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Beyonce at the 2021 Grammy Awards
Photo by Cliff Lipson / CBS

Five Women Who Have Shaped the Music Industry

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

It’s difficult to picture a world without some of our favorite femme singers and songwriters. Just think about what Janis Joplin has done for rock music, Ella Fitzgerald for jazz, and Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and Rihanna for pop. Artists like Fiona Apple and Adele have inspired generations of female songwriters. All these women are among the many others who are musical pioneers in their own ways, including the following five women who, both objectively and in my opinion, have shaped the music industry.

Nina Simone

Nina Simone once sang that stars come and go, but there is no doubt that she was more than a star. She was too whole to be compared to a star, which burns bright quickly and soon fades out. She did not force herself to adhere to short-lived trends and she remained steadfast in her beliefs of what her music should be. A stunning vocalist and activist, she was well-known for her Civil Rights advocacy and even advocated for Black Americans beyond the Civil Rights Movement.

Her soul, classical, folk and blues-fueled music conveyed political messages with a powerful impact, yet she would not be tied down to one genre. Critics wanted to put her into a box, constantly pinning her as a “jazz musician” and comparing her to Billie Holiday. This was one of Simone’s poignant grievances: people could not comprehend that Black women in music were different from one another and unique in their artistry. When we listen to songs like “Feeling Good,” “I Put a Spell on You” and “Mood Indigo,” we hear much more than a so-called jazz musician; we hear the lyricism, deep feeling and wide range from an artist who, in many ways, both struggled and triumphed in her time.

stevie nicks

Stevie Nicks is a witchy woman in rock, and brings a slightly darker feel to the genre. There is something so spellbinding about her voice; we can’t help but be intrigued when listening to Fleetwood Mac songs like “Rhiannon” and “Gold Dust Woman.” She also brought an entirely new emotional lens to rock in the 1970s. Her songs in Fleetwood Mac capture the attention of audiences and wrap us up in any predicament that she could possibly sing about. Listen to “Silver Springs” off their album Rumours to get an idea of the raw emotional power that Nicks is capable of.

Her breakup with Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham was a catalyst for the tension between the band that transpired when Rumours was recorded. Nicks was able to turn this tension into art and quickly became the most well-loved member of the band. She did not allow a man to define her artistic bent while still acknowledging his emotional impact on her. Sadness, anger and heartbreak fueled her songwriting, demonstrating to women that they can turn their pain into art, and even thrive in male-dominated genres such as rock.

lauryn hill

As a child, my dad told me that Lauryn Hill is one of the few artists who just “gets it.” And she truly is; because of this, Lauryn Hill is the blueprint for so many modern musicians. Regarded as one of the greatest rappers of all time, she brought her melodic tone to rap music, combining it with a stunning alto singing voice. She first shone in the mid-90s at the forefront of three-piece band, The Fugees, whose music exploded on pop, R&B and hip-hop channels, among others.

In 1998, Hill struck out on her own, releasing The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. One of the most critically acclaimed albums of all time, it has been cited as an influence by artists such as Adele, H.E.R., Beyonce, SZA, Doja Cat and Kelly Clarkson. Few can say that they have influenced such an impressive variety of artists. On this album, Hill pioneered the now-popular technique of both rapping and singing. Many could identify with the album’s lyrical content about heartbreak, God and motherhood, while acknowledging it as one of the most important neo-soul records ever made. Not only has she shaped the music industry, but she has done so with only one studio-recorded solo album under her belt. That is the power of Lauryn Hill.

amy winehouse

When listening to Amy Winehouse, it’s easy to forget that her glory years were in the 2000s. She’s a time capsule of her own, transporting us to a time where jazz music developed a modern flare and a hint of sensuality. This combined with her songwriting made her a musical powerhouse. I vividly remember my first time listening to “You Know I’m No Good” and being spellbound by Winehouse’s storytelling prowess.

Guilt, abuse and toxicity plagued her relationships and her ability to wrap us into it in her 2006 album Back to Black was unparalleled. Depth, raw emotion and a struggle for power are all at play in all directions of this album. A mixture of jazz, R&B and alternative is exactly what the British music scene needed to inspire more soul artists such as Duffy and Adele. Amy Winehouse is a prime example of an artist not appreciated in her time, used as a punchline due to her substance abuse issues (even after she overcame them). However, her impact was immeasurable, inspiring women around the world to sing and write with vulnerability.


Few performers hold a candle to Beyonce in terms of stage presence. This was confirmed when she released a film and an album version of her 2019 Coachella performance for her “Homecoming” tour. Everything from her powerful voice, to her confidence, to her ability to perform a long set flawlessly was more than enough to captivate audiences. Since her run with Destiny’s Child, it has never been a secret that Beyonce was always going to be an “It Girl” whose abilities as a performer could capture the attention of even the most apathetic audience member.

Beyonce’s entire music career has solidified her as an icon, with songs ranging between a variety of genres. After solidifying herself in the 2000s as a pure pop icon, her 2016 record Lemonade became one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the past decade. It provided the world with a delicate-yet-ferocious look into the mind of a woman who is struggling with her marriage, and how some marital issues are a unique experience for Black women. Her music can spark conversation about controversial topics at some points, and make people want to dance at others. That is an impressive legacy.

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FSU student majoring in Public Relations with a minor in Spanish! I'm passionate about writing, running, music, and movies, and can be found making niche pop culture references or overanalyzing random pieces of media.
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