Girl Holding Vinyl Record

9 History-Making Women in Music

In celebration of Women’s History Month, the music content team at HCCU is celebrating all of the incredible women who have left their mark on pop culture and the music industry. Here are just a few of the women who have forever changed the landscape of modern music.

  1. 1. Ella Fitzgerald

    Ella Fitzgerald is one of the most influential women in music of all time. Throughout her career, she won 13 Grammy Awards and sold over 40 million albums, leading many to refer to her as "The First Lady of Music". Not to mention, she became the first African-American woman to win a Grammy Award at the first ever Grammys in 1958.

    Fitzgerald's compelling vocals and ability to perform all different types of jazz music brought people from diverse backgrounds together, united by their shared love for her. Through her unmatched ability to mimic instruments with her voice, she popularized and perfected the art of scatting, branding it as her signature technique. Fitzgerald's impact on the development of jazz and pop music has secured her a legacy that has shaped many of the artists we know and love today, including Adele, Mica Paris and Lady Gaga. — Claire Wadman

  2. 2. Selena Quintanilla-Perez

    Known as the Queen of Tejano Music, Selena Quintanilla-Perez was one of the most influential Latin artists of the 80s and 90s. She started singing at the age of ten in her family’s band, her brother Abraham on bass guitar and her sister Suzette on the drums! Selena was often recognized as the “Mexican Madonna” for her fun performances and catchy, upbeat dance music.

    Her first album, Ven Conmigo, was released in 1990 and was the first Tejano album to reach gold record status. After her 1993 album, Live!, she became the first female Tejano artist to go home with the Grammy for Best Mexican-American Album. She released another album in 1994, Amor Prohibido, which also achieved gold record status. Her next mission was the release of an English album, to be titled Dreaming of You. Unfortunately, she was murdered before she could see the immense success of this album. It hit number one on the Billboard Top 200 in 1995.

    In 1997, Jennifer Lopez starred in the movie "Selena," documenting the star’s life in the spotlight. Selena's husband, Chris Perez, wrote a book titled "To Selena, With Love," which was released in 2012. Selena was an inspiration to many, once saying, “If you have a dream, don’t let anybody take it away.” — Anna Hansil

    (Source: Biography)

  3. 3. Alison Wonderland

    Alexandra Margo Sholler (Alison Wonderland) was born on September 27th, 1986. She is a singer and one of few prominent female EDM producers and DJs. Sholler won New Artist of the Year at the Electronic Music Awards in 2017 and won Favorite Breakout Artist at the Billboard Dance Awards in 2018. In addition to her amazing musical talent, she is also a committed advocate for mental health awareness. She has made her own struggles with her mental health and experience with emotional abuse extremely public in the hopes that it will inspire others to share their stories as well and know they aren’t alone. — Morgan Keegan

  4. 4. Billie Eilish

    Billie Eilish has had a huge influence over the modern pop scene since she entered it with her hit single “ocean eyes” in 2016. Her distinct mismatched, oversized clothing look, bizarre music videos and authentic lyrics have set her apart and skyrocketed many of her songs to the top of the charts, notable hits being “bad guy” and “when the party’s over.” 

    She recently made history by winning five Grammys, including the “big four” categories, at only 18 years old. Her creepy aesthetic and deep lyrics connect with many Gen-Z listeners, and her laid back and relatable personality make her a crowd favorite at a lot of her sold-out concerts. Eilish makes sure to be unforgettable. She continues to impact the future of music for young listeners and is definitely leading the “sad” pop genre into the future. — Oriel Voegele

  5. 5. Lana Del Rey

    Lana Del Rey isn’t new to the music industry but she’s definitely still a force to be reckoned with. Gaining fans in 2011 with the release of her single, “Video Games,” Del Rey has continually been on the rise. With five albums reaching top five on Billboard Top 200, fans have been rooting for Del Rey since day one. Even though Lana’s sound has shifted throughout the years, her lyrics always find a way to unite listeners. Whether she’s singing about sexual empowerment or loving yourself, Del Rey is always able to get her message across in an effective and relatable way, no matter what style she sings in. — Tabitha Farnham

  6. 6. Taylor Swift

    Taylor Swift is one of the most influential women in pop in today’s day and age. Her rise to fame began over ten years ago with the release of her self-titled debut album. Since then, she has skyrocketed into the spotlight and grown into an incredible singer and songwriter. As her music progressed, she slowly began her transition from country to pop music, fully arriving to the pop scene with her record-setting album “1989,” which won a Grammy for Album of the Year, making her the first woman to win the award twice. Over the past 13 years, she has been nominated for countless awards ranging from Country Music Awards to Grammy’s.

