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Women in music

American jazz singer and songwriter Billie Holiday in New York City in 1947.
Bonnie Raitt is an American singer, guitar player and piano player. A winner of ten Grammy awards, she is also noted for her slide guitar playing.

Women in music describes the role of women as composers, songwriters, instrumental performers, singers, conductors, music scholars, music educators, music critics/music journalists and other musical professions. As well, it describes music movements, events and genres related to women and women's issues.

In the 2010s, women comprise a significant proportion of popular music and classical music singers, and a significant proportion of songwriters (many of them being singer-songwriters). Although there have been a huge number of women composers in classical music, from the Medieval period to the present day, women composers are significantly underrepresented in the commonly performed classical music repertoire, music history textbooks and music encyclopedias; for example, in the Concise Oxford History of Music, Clara Schumann is one of the only female composers who is mentioned.

Women comprise a significant proportion of instrumental soloists in classical music and the percentage of women in orchestras is increasing. A 2015 article on concerto soloists in major Canadian orchestras, however, indicated that 84% of the soloists with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal were men. In 2012, women still made up just 6% of the top-ranked Vienna Philharmonic orchestra. Women are less common as instrumental players in popular music genres such as rock and heavy metal, although there have been a number of notable female instrumentalists and all-female bands. Women are particularly underrepresented in extreme metal genres.[1] Women are also underrepresented in orchestral conducting, music criticism/music journalism, music producing, and sound engineering. While women were discouraged from composing in the 19th century, and there are few women musicologists, women became involved in music education " such a degree that women dominated [this field] during the later half of the 19th century and well into the 20th century."[2]

According to Jessica Duchen, a music writer for London’s The Independent, women musicians are "...too often judged for their appearances, rather than their talent" and they face pressure " look sexy onstage and in photos."[3] Duchen states that while "[t]here are women musicians who refuse to play on their looks,...the ones who do tend to be more materially successful."[3] According the UK's Radio 3 editor, Edwina Wolstencroft, the music industry has long been open to having women in performance or entertainment roles, but women are much less likely to have positions of authority, such as being the leader of an orchestra.[4] In popular music, while there are many women singers recording songs, there are very few women behind the audio console acting as music producers, the individuals who direct and manage the recording process.[5]


  • Songwriters 1
  • Composers 2
    • Medieval era 2.1
    • Renaissance era 2.2
    • Baroque era 2.3
    • Classical era 2.4
    • Romantic era 2.5
  • Instrumental performers 3
    • Popular music 3.1
      • Individuals and bandleaders 3.1.1
      • All-female bands 3.1.2
    • Jazz 3.2
    • World music 3.3
    • Classical music 3.4
      • Orchestra 3.4.1
      • Soloists 3.4.2
  • Singers 4
    • Popular music 4.1
    • Classical music 4.2
  • Eastern music 5
    • Indian classical music 5.1
  • Music scholars and educators 6
    • Musicologists and music historians 6.1
    • Music educators 6.2
  • Conducting 7
  • Music critics 8
    • Popular music 8.1
    • Classical music 8.2
  • Other musical professions 9
  • Movements, organizations, events and genres 10
    • Women's music 10.1
    • International Alliance for Women in Music 10.2
    • Riot Grrrl 10.3
    • Lillith Fair 10.4
  • Further reading 11
  • References 12


Songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist Ani DiFranco has had a lot of artistic freedom during her career, in part because she founded her own record label, Righteous Babe. She has become a feminist icon and is a supporter of many social causes.

'[l]ike most aspects of business, [in the 1960s,] songwriting was a male-dominated field. Though there were plenty of female singers on the radio, women ...were primarily seen as consumers:... Singing was sometimes an acceptable pastime for a girl, but playing an instrument, writing songs, or producing records simply wasn’t done...[and women] were not socialized to see themselves as people who create [music].'

Erika Abrams in Rebeat, January 28, 2015

A songwriter is an individual who writes the lyrics, melodies and chord progressions for songs, typically for a popular music genre such as pop music or country music. A songwriter can also be called a composer, although the latter term tends to be mainly used for individuals from the classical music genre.

"Only a few of the many women [songwriters] in America had their music published and heard during the late 19th and early 20th centuries."[6] According to Richard A. Reublin and Richard G. Beil, the "...lack of mention of women [songwriters] is a glaring and embarrassing omission in our musical heritage."[7]Women "...struggled to write and publish music in the man's world of 20th century [9]Later, it was accepted that women would have a role in music education, and they became involved in this field " such a degree that women dominated music education during the later half of the 19th century and well into the 20th century."[10] The "secular music in print in America before 1825 shows only about 70 works by women." In the mid 19th century, notable women songwriters emerged, including Faustina Hasse Hodges, Susan Parkhurst, Augusta Browne and Marion Dix Sullivan. By 1900, there were many more women songwriters, but "....many were still forced to use pseudonyms or initials" to hide the fact that they were women.[11]

Carrie Jacobs-Bond is the "...preeminent woman composer of the late 1800's and well into the middle of the twentieth century,...[making her] the first million selling woman" songwriter.[12]Maude Nugent (1877–1958) wrote "Sweet Rosie O'Grady" in 1896. She also penned "Down At Rosie Reilly's Flat", "My Irish Daisy" and "Mary From Tipperary". [13]Charlotte Blake (1885–1979) was a staff writer for at the Whitney Warner Publishing Co., in Detroit, Michigan. Initially, the company billed her as "C. Blake", but by 1906 ads used her full name.[14] Caro Roma (1866–1937) was the gender-ambiguous pseudonym for Carrie Northly. She "...was one of America's more well known and popular composers of the Tin Pan Alley era." Her songs include "Can't Yo' Heah Me Calling", "Faded Rose", "The Angelus", "Thinking of Thee" and "Resignation".[15]About 95% of the songwriters in British music hall during the early 1900s were men; however, about 30% of the singers were women.[16]

While jazz songwriting has long been a male-dominated field, there have been a few notable women jazz songwriters. In the 1930s, Ann Ronell (1905–1993) wrote several hit songs. She is known for her 1932 hit song "Willow Weep for Me" and the 1933 Disney song "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?".[17]Irene Higginbotham (1918–1988) wrote almost 50 songs, her best-known being "Good Morning Heartache".[17] Dorothy Fields (1905–1974) wrote the lyrics for over 400 songs, some of which were played by Duke Ellington. She co-wrote "The Way You Look Tonight" with Jerome Kern, which won the 1936 Oscar for Best Song. She co-wrote several jazz standards with Jimmy McHugh, such as "Exactly Like You," “On the Sunny Side of the Street" and "I Can't Give You Anything But Love."[17] Lil Hardin Armstrong (1898–1971) played piano in King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. Her most famous song, "Struttin' with Some Barbecue" has been recorded 500 times. Her other notable songs are "Doin' the Suzie Q," “Just for a Thrill" and "Bad Boy".[17] While Billie Holiday (1915–1959) is best known as a singer, she co-wrote "God Bless the Child" and "Don't Explain" with Arthur Herzog, Jr. and she penned the blues song "Fine and Mellow."[17]

In the 1960s pop music scene, "[l]ike most aspects of business, [in the 1960s,] songwriting was a male-dominated field. Though there were plenty of female singers on the radio, women ...were primarily seen as consumers:... Singing was sometimes an acceptable pastime for a girl, but playing an instrument, writing songs, or producing records simply wasn’t done." [18] Young women "...were not socialized to see themselves as people who create [music]."[18]Carole King "...had a successful songwriting partnershi[p] with husband Gerry Goffin, penning hits like "The Loco-Motion," “Will You Love Me Tomorrow", "Up on the Roof" and "Natural Woman". "King was the first female recipient of the 2013 Gershwin Prize for Popular Song."[18] Ellie Greenwich and her husband Jeff Barry wrote "Then He Kissed Me",“Be My Baby" and "River Deep, Mountain High". Laura Nyro penned "Wedding Bell Blues", "Eli's Coming" and "And When I Die". She stated "I'm not interested in conventional limitations when it comes to my songwriting….I may bring a certain feminist perspective to my songwriting."[18]

In musical theatre, "...female songwriters are rare in an industry dominated by males on the creative end. Work by male songwriters is more often produced, and it was only [in 2015] that an all-female writing team made history by winning the Tony Award for Best Score."[19] Notable female songwriters include singer-songwriter and actress Lauren Pritchard, who wrote Songbird, Zoe Sarnak, who wrote A Lasting Impression and The Years Between and Katie Thompson, who would like to "...see women characters...that are complicated and strong and vulnerable."[20] Thompson stated that in the musical theatre industry, "...when you fight for something as a woman, especially an artistic thing are either perceived as being a bitch or you are perceived [as] 'emotional'", a label that enables others to dismiss you.[20]

According to LaShonda Katrice Barnett, a college and university teacher and author of a book on black women songwriters, of the "... over 380 members of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, just 2 are black women (Sylvia Moy and Valerie Simpson)". Barnett asks "[w]hy are there so few prominent black women songwriters?"[21] Barnett states that two important black women songwriters are Abbey Lincoln, a rare example of a jazz singer who wrote her own albums and Cassandra Wilson, who records both her own songs and "covers" of famous artists.[21]

Below is a selection of notable songwriters. Many of these individuals are singer-songwriters who also famous for their singing and/or instrumental performance skills, but they are listed here for their accomplishments in songwriting:


Nineteenth-century composer and pianist Clara Schumann.

American musicologist Marcia Citron has asked "[w]hy is music composed by women so marginal to the standard 'classical' repertoire?"[22] Citron "examines the practices and attitudes that have led to the exclusion of women composers from the received 'canon' of performed musical works." She argues that in the 1800s, women composers typically wrote art songs for performance in small recitals rather than symphonies intended for performance with an orchestra in a large hall, with the latter works being seen as the most important genre for composers; since women composers did not write many symphonies, they were deemed to be not notable as composers.[22]

According to Abbey Philips, "women musicians have had a very difficult time breaking through and getting the credit they deserve."[23] During the Medieval eras, most of the art music was created for liturgical (religious) purposes and due to the views about the roles of women that were held by religious leaders, few women composed this type of music, with the nun Hildegard von Bingen being among the exceptions. Most university textbooks on the history of music discuss almost exclusively the role of male composers. As well, very few works by women composers are part of the standard repertoire of classical music. In the Concise Oxford History of Music, Clara Schumann is the only woman composer who is mentioned.[23] Philips states that "[d]uring the 20th century the women who were composing/playing gained far less attention than their male counterparts."[23]

Medieval era

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Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179) was a German Benedictine abbess, composer, writer, philosopher, and visionary.[24] One of her works as a composer, the Ordo Virtutum, is an early example of liturgical drama and an early morality play.[25] Sixty-nine musical compositions, each with its own original poetic text, survive. This is one of the largest repertoires among medieval composers. Hildegard composed many liturgical songs that were collected into a cycle called the Symphonia armoniae celestium revelationum. The songs from the Symphonia are set to Hildegard's own text and range from antiphons, hymns, and sequences, to responsories.[26] Her music is described as monophonic, using soaring melodies that pushed the boundaries of the more traditional Gregorian chant.

