Blondie, Heart, Fleetwood Mac, and Madonna are just some of the twenty three performers featured females in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. These twenty three make up just 9.35% of the artists in the Performers category in the Hall of Fame, and only 13.5% of total inductees are women. It notably lacks major names like Pat Benatar, Ella Fitzgerald, and even Bjork. As someone inspired by the women who paved the way for lead female roles in rock bands and as solo artists, I begin to wonder what other things have been overlooked in terms of the contribution of females in the realm of classic rock.
For the purpose of this article, I will specifically focus on classic rock as it is more personal to me as an author, and how it has shaped the rock generation we are a part of today. It’s incredibly difficult to pull out specific female artists and bands that have influenced rock as so many of them have placed their handprints on the evolution of rock, even as I write this I imagine some names come to mind: Janis Joplin, Joan Jett, Stevie Nicks, Cher, Blondie, Aretha Franklin. Each of these women have played specific roles in aiding the struggle that women have had to be taken seriously in the music industry, all while rocking out.
This evolution from being pleasantly surprised at the combination of masculinity and embrace of female sexuality that is associated with female rockers, to an admiration of it. These pioneers of rock paved the way for groups like Haim, Paramore, and No Doubt to lead generations into the world of rock. Rock will never be obsolete as evident with the success of games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero. People seem to be enamored with the technique and skill required for rock, and yet apprehensive about starting that career
path. Music is always a bittersweet component of life, especially as a musician. For women starting to carve out a place for female rockers to be taken seriously, there was an air of electricity and masculinity. Janis Joplin would ask her band “Who’s got the biggest balls?” before every show; a rhetorical question to which she would respond “I do.”
Rock is still alive and well today. Music programs like School of Rock, Little Kids Rock, Music and Arts promote the teaching of instruments to students of all ages and provide performance experiences. I personally was a part of a music program that focused on rock specifically and it gave me an enormous appreciation for the work that goes into the music they create. Even bands like Blondie or Haim had complex elements to them one would never guess from just listening. Female students are encouraged to do any instruments they are interested in playing, and even more encouraged to learn more than one. Females are no longer being seen as just the girlfriends or groupies.
New York Times published an article in September about notable female bands featuring their songs and some of the challenges they face regarding sexism. Forms of sexism some of the musicians have experienced include being asked if they’re the tour manager, not being recognized as the artist performing, or being asked whose girlfriend they are. These cringe-worthy comments were undoubtedly experienced by many up and coming female artists. Lucy O’ Brien comments in her book She Bop II “Despite its radical beginnings, the codes of mainstream rock are maybe too conservative, too rigorously male-defined for a woman to find a comfortable place.” However, the emergence of a shift towards punk in the 70’s opened a space for women to lay claim to a permanent territory.
Without the exuberance of the female presence in rock, our world would be deprived of artists ranging from Cindy Blackman to Paramore to Florence and the Machine. Rock itself has proved a valuable genre to the youth of every generation, and the marination of soul with instruments.