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50 women who broke barriers in the music industry

  • Joni Mitchell

    In 2017, NPR set out to name the top 150 albums made by women. At #1 on that list? Joni Mitchell’s 1971 classic, “Blue.” Called simple and radical, “Blue” was a rousing call for equality. Mitchell's influence on the music world—for male and female musicians alike—runs deep.

  • Janis Joplin

    Janis Joplin only lived to be 27, but made a mark on the music world like few other artists. Florence Welch, Pink, and Stevie Nicks are just some of the notable artists who’ve cited Joplin’s electric stage presence and emotional lyrics as inspirations. At her height, Joplin was called the first queen of rock 'n' roll.

  • Patti Smith

    Patti Smith became one of New York City punk rock’s founding figures with her debut album “Horses.” Throughout her career, Smith remained one of the foremost activist voices in music, and always seemed up for pushing against the grain. In 2017, Smith won the National Book Award for her memoir, “Just Kids.”

  • Cher

    Cher has seemingly done it all—in music, movies, and on TV—and has never been constrained to one label through an illustrious career. She’s been called the “Goddess of Pop” with her ability to churn out dance and radio-friendly hits since the 1960s. Lately, Cher has endeared herself to a new generation with her ability to connect through social media.

  • Dolly Parton

    Dolly Parton is country music royalty, recognized as having the most hits on Billboard's Hot Country songs chart. Throughout her career, Parton has appealed to fan bases many country artists have trouble reaching; she also built one of music’s first empires, evidenced by the Dollywood theme park.

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  • Martha Quinn and Nina Blackwood

    Martha Quinn and Nina Blackwood were two of MTV’s original “VJs” and helped revolutionize the industry by making music videos a new preferred choice of music consumption for much of the 1980s and 1990s. Their style and smarts helped make VJs stars in their own right, and Quinn and Blackwood helped set the standard for music TV personalities for decades to come.

     

  • Debbie Harry

    Debbie Harry was not only the lead singer of Blondie, a powerful force backed by male band members, but a bit of a hip-hop pioneer. On “Saturday Night Live,” she brought on Sha-Rock to perform, who is considered one of the first female emcees. Through much of the 1980s, Harry was one of music’s style icons.

  • Madonna

    Influenced by Debbie Harry, Madonna became the definitive pop icon of the 1980s. Thanks in large part to her regular airplay on MTV, Madonna became one of the biggest acts in the world, before becoming a star on the silver screen. Madonna has openly talked about religion, sex, feminism, and age, and remains one of the most popular artists in the world.

  • Whitney Houston

    With one of the most memorable voices in music history, Whitney Houston crafted pop hits, chart-topping ballads, and rousing renditions of the national anthem. Houston was the first recipient of BET’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. Even after the death in 2012, Houston remains one of the most cited influences in modern pop and R&B.

  • Salt-N-Pepa

    Salt-N-Pepa were hip-hop pioneers, and the first female rap group to win a Grammy. Along with Spinderella, their DJ, Salt-N-Pepa showed women could find success in the machismo-fueled world of rap and stressed female empowerment. In the 1990s, the group was among music’s most vocal advocates for safe sex.

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