Renaissance era

Maddalena Casulana (1544–1590) was an Italian composer, lutenist and singer.[27] Her first work dates from 1566: four madrigals in a collection, Il Desiderio, which she produced in Florence. Two years later she published in Venice her first book of madrigals for four voices, Il primo libro di madrigali, which is the first printed, published work by a woman in Western music history.[28] She was close to Isabella de' Medici and dedicated some of her music to her. In 1570, 1583 and 1586 she published other books of madrigals. In the dedication to her first book of madrigals, she shows her feelings about being a female composer at a time when this was rare: "[I] want to show the world, as much as I can in this profession of music, the vain error of men that they alone possess the gifts of intellect and artistry, and that such gifts are never given to women." Her style is contrapuntal and chromatic and her melodic lines are singable and attentive to the text. Other composers of the time, such as Philippe de Monte, thought highly of her.

counterpoint with Benedetto Re, one of the leading teachers at Pavia Cathedral. She composed a collection of motets in the new concertato style in Milan in 1609, an imitative eight-voice Salve Regina in 1611, and a motet, Audite verbum Dominum, for four voices in 1618. She composed traditional pieces and more innovative works. Among the latter is Duo seraphim. Her motet O Salutaris hodie, included in Motetti op. 2, was one of the first pieces to include the violone, a bowed stringed instrument.

Baroque era

The Lute Player by Orazio Gentileschi, presumed to be a portrait of Francesca Caccini.

Francesca Caccini (1587–1641) was an Italian composer, singer, lutenist, poet, and music teacher. Her singing for the wedding of Henry IV of France and Maria de Medici in 1600 was praised by Henry, who called her the "best singer in all of France". She worked in the Medici court as a teacher, chamber singer, rehearsal coach and composer of both chamber and stage music until 1627. By 1614 she was the court's most highly paid musician, because her musical virtuosity so well exemplified an idea of female excellence projected by Tuscany's de facto Regent, Granduchess Christina of Lorraine. Most of her stage music was composed for performance in comedies. In 1618 she published a collection of thirty-six solo songs and soprano/bass duets. In 1625 she composed a 75-minute "comedy-ballet". In all, she wrote sixteen staged works. She was a master of dramatic harmonic surprise: in her music it is harmony changes, more than counterpoint, that most powerfully communicates emotional affect.

Barbara Strozzi (1619–1677) was an Italian Baroque composer and singer. As a child, her considerable vocal talents were displayed to a wide audience. She was also compositionally gifted, and her father arranged for her to study with composer Francesco Cavalli. Strozzi was said to be "the most prolific composer – man or woman – of printed secular vocal music in Venice in the Middle of the century."[31] Her output is also unique in that it only contains secular vocal music, with the exception of one volume of sacred songs.[32] She was renowned for her poetic ability as well as her compositional talent. Her lyrics were often poetic and well-articulated.[33] Nearly three-quarters of her printed works were written for soprano, but she also published works for other voices.[34] Her compositions are firmly rooted in the seconda pratica tradition. Strozzi's music evokes the spirit of Cavalli, heir of Monteverdi. However, her style is more lyrical, and more dependent on sheer vocal sound.[35] Many of the texts for her early pieces were written by her father Giulio. Later texts were written by her father's colleagues, and for many compositions she may have written her own texts.

Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre (1665–1729) was a French composer, musician and harpsichordist. She was born into a family of musicians and master instrument-makers. A child prodigy, she performed on the harpsichord before King Louis XIV. She became a musician in the Royal Court and taught, composed, and gave concerts at home and throughout Paris, to great acclaim.[36] She was one of the few well-known female composers of her time, and unlike many of her contemporaries, she composed in a wide variety of forms.[37] Her talent and achievements were acknowledged by Titon du Tillet, who accorded her a place on his Mount Parnassus when she was only 26 years old, next to Lalande and Marais and directly below Lully. Her works include a ballet, an opera (Céphale et Procris), trio sonatas, harpsichord pieces, Sonates pour le viollon et pour le clavecin and vocal works such as her Cantates françoises sur des sujets tirez de l'Ecriture.

Classical era

music theory, and composition with composer Thomas Arne before making her opera début in 1775 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London. Abrams became a principal singer at the fashionable London concerts and provincial festivals, appearing regularly from 1780–1790. Abrams composed several songs, two of which, "The Orphan's Prayer" and "Crazy Jane", became popular. She published two sets of Italian and English canzonets, a collection of Scottish songs and glees harmonized for two and three voices, and more than a dozen songs, mainly sentimental ballads. A collection of songs published in 1803 was dedicated by Harriett to Queen Charlotte.[38]

Maria Teresa Agnesi (1720–1795) was an Italian composer. Though she was most famous for her compositions, she was also an accomplished harpsichordist and singer. The majority of her surviving compositions were written for keyboard, the voice, or both. Her career was made possible by the Austrian Lombardy, which was progressive and enlightened in women's rights. Her patron was Maria Theresia, holy Roman Empress and sovereign of Lombardy, and Maria Antonia Walpurgis, a gifted composer and contemporary. Her early works are simple and clean, while her later works are more virtuosic, complex, and melodramatic. She composed operas, including heroic drama and serious drama styles. She also wrote arias, concertos and sonatas for keyboard, small ensemble and voice.

Karl Heinrich Graun and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, among others. Her works of curation are a significant contribution to Western culture.

Princess Anna Amalia (1723–1787) was a Prussian composer and score curator known for her chamber works, which included trios, marches, cantatas, songs and fugues.

