The history of rock includes a myriad of collectives in which a strong female voice provides the group’s identity while being supported by male backing musicians. Thankfully, a new generation of these acts have made women all the more present in modern rock, country, pop and electronica. Here are 26 of our favorite bands fronted by inspiring female artists.
The rock crew fronted by Brittany Howard has built an electric, festival-ready live show out of the soulful Americana featured on its first two albums. 2012 debut Boys & Girls earned the Alabama Shakes a best new artist nod at the Grammys, while follow-up LP Sound & Color became the group’s first No. 1 album after its April, 21 2015 release.
Blondie not only scored a mountain of hit singles — “Call Me,” “Heart of Glass” and “Atomic” among them — but changed the way a female can be perceived in rock music. With Debbie Harry leading the quintet, Blondie pushed new wave in complex new directions without sacrificing a drop of attitude.
Gladys Knight & The Pips
Gladys Knight and her crew of male backup vocalists helped shape the sound of Motown in the 60’s and 70’s: “Midnight Train to Georgia” was a No. 1 hit and instant classic, but the soul act’s run extended long after that 1973 hit.
After beating artists like Elton John and the Partridge Family for the best new artist Grammy in 1971, the Carpenters -- brother Richard and sister Karen -- enjoyed a monumentally successfully run for the rest of the decade, behind Karen’s heavenly voice. Tragically, the female vocalist passed away in 1983 after a battle with anorexia nervosa, but The Carpenters' legacy as a pop duo lives on.
This Swedish pop-rock duo was darn near unstoppable as the '80s came to close, with international hits like “The Look,” “Listen To Your Heart” and “It Must Have Been Love” marked by Marie Fredriksson’s gorgeous voice and dotting prom dances for decades.
The Band Perry
The Perry siblings -- with Kimberly leading brothers Reid and Neil -- have taken the country world by storm, following the success of their single “If I Die Young.” In the first half of the 2010's, the trio released a pair of best-selling albums and played to arenas across the globe.
One cannot discuss synth-pop -- specifically '80s British synth-pop -- without acknowledging the impact of the Eurythmics, which paired daring vocalist Annie Lennox and brilliant instrumentalist Dave Stewart and crafted a handful of classics, including “Here Comes The Rain Again” and “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).”
Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam
An underrated force in '80s mainstream music, Lisa Lisa led Cult Jam in dance songs like “I Wonder If I Take You Home,” “Head to Toe” and “Lost in Emotion” while closely working with hit-making team Full Force.
With Gwen Stefani leading a band of three boys (including bassist/ex-boyfriend Tony Kanal), No Doubt became one of the most successful pop-rock groups of all time, releasing five studio albums before Stefani successfully went solo. A 2008 reunion led to multiple successful tours and a new album, Push and Shove, in 2012.
A metal band defined by the juxtaposition of chugging guitars and a heavenly female voice, the Amy Lee-led Evanescence were a leading light in rock music during the mid-2000’s, driven by the incredible success of debut single “Bring Me To Life.” Following an extended hiatus, the band released a self-titled album in 2011.
Despite an unsavory lineup reshuffling in late 2010, Hayley Williams and her pop-rock crew are more popular than ever, selling out arenas on the strength of their self-titled 2013 album and scoring their biggest Hot 100 hit ever with that year's “Ain’t It Fun.”
Led by Sydney Sierota, this all-sibling band from Los Angeles broke out in 2014 with the Top 20 indie-pop hit “Cool Kids” after years of playing shows and cultivating an audience. Debut album Talking Dreams was released in 2013.
Shirley Manson’s alt-rock project was one of the genre’s biggest success stories in the second half of the '90s, with singles like “I Think I’m Paranoid” and “Only Happy When It Rains” earning crossover success and an album of the year Grammy nod for their 1998 opus Version 2.0.
The Pretty Reckless
Taylor Momsen, the actress best known for playing Jenny Humphrey on Gossip Girl, formed a fiercely loved band when she became an adult. The Pretty Reckless have toured with acts like Nickelback, