From the early days of American popular music, women have played a pivotal role in shaping the sounds and lyrics that have become so beloved. From blues to jazz, rock to pop, and beyond, female songwriters have been instrumental in creating some of the most iconic music of the past century. Here are 10 influential female songwriters, spanning decades and genres, whose contributions have helped to shape the music industry as we know it today.
1. Bessie Smith
Known as the “Empress of the Blues,” Bessie Smith was one of the most popular blues singers of the 1920s and 1930s. Her song “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” became a blues standard and was covered by countless artists over the years. Smith’s music and persona helped to pave the way for other women in the blues and set a high standard for all female performers.
2. Dorothy Fields
A prolific songwriter in the 1930s and 1940s, Dorothy Fields was the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song. She wrote many hits for musical theater, including “The Way You Look Tonight,” which was later recorded by Frank Sinatra and became a beloved classic.
3. Carole King
One of the most successful and acclaimed songwriters of the 1960s and 1970s, Carole King wrote hit after hit for herself and other artists. Her album Tapestry is considered a landmark of the singer-songwriter genre, featuring classics like “You’ve Got a Friend” and “I Feel the Earth Move.”
4. Joni Mitchell
Known for her poetic lyrics and unique voice, Joni Mitchell is a true icon of the folk and rock scenes of the 1960s and 1970s. Her song “Both Sides, Now” has become a timeless classic, covered by countless artists and featured in movies and TV shows.
5. Stevie Nicks
As a member of Fleetwood Mac and a solo artist, Stevie Nicks has been a trailblazer for women in rock music. Her song “Landslide” is a masterpiece of introspective songwriting and has become a beloved classic.
6. Dolly Parton
One of the most successful country music songwriters of all time, Dolly Parton has written countless hits over the course of her career. Her song “Jolene” is a classic of the genre, featuring her trademark twang and storytelling prowess. Parton has also been a trailblazer for women in country music, paving the way for future generations.
7. Annie Lennox
As the lead singer of the Eurythmics and a solo artist, Annie Lennox has been a force in the pop and rock scenes since the 1980s. Her song “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” is a synth-pop classic that has influenced countless artists in the decades since its release.
One of the biggest pop stars of the 21st century, Beyoncé has also proven herself to be an accomplished songwriter. Her song “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” became a cultural phenomenon and helped to establish her as a solo artist in her own right. She has inspired countless women with her music and activism, and has earned a place as one of the greatest songwriters of our generation.
9. Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift is a multi-platinum singer-songwriter who has written numerous hits that have topped the charts. In addition to her impressive musical career, she has also been an outspoken advocate for female artists in the music industry. Swift has also used her platform to raise awareness for important social and political issues, including LGBTQ+ rights and voter registration.
Lizzo is an American singer-songwriter known for her energetic and empowering music. Her breakthrough album, Cuz I Love You, contained the hit songs “Truth Hurts” and “Juice.” Lizzo’s music is celebrated for its body positivity and self-love themes. She has won multiple Grammy Awards and continues to inspire women and girls around the world with her music and message of self-acceptance.
While there are only 10 female songwriters listed here, there are a great number of women shaping the business with their unique voices and powerful lyrics today. From the early 1900s to present day, these women have paved the way for future generations of female artists and continue to inspire us with their music. As we celebrate their contributions to the industry, let us also remember to support and uplift female artists today and in the years to come.