Henriette Adélaïde Villard de Beaumesnil (1748–1813), was a French composer and opera singer. She began working in minor comedy roles from the age of seven and debuted as a soloist at the Paris Opera in 1766.[40][41] She was the second woman to have a composition performed at the Paris Opéra.[42] Previously the Paris Opera had staged the tragédie-lyrique Céphale et Procris by Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre, in 1694. Anacréon, her first opera, received a private performance at the residence of the Count of Provence in 1781. In 1784, her opera Tibulle et Délie was performed at the Paris Opera. In 1792, her two-act opéra comique, Plaire, c'est commander was performed at the Théâtre Montansier.

Anna Bon (1739–1767?) was an Italian composer and performer. She attended the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice where she studied with the maestra di viola, Candida della Pièta.[43] She held the new post of 'chamber music virtuosa' at the court of Margrave Friedrich of Brandenburg Kulmbach. She dedicated her six op. 1 flute sonatas, published in Nürnberg in 1756, to Friedrich.[43] In 1762 she moved to the Esterházy court at Eisenstadt, where she remained until 1765. She dedicated the published set of six harpsichord sonatas, op. 2 (1757), to Ernestina Augusta Sophia, Princess of Saxe-Weimar, and the set of six divertimenti (trio sonatas), op. 3 (1759), to Charles Theodore, Elector of Bavaria.[44] She also wrote six divertimenti for two flutes and basso continuo; an aria, "Astra coeli," for soprano, 2 violins, viola, and basso continuo; an offertory, "Ardete amore," for singers, instruments and basso continuo; a motet, "Eia in preces et veloces," for alto, 2 violins, viola, and basso continuo and an opera.

Jane Mary Guest (1762–1846) was an English composer and pianist. A pupil of Johann Christian Bach, and initially composing in the galante style,[36] she composed keyboard sonatas, other keyboard works and vocal works with keyboard accompaniment.[45] She was piano teacher to Princess Amelia and Princess Charlotte of Wales.[46] She performed in London from 1779, giving subscription concerts there in 1783/84.[36] She was known for her expressive style of playing.[36] Around this time she published her Six Sonatas, Op. 1, which gained extensive subscriptions,[47] including from royalty, and which were also published in Paris in 1784 and Berlin in 1785.[46] In addition to her keyboard sonatas, she also composed other keyboard pieces, such as her Introduction and March from Rossini's Ricciardo e Zoraide (1820) and a number of songs with keyboard accompaniment.

Marianne von Martinez (1744–1812), was an Austrian composer, singer and pianist. Metastasio noticed her precocious talents and came to oversee her musical education, which included keyboard lessons from Haydn, singing lessons with Porpora and composition lessons with Johann Adolph Hasse and the Imperial court composer Giuseppe Bonno. She was a native speaker of both Italian and German and knew French and English.[48] As a child, she played for the Imperial court, where she "attracted attention with her beautiful voice and her keyboard playing."[49] As an adult, she was frequently asked to perform before the Empress Maria Theresa.[50] A number of the works that Marianna composed are set for solo voice. She wrote a number of secular cantatas and two oratorios to Italian texts. Surviving compositions include four masses, six motets, and three litanies for choir. She wrote in the Italian style, as was typical for the early Classical period in Vienna. Her harpsichord performance practice was compared to the style of C.P.E. Bach. Her Italian oratorio Isacco figura del redentore was premiered by massive forces in 1782[51]

Romantic era

Fanny Mendelssohn, 1842, by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim

Fanny Mendelssohn (1805–1847) was one of the best-known women composers of the 1800s. She showed prodigious musical ability as a child and began to write music. Even though famous visitors to her family home were equally impressed by Fanny and her brother Felix Mendelssohn, Fanny was limited by prevailing attitudes of the time toward women. Her father was tolerant, rather than supportive, of her activities as a composer. Her father wrote to her in 1820, telling her that "[m]usic will perhaps become his [i.e. Felix's] profession, while for you it can and must be only an ornament [in your life]".[52] Felix cautioned her against publishing her works under her own name and seeking a career in music. He wrote:

'From my knowledge of Fanny I should say that she has neither inclination nor vocation for [musical] authorship. She is too much all that a woman ought to be for this. She regulates her house, and neither thinks of the public nor of the musical world, nor even of music at all, until her first duties are fulfilled. Publishing would only disturb her in these, and I cannot say that I approve of it'.[53]

Clara Schumann (1819–1896) was a German composer and concert pianist who had a 61-year concert career, which changed the format and repertoire of the piano recital and the tastes of the listening public. From an early age, had a one-hour lesson (in piano, violin, singing, theory, harmony, composition, and counterpoint). In 1830, at the age of eleven, she had become a virtuoso soloist and she left on a concert tour of European cities. In the late 1830s, she performed to sell-out crowds and laudatory critical reviews. Frédéric Chopin described her playing to Franz Liszt, who came to hear one of her concerts and subsequently "praised her extravagantly" in a letter that was published in the Parisian Revue et Gazette Musicale.[54] She was named a Königliche und Kaiserliche Kammervirtuosin ("Royal and Imperial Chamber Virtuoso"), Austria's highest musical honor.[54]

She was also instrumental in changing the kind of programs expected of concert pianists. In her early career, before her marriage to Robert Schumann, she played what was then customary, mainly bravura pieces designed to showcase the artist's technique, often in the form of arrangements or variations on popular themes from operas, written by virtuosos such as Thalberg, Herz, or Henselt. As it was also customary to play one's own compositions, she included at least one of her own works in every program, works such as her Variations on a Theme by Bellini (Op. 8) and her popular Scherzo (Op. 10). Her works include songs, piano pieces, a piano concerto, a piano trio, choral pieces, and three Romances for violin and piano. Nevertheless, her husband was critical of her as a composer, a role that he believed a wife and mother could not properly take on:

'Clara has composed a series of small pieces, which show a musical and tender ingenuity such as she has never attained before. But to have children, and a husband who is always living in the realm of imagination, does not go together with composing. She cannot work at it regularly, and I am often disturbed to think how many profound ideas are lost because she cannot work them out'.

Additional notable female composers are listed below. Some are also notable as performers (e.g., Amy Beach was a noted pianist):

Instrumental performers

Popular music

Individuals and bandleaders

Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915–1973) was an electric guitarist and singer who was popular in the 1930s and 1940s with her gospel recordings.

Women have a high prominence in many popular music styles as singers. However, professional women instrumentalists are uncommon in popular music, especially in rock genres such as heavy metal. "[P]laying in a band is largely a male homosocial activity, that is, learning to play in a band is largely a peer-based... experience, shaped by existing sex-segregated friendship networks.[55] As well, rock music " often defined as a form of male rebellion vis-à-vis female bedroom culture."[56] In popular music, there has been a gendered "distinction between public (male) and private (female) participation" in music.[56] "[S]everal scholars have argued that men exclude women from bands or from the bands'rehearsals, recordings, performances, and other social activities."[57] "Women are mainly regarded as passive and private consumers of allegedly slick, prefabricated – hence, inferior – pop music..., excluding them from participating as high status rock musicians."[57] One of the reasons that there are rarely mixed gender bands is that "bands operate as tight-knit units in which homosocial solidarity – social bonds between people of the same sex... – plays a crucial role."[57] In the 1960s pop music scene, "[s]inging was sometimes an acceptable pastime for a girl, but playing an instrument...simply wasn't done."[18]

A number of these artists are also notable for singing and songwriting, but they are listed here for their instrumental skills:

All-female bands

An all-female band is a musical group in popular music genres such as rock, blues, jazz and related genres which is exclusively composed of female musicians. This is distinct from a girl group, in which the female members are solely vocalists, though this terminology is not universally followed.[58] While all-male bands are common in many rock and pop bands, all-female bands are less common.

The Ingenues, from the short film Maids and Music, 1938

In the Jazz Age and during the 1930s, all-female bands such as The Blue Belles, the Parisian Redheads (later the Bricktops), Lil-Hardin's All-Girl Band, The Ingenues, The Harlem Playgirls, Phil Spitalny's Musical Sweethearts and "Helen Lewis and Her All-Girl Jazz Syncopators" were popular.Ina Ray Hutton led an all-girl band, the Melodears, from 1934 to 1939. Eunice Westmoreland, under the name Rita Rio, led an all-female band appearing on NBC Radio and for Vitaphone and RKO. A Polish group Filipinki was established in 1959.[59]

Groups composed solely of women began to emerge with the advent of rock and roll. Among the earliest all-female rock bands to be signed to a record label were Goldie & the Gingerbreads, to Atlantic Records in 1964, The Pleasure Seekers with Suzi Quatro to Hideout Records in 1964 and Mercury Records in 1968, The Feminine Complex to Athena Records in 1968, and Fanny (who pioneered the all-female band sound in the early to mid-1970s) in 1969 when Mo Ostin signed them to Warner Bros. Records. There were also others, such as The Liverbirds (1962–1967), the Ace of Cups (1967), The Heart Beats (1968), and Ariel (1968–1970).

In 1971 Fanny became the first all-female band to reach the Hot 100's top 40, with "Charity Ball" peaking at No. 40. In 1975, the Canadian duo of sisters, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, recorded the first of a string of albums. The Runaways were an early commercially successful, hard-edged, all-female hard rock band, releasing their first album in 1976: band members Joan Jett, Cherie Currie and Lita Ford all went on to solo careers. In the United Kingdom, the advent of punk in the late 1970s with its "anyone can do it" ethos lead to the formation of such bands as The Slits, The Raincoats, Mo-dettes, and Dolly Mixture, The Innocents.

The all-female heavy metal band Girlschool, from South London, formed in 1978 out of the ashes of Painted Lady. While somewhat successful in the UK, they became better known in the early 1980s. One of the original members of the band, Kathy Valentine departed to join the all-female band The Go-Gos', switching from guitar to bass. Among Girlschool's early recordings was an EP titled "The St. Valentines Day Massacre" which they recorded with Bronze label-mates Motörhead under the name Headgirl. In 1974, The Deadly Nightshade, a rock/country band was signed by Phantom.

The 1980s, for the first time, saw long-sought chart success from all-female bands and female-fronted rock bands. On the Billboard Hot 100-year-end chart for 1982[60] Joan Jett's I Love Rock 'n' Roll at No. 3 and the Go-Go's We Got the Beat at No. 25 sent a message out to many industry heads that females who could play could bring in money. Musician's magazines were starting to show respect to female musicians, putting Bonnie Raitt[61][62] and Tina Weymouth[63] on their covers. While The Go-Go's and The Bangles, both from the LA club scene, were the first all-female rock bands to find sustained success, individual musicians paved the way for the industry to seek out bands that had female musicians.

In the 1990s, bands such as Hole, Super Heroines, The Lovedolls and L7 became popular, while demonstrating on stage, and in interviews, a self-confident and "bad" attitude at times, always willing to challenge assumptions about how an all-female band should behave. Courtney Love described the other females in Hole as using a more "lunar viewpoint" in their roles as musicians.[64] In the 1990s, the punk, female-led Riot Grrrl genre was associated with bands such as Bratmobile and Bikini Kill.