    In recent years, Swift has become more and more involved in trying to speak out about issues relating to women’s rights and equality. She has spoken out about discrimination and has made her political views known to the public. In 2018, she posted on her Instagram, endorsing two democratic Congressional nominees and encouraging fans to vote. Within a 24-hour period after her statement, 65,000 people registered to vote. Her most recent single, “The Man,” talks about how her life as a celebrity would likely be easier as a man because of the double standards and unfair expectations society places on women. — Sara Brodsky

  7. 7. Stevie Nicks

    Stevie Nicks’ enduring influence cannot be denied. Forty-five years ago, she signed with Fleetwood Mac, the band that put her on the map. The album Rumors continues to maintain its popularity to this day—a testament to the band's pop culture significance. Nicks mentored many female artists, including Sheryl Crow and Destiny’s Child, and has always praised and supported female artists. Stevie is also seen as an LGBTQ+ icon and regularly performs at events that feature drag, burlesque and performance art.

    Her wonderful second act, so to speak, has been touring arenas as a solo artist. Even late in life, she has gathered crowds of fans across the US and Australia, making her “one of the few (if only) women rock acts to be able to draw such huge crowds as a headlining act” (Ultimate Classic Rock). Her iconic lyrics continue to inspire artists and Stevie Nicks will always be regarded as one of the greats. What a pleasure it is to live at the same time as the reigning queen of rock-and-roll. — Jaden Emily Harris

  8. 8. Lizzo

    “I feel like I’ve started to create my own culture of being a voice for something, and that’s what people want to know about. I love that because I am a woman and because I rap, and I look the way I look, I can connect with the demographic of people who feel like they have a voice in me.” — Billboard

    As Time Magazine’s 2019 Entertainer of the Year, Lizzo has made a great impact in the worlds of pop and R&B music. I think everyone would agree that she is indeed “100% that bitch," but her rise to fame wasn’t easy. She’s been active in the music world since 2011, but finally made her “big break” in 2016 with the release of Coconut Oil and the hit “Good as Hell.” In January 2019, she released “Juice,” which instantly rose on the charts. She followed this hit single with her album, Cuz I Love You, which propelled her to such great heights that she was able to perform at Coachella for the first time. Anyone could probably recognize the iconic piano intro of “Truth Hurts,” which I always belt out the lyrics to.

    Lizzo has become such an influential figure in the music world because of what she stands for—body positivity and diversity. Lizzo’s back-up dancers, the "Big Grrrls," consist of all plus-sized dancers, and Lizzo’s advocacy for diversity really comes through in her music and performances. “My movement is for everybody," Lizzo said in an interview with Junkee. "My movement celebrates diversity. It’s all about inclusion. It’s all about getting our flowers and giving each person their own space to be an individual and speak up for that individuality.”

    Fun fact: Lizzo also played the flute in college, so she often incorporates that into her performances. Go check out Lizzo so you can feel “Good As Hell!” — Anna Hansil

  9. 9. JoJo

    JoJo, born Joanna Noëlle Levesque, is well known for being a teen pop sensation. Her single "Leave (Get Out)," propelled her to stardom in 2004, making her the youngest solo artist in history to top the Billboard charts at just 13-years old. JoJo's movie roles in "Aquamarine" and "RV" only served to elevate her already high profile. Now, at age 29, JoJo continues to make empowering music, her mature R&B sound only continuing to grow and evolve.

    Before Taylor Swift made headlines for supporting the right of musicians to own their own music, JoJo endured her own struggle with her first record label, Blackground Record Label. After breaking free from her contract, JoJo opened up about the label's controlling actions, the label's president putting her on a 500 calorie-a-day diet as a teenager and refusing to promote or put out hundreds of songs she sang and recorded. She eventually went on to re-release her first two albums, JoJo and The High Road, putting them back on streaming platforms after Blackground removed them while she was still under contract.

    Throughout her career, JoJo struggled with addiction, a consequence of the extreme lengths she was forced to go to for her record label. However, she has come out on the other side, stronger than ever and continuing to pursue her passion. She recently released a documentary with Uproxx, telling the story of her career from the beginning and detailing her comeback, now more in control of her future and career than ever. — Tiara Stephan

Keep checking back in with HCCU as we celebrate Women's History Month this March!