loved Patti Smith. She was both a singer and a poet and one of the first to blend poetry with rock music. I always loved her voice; it’s very punk yet also thunderous.
She released her first album, Horses, in 1975 and became an important figure in the NYC punk scene. The multi-talented artist is also an author and has received multiple awards, including a Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2007.
Debbie Harry (Blondie)
I’ve loved Blondie ever since I was young. Debbie Harry is beyond a punk rock icon. With her unique style, beauty, and legendary voice, she became a legend.
With Blondie, Harry released some of the biggest songs from the era such as “Call Me” and “Heart of Glass,” the one I linked. To this day, Harry is still making music; Blondie released its 11th album, Pollinator, in 2017.
When talking about iconic female singers in rock music, many people forget about Suzi Quatro. Her career started in the mid-60s, and she’s considered one of the biggest influences in rock n’ roll and punk music. Even teenage Joan Jett discovered Quatro and from there, decided she wanted to become a rock star.
Quatro fronted her own band and played bass. Her voice is wicked and loud. With an infectious stage presence, she earned her title as one of the biggest legends in rock music.
Jinx Dawson (Coven)
Rock music has always had shocking imagery. But imagine being in a band where people are actually scared of you. This was the reality of the band Coven, a rock band that emerged in the late-60s. While many people credit the evil imagery of metal to Black Sabbath and even the devil horns to Ronnie James Dio, the band Coven (specifically singer Jinx Dawson) influenced the sinister themes in metal music.
The real question is, was Coven a real witch coven? I have been trying to dig into this. I’m reading that some of the band’s lyrics, such as their 13-minute long “Satanic Mass,” were written by their producer, which tells me the occult influences were all for shock. However, I have read Dawson herself say she grew up with Magick and two of her aunts practiced Left Hand Path spirituality.
But what about Dawson’s voice? The opera-trained singer had a distinct howl in her voice that you will never find anywhere else. Even if you’re not into the gothic side of rock music, anyone can appreciate this classic band and this captivating singer.
Doro Pesch (Warlock)
As a metal fan, I have to include my favorite metal singer of all time in this list. Doro Pesch is the Queen of Heavy Metal, best-known for fronting the band Warlock and for her successful solo career.
Doro has everything that a heavy metal singer should have. She’s a talented singer, but her powerful voice has an edge to it. With Warlock, Doro released some of the most iconic songs in metal such as “I Rule the Ruins,” “Für Immer,” and “All We Are,” the song that I linked here. Doro Pesch still performs today with her band, Doro. Some of her most popular solo songs include “All for Metal” and “Raise Your Fist in the Air.”
I covered influential rock female vocalists from all decades, so it’s time to visit the 80s with one of my favorite bands ever — Girlschool! I actually didn’t know this until recently, but Girlschool didn’t have a specific singer. Instead, both lead guitar player Kelly Johnson and bassist Enid Williams both handled lead vocals on different songs.
As the lead guitar player, Kelly Johnson is arguably the most recognizable member of Girlschool. Her voice is harsh but sounds so rich, her vocals carrying throughout the entire song. Johnson also has so much energy when she performs, I love watching her in live videos.
I also like Williams’ vocals. Unlike Johnson, who has a classic rock voice, Williams’ voice is unique. Her voice in the song “The Hunter” has a snarl to it, as if she was a cat.
Today, Girlschool is one of the most famous female bands from the era. In addition to these two singles, Girlschool is known for collaborating with Motorhead on the song “Please Don’t Touch.” Girlschool went on to inspire different punk and metal bands and they’re still active today, releasing music and touring. Unfortunately, Johnson and Williams are no longer in the band (Johnson passed away in 2007).
Wendy O Williams (Plasmatics)
Last but certainly not least, we have one of the most legendary singers in all of punk rock. If you saw Wendy O Williams live, consider yourself lucky. A Plasmatics show consisted of explosives, chainsaws, shotguns, and other theatrics from the epic frontwoman.
There’s a reason why Williams is considered the perfect punk frontwoman, and not just for her powerful voice. Williams had that quintessential punk rock attitude. There will never be another Wendy O Williams.
Before joining the Plasmatics, Williams ran away from home and moved around a lot. She was arrested on multiple occasions for petty crimes, and participated in adult shows and films. She joined Plasmatics in the mid-70s and began a solo career in the mid-80s. Williams died by suicide in 1998.
Question: Who is the best female singer of all time, regardless of genre?
Answer: That title goes to no other than Aretha Franklin. Her energetic voice and impressive range earned her the title Queen of Soul. To this day, Franklin is a huge inspiration to all singers — no matter the genre.
Question: Which of these singers is the best?
Answer: I said I wouldn’t put these singers in any order, but I feel the need to choose one best singer. For me, that has to go to Grace Slick. No other singer I’ve ever heard is more compelling than Grace Slick. I love her deep, strong voice. There will never be another singer like Grace Slick.
Question: Who is the first female rockstar?
Answer: Technically the answer is Suzi Quatro, who started playing music in the mid-60s. But that credit is often given to Janis Joplin; she rose to fame in 1967, though this is the same year that Jefferson Airplane released their iconic album Surrealistic Pillow, putting singer Grace Slick on the map.
If I had to choose the “best” female singer in rock music, the title has to go to Grace Slick. With her deep and powerful voice, she inspired a generation of other singers, and her voice still gives me chills up my spine. But it’s so difficult for me to choose the “best” female singer in rock music.
From Joan Jett’s punk rock attitude to Patti Smith’s poetic lyrics, there are countless inspirational women in rock music. These women have worked their way to the top, selling millions of albums and earning various rewards. Many of these female singers are in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and some even won Grammies. If you haven’t listened to any of these singers yet, definitely check them out!