Mary Lou Williams (1910–1981) was a pianist, composer and arranger who played jazz, Classical and Gospel music. She wrote hundreds of compositions and arrangements, and recorded more than one hundred records.

Historically, the majority of well-known women performers in jazz have been singers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Diane Schuur and Dinah Washington. However, there are many notable instrumental performers. In some cases, these musicians are also composers and bandleaders:

There have also been all-female jazz bands such as The International Sweethearts of Rhythm.

World music

Bi Kidude (1910s-2013) was a Zanzibari-born Tanzanian Taarab singer. She has been called the "queen of Taarab and Unyago music" and was inspired by Siti binti Saad.[65]

Women play an important role in world music, a musical category encompassing many different styles of music from around the world, including ethnic and traditional music from Africa, the Caribbean, South America, Asia, and other regions, indigenous music, neotraditional music, and music where more than one cultural tradition intermingle. The term was popularized in the 1980s as a marketing category for non-Western traditional music.[66][67]

There are a large number of notable women world music performers, including: Ann Savoy, Asha Bhosle, Asmahan, Bi Kidude, Brenda Fassie, Carmen Miranda,Celia Cruz, Cesaria Evora, Chabuca Granda, Chava Alberstein, Chavela Vargas, Cheikha Rimitti, Cleoma Breaux Falcon, Dolly Collins, Elis Regina, Elizabeth Cotton, Esma Redzepova, Fairuz, Frehel, Gal Costa, Genoa Keawe,Googoosh,Graciela, Hazel Dickens,Jean Ritchie, Lata Mangeshkar, Lola Beltrán, Lucha Reyes, Lucilla Galeazzi (The Mammas), Lydia Mendoza, M.S. Subbulakshmi, Mahotella Queens, Maria Farantouri,Maria Tanase, Mariam Doumbia, Maritza, Mercedes Sosa, Miriam Makeba, Nada Mamula, Ofra Haza, Oumou Sangare, Qamar, Rita Marley, Rosa Passos, Roza Eskenazi, Safiye Ayla, Salamat Sadikova, Selda Bagcan, Shirley Collins, Stella Chiweshe, Susana Baca, Valya Balkanska, Violeta Parra, Warda and Zap Mama.

Classical music

Instrumentalists in classical music may focus on one specific type of playing, such as solo recitals, solo concertos, chamber music, or performing as a member of an orchestra, or they may do different types. Some musicians who play orchestral instruments may do all of these types of performances. Instrumentalists in classical music may do both live performances for an audience and recordings. In some cases, classical performers may do mostly live performances. Many album covers for female classical musicians have photographs that emphasize the physical attractiveness of the performer, "often using risqué images".[68] According to Jessica Duchen, a music writer for London's The Independent, Classical women musicians are "...too often judged for their appearances, rather than their talent" and they face pressure " look sexy onstage and in photos."[3] Duchen states that while "[t]here are women musicians who refuse to play on their looks,...the ones who do tend to be more materially successful."[3]


The Montreal Women's Symphony Orchestra in 1942.

Historically, orchestras tended to be almost exclusively male, with the exception of the harp player, as the harp was considered a "women's instrument". A music newspaper editorial in 1917 in England encouraged orchestras to allow women to play the "lighter instruments", with the understanding that these women performers would relinquish their positions to men once WW I was over.[69] In the 1990s, to reduce the likelihood of [70]

In the past, the [70] One male VPO performer stated that "...pregnancy brings problems. It brings disorder. Another important argument against women is that they can bring the solidarity of the men in question. You find that in all men's groups."

The Vienna Philharmonic did not accept women to permanent membership until 1997, far later than comparable orchestras (of the other orchestras ranked among the world's top five by [73] In April 1996, the orchestra's press secretary wrote that "compensating for the expected leaves of absence" of maternity leave was a problem.[74]

In 1997, the orchestra was "facing protests during a [US] tour" by the [70]

In 2013, an article in Mother Jones stated that "[m]any prestigious orchestras have significant female membership—women outnumber men in the New York Philharmonic's violin section—and several renowned ensembles, including the National Symphony Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony, and the Minnesota Symphony, are led by women violinists. Brass, percussion, and string-bass orchestra sections are still predominantly male."[78]


Classical violinist Sarah Chang before performing a 2005 concert.

In classical music, soloists may perform unaccompanied solos on their instrument, as occurs with pianists who play works for solo piano or stringed instruments who play Baroque suites for one instrument (e.g., Bach suites for solo cello). In many cases, though, soloists are accompanied, either by a pianist, a small chamber music ensemble, or, in the case of a concerto, by a full symphony orchestra. In the 2014–2015 season, the majority of concerto soloists who performed with major Canadian orchestras were male. In the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, 67% of the concerto soloists were male. In the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, 74% of the concerto soloists were male. In the National Arts Centre Orchestra, 79% of the concerto soloists were male. In the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, 84% of the concerto soloists were male.[79] When the CBC news story on the gender balance of concerto soloists was released, the conductor of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Bramwell Tovey, disputed the accuracy of the news story in regards to his orchestra, arguing that the article only took a single season into account.


Popular music

Beyoncé as photographed by Tony Duran in 2011.

Singers in popular music perform the vocals for bands and other music groups, which may range in size from a duo or a power trio to a large jazz big band. Singers typically do both live performances and studio recordings. Singers who do live performances may sing in small venues such as coffeehouses or nightclubs, or they may perform in larger venues ranging from arts centres to stadiums. Some singers also perform in music videos, which are used to promote the songs. In some styles of music, singers may play a rhythm section instrument, such as rhythm guitar, electric bass or a percussion instrument while they sing. In some styles of pop, singers perform choreographed dance moves during the show. Two well-known examples of pop singers who do elaborate dance routines in their live shows are Madonna and Britney Spears.

