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Iconic Women Who Shaped Punk Rock — Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry, Siouxsie Sioux, Joan Jett

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at WVU chapter.

Since its inception in the 1970s, punk rock has defined a generation of artists, influenced fashion and laid the foundation for prevailing alternative music. Punk rock’s anti-establishment roots became the perfect setting for female musicians who would have otherwise been disregarded in the male-dominated mainstream music industry of the time. Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth has said,  “Women make natural anarchists and revolutionaries, because they’ve always been second-class citizens, kinda having had to claw their way up.” Punk rock developed into a highly influential and pervasive movement, but punk as we know it today would not be what it is without the major contributions made by the incredible female artists who helped form the scene. So, in no particular order, here are 5 female musicians that shaped punk rock:                                        

Patti Smith:

Patti Smith, aka the “Godmother of Punk”, was one of the most influential musicians to come out of the NYC punk scene. Smith fused rock and poetry and inspired other musicians and bands such as REM, The Smiths, Madonna and Florence and the Machine. Smith was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. 

Chrissie Hynde: 

Hynde spent her formative years in London’s budding underground/punk scene and was heavily involved with the formation of multiple successful bands that emerged. She became the lead singer for her band The Pretenders and went on to perform music with Cher, UB40 and even Frank Sinatra. Hynde’s music and artistry not only influenced the musical landscape, but she became both a fashion and feminist icon for the generations to come. Madonna spoke of Hynde stating “I saw her play in Central Park [in August 1980, performing with the Pretenders]. She was amazing: the only woman I’d seen in performance where I thought, yeah, she’s got balls, she’s awesome! … It gave me courage, inspiration, to see a woman with that kind of confidence in a man’s world.” The Pretenders were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.

Debbie Harry: 

Possibly one of the most commercially successful and acknowledged artists of the 70s punk scene, the lead singer of the band Blondie, managed to transcend the NYC punk scene by breaking into other genres including disco, pop, reggae and rap. Before establishing a music career, Harry worked as a waitress, a go-go dancer, a model and even a Playboy bunny. A friend of Andy Warhol’s, Harry appeared in multiple of his films and art as well as John Water’s original Hairspray. Blondie became one of the most successful bands to define the punk/new wave music era with highly recognized songs like “One Way or Another” and “Heart of Glass”, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame in 2006. 

Siouxsie Sioux:

Best known for being the lead singer of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Siouxsie Sioux was an integral figure in London’s punk scene and the subsequent post-punk alternative scene that bands like Joy Division, The Smiths and The Cure emerged from. Siouxsie embodied not only the raw punk attitude, but the punk/goth “look” with her fetish and bondage clothing as well as her signature makeup looks. She was named “one of the most influential British singers of the rock era” by AllMusic. Siouxsie’s impact on punk/alternative music and fashion is irrefutable and unmatched. Artists across all genres, from U2 to FKA Twigs, have named her as a significant influence on their music and artistry. 

 Joan Jett:

Joan Jett, despite predating punk rock, has paved the way and inspired female musicians for generations. She was the first female artist to own her own record label and in the 90s, she was termed the original Riot Grrrl. Jett first defied all rock music standards in a very male-dominated industry with her all-girl band The Runaways in the 70s. Jett led a very successful solo career and released what are now deemed rock anthems like “I Love Rock and Roll” and “Bad Reputation”.  Jett’s style, attitude and music challenged the status-quo and made way for other female musicians and made her a rock icon. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.   


Go check out these awesome women!!

Zoë Skvarka is a senior MDS major at WVU. Zoë grew up living overseas, going back and forth between Turkey and Greece. Zoë is passionate about activism, fashion, alternative pop culture and art in all of its forms.
Rachel is a graduate student at WVU majoring in journalism with minors in Appalachian studies, history and political science. In addition to writing for Her Campus, she is also a publicity intern for Arts and Entertainment and a news intern for Univerisity Relations. She is from Princeton, West Virginia and loves her state and its beautiful mountains. She is passionate about many things including dogs, musicals and the Mountaineers.