Singer-songwriter and music producer Bjork has commented on how "...women's labor and expertise—inside and outside of the music industry—go unnoticed." She has stated that "[I]t's invisible, what women do," and "[I]t's not rewarded as much."[80] Bjork states "...that her male collaborators are typically credited for the sound of her records; because on stage she mainly sings, there is a widespread assumption that she neither produces [as a music producer] nor plays an instrument."[80]

Below are some of the top-earning female singers in the 2010s. Another way of selecting the most notable singers for this section would be by critical acclaim, but this is a more subjective criteria than earnings. Almost all of these singers are also songwriters, and some are also music producers:

Classical music

Cecilia Bartoli onstage in 2008.

Classical singers typically do both live performances and recordings. Live performances may be in small venues, such as churches, or large venues, such as opera halls or arts centers. Classical singers may specialize in specific types of singing, such as art song, which are songs performed with piano accompaniment, or opera, which is singing accompanied by a symphony orchestra in a staged, costumed theatrical production. Classical singers are typically categorized by their voice type, which indicates both their vocal range and in some cases also the "color" of their voice. Examples of voice types that indicate the range of a singer's voice include contralto, mezzo soprano and soprano (these go from the lowest range to the highest range). Examples of voice types that indicate both the singer's range and the "color" of her voice type are coloratura soprano and lyric soprano. Whereas popular music singers typically use a microphone and a sound reinforcement system for their vocals, in classical music the voice must be projected into the hall naturally, a skill for which they undertake vocal training.

A short list of notable classical singers includes:

Eastern music

Indian classical music

The Indian Carnatic classical singer M.S. Subbulakshmi (1916–2004).

Indian classical music is the art music of the Indian subcontinent. The origins of Indian classical music can be found in the in Hindu hymns. This chanting style evolved into jatis and eventually into ragas. Indian classical music has also been significantly influenced by, or syncretised with, Indian folk music. The major composers from the historical Indian classical music tradition were men. Modern women vocalists include D. K. Pattammal, M. S. Subbalakshmi, Gangubai Hangal, Hirabai Barodekar, Kesarbai Kerkar, Kishori Amonkar, Malini Rajurkar, Mogubai Kurdikar, Prabha Atre, Roshan Ara Begum and Shruti Sadolikar Katkar. One women instrumentalist is Annapurna Devi.

Music scholars and educators

Musicologists and music historians

Rosetta Reitz (1924–2008) was an American jazz historian and feminist who established a record label producing 18 albums of the music of the early women of jazz and the blues.[81]

The vast majority of major musicologists and music historians have been men. Nevertheless, some women musicologists have reached the top ranks of the profession. Carolyn Abbate (born 1956) is an American musicologist, who has been described by the Harvard Gazette as "one of the world's most accomplished and admired music historians".[82] Some of the notable women scholars include:

Music educators

While music critics argued in the 1880s that "...women lacked the innate creativity to compose good music" due to "biological predisposition",[83]later, it was accepted that women would have a role in music education, and they became involved in this field " such a degree that women dominated music education during the later half of the 19th century and well into the 20th century."[84]


Luis-Bassa conducting the Haffner Orchestra in 2007

'Orchestras react better when they have a man in front of them [because] a cute girl on the podium means that musicians think about other things'.

Vasily Petrenko, principal conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, cited by Hannah Levintova, "Here's Why You Seldom See Women Leading a Symphony" in Mother Jones, 23 September 2013

The vast majority of professional orchestra conductors are male; The Guardian called conducting "one of the last glass ceilings in the music industry".[78] In 2014, "...Bachtrack reported that, in a list of the world's 150 top conductors that year, only five were women."[85] There are a small number of female conductors who have become top-ranked international conductors. In January 2005, Australian conductor Simone Young became the first woman to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic. In 2008 Marin Alsop, a protégé of Leonard Bernstein, became the first woman to become the music director and principal conductor of a major US orchestra when she won the top job at the Baltimore Symphony.[86] There were "...protests from a large swathe of the Baltimore Symphony when she was first named Music Director", but since that time, "plaudits [have] roll[ed] in."[86] In 2014, Alsop was the first woman conductor to lead the Last Night of the Proms concert–one of the most important classical music events in Britain–in its 118-year history.[86]

According the UK's Radio 3 editor, Edwina Wolstencroft, "The music world has been happy to have female performers ...for a long time...[;]But owning authority and power in public is another matter. That's where female conductors have had a hard time. Our society is more resistant to women being powerful in public than to women being entertaining."[4]Yuri Temirkanov, the music director of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, gave his views on the appropriateness of women conductors in a September 2013 interview, stating that "The essence of the conductor's profession is strength. The essence of a woman is weakness."[79] Finnish conductor Jorma Panula, who was named as one of the "60 most powerful people in music" in a November 2000 issue of BBC Music Magazine, provided his views on female conductors in a 2014 television interview. He stated that "women [conductors]… Of course they are trying! Some of them are making faces, sweating and fussing, but it is not getting any better – only worse!... It's not a problem – if they choose the right pieces. If they take more feminine music. Bruckner or Stravinsky will not do, but Debussy is OK. This is a purely biological question."[87]

In 2013, "Vasily Petrenko, the principal conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, provoked outrage when he told a Norwegian newspaper that 'orchestras react better when they have a man in front of them' because 'a cute girl on the podium means that musicians think about other things.'"[78] Petrenko stated that "[w]hen conducted by a man, [orchestral] musicians encounter fewer erotic distractions."[88] He also stated that "when women have families, it becomes difficult to be as dedicated as is demanded in the business".[89] Bruno Mantovani, the director of the Paris Conservatoire, gave an interview about women conductors in which he raised the "problem of maternity" and ability of women to withstand the physical challenges and stresses of the profession, which involve "conducting, taking a plane, taking another plane, conducting again."[79] The low percentage of women conductors is not because women do not study in music school; indeed, in 2009 and 2012 almost half of the recipients of conducting doctorates were women.[78]

Notable female conductors include:

Music critics

Popular music

American pop music critic Ann Powers (2007)

According to Anwen Crawford, the "problem for women [popular music critics] is that our role in popular music was codified long ago", which means that "[b]ooks by living female rock critics (or jazz, hip-hop, and dance-music critics, for that matter) are scant." Crawford notes that the "...most famous rock-music critics—Robert Christgau, Greil Marcus, Lester Bangs, Nick Kent—are all male."[80]

Sociologist Simon Frith noted that pop and rock music "are closely associated with gender; that is, with conventions of male and female behaviour."[90] According to Holly Kruse, both popular music articles and academic articles about pop music are usually written from "masculine subject positions."[91] As well, there are relatively few women writing in music journalism: "By 1999, the number of female editors or senior writers at Rolling Stone hovered around...15%, [while] at Spin and Raygun, [it was] roughly 20%."[92] Criticism associated with gender was discussed in a 2014 Jezebel article about the struggles of women in music journalism, written by music critic Tracy Moore, previously an editor at the Nashville Scene.[93]

The American music critic Ann Powers, as a female critic and journalist for a popular, male-dominated industry, has written critiques the perceptions of sex, racial and social minorities in the music industry. She has also written about feminism.[94][95] In 2006 she accepted a position as chief pop-music critic at the Los Angeles Times, where she succeeded Robert Hilburn.[96] In 2005, Powers co-wrote the book Piece by Piece with musician Tori Amos, which discusses the role of women in the modern music industry, and features information about composing, touring, performance, and the realities of the music business.

Notable popular music critics include:

Classical music

Marion Lignana Rosenberg (1961–2013) was a music critic, writer, translator, broadcaster and journalist. She wrote for many periodicals, incuding, The New York Times and Playbill.

"The National Arts Journalism Program (NAJP) at Columbia... completed a large study of arts journalism in America [in 2005]. They found that "the average classical music critic is a white, 52-year-old male with a graduate degree, but twenty-six percent of all critics writing are female." However, William Osborne points out that this 26% figure includes all newspapers, including low-circulation regional papers. Osborne states that the "...large US papers, which are the ones that influence public opinion, have virtually no women classical music critics." The only female critics from major US papers are Anne Midgette (New York Times) and Wynne Delacoma (Chicago Sun-Times). Midgette was the "...first woman to cover classical music in the entire history of the paper."[97]Susannah Clapp, a critic from The Guardian–a newspaper that has a female classical music critic–stated in May 2014 that she had only then realized "...what a rarity" a female classical music critic is in journalism.[98]

Notable women classical music critics include:

Other musical professions

A 2013 Sound on Sound article stated that there are "...few women in record production and sound engineering."[5] Ncube states that "[n]inety-five percent of music producers are male, and although there are female producers achieving great things in music, they are less well-known than their male counterparts."[5]

"Only three women have ever been nominated for best producer at the Brits or the Grammys" and none won either award.[99] "Women who want to enter the [producing] field face a boys' club, or a guild mentality".[99] The UK "Music Producers' Guild says less than 4% of its members are women" and at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, "...only 6% of the students enrolled on its sound technology course are female."[99]

Notable women include:

Movements, organizations, events and genres

Women's music

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  • Citron, Marcia J. Gender and the Musical Canon. CUP Archive, 1993.
  • Dunbar, Julie C. Women, Music, Culture: An Introduction. Routledge, 2010.
  • Pendle, Karin Anna. Women and Music: A History. Indiana University Press, 2001.

Further reading

The next year, McLachlan founded the Lilith Fair tour, taking Lilith from the medieval Jewish legend that Lilith was Adam's first wife. In 1997, Lilith Fair garnered a $16 million gross, making it the top-grossing of any touring festival.[113] Among all concert tours for that year, it was the 16th highest grossing.[113] The festival received several pejorative nicknames, including "Breast-fest", "Girlapalooza", and "Clam Jam".[114][115]

. Crash Vegas, formerly of Michelle McAdorey and Lisa Loeb. At least one of their appearances together – in McLachlan's home town, on 14 September 1996 – went by the name "Lilith Fair" and included performances by McLachlan, Cole, Paula Cole Bucking conventional industry wisdom, she booked a successful tour for herself and [113]

Lillith Fair

[111] Riot grrrl bands often address issues such as rape,

Riot grrrl is an underground feminist hardcore punk movement that originally started in the early 1990s, in Washington, D.C.,[105] and the greater Pacific Northwest, noticeably in Olympia, Washington.[106] It is often associated with third-wave feminism, which is sometimes seen as its starting point. It has also been described as a musical genre that came out of indie rock, with the punk scene serving as an inspiration for a musical movement in which women could express themselves in the same way men had been doing for the past several years.[107]

Carrie Brownstein from the punk-indie band Sleater-Kinney, performing at Vegoose in 2005.

Riot Grrrl

The music history textbooks.[104]

International Alliance for Women in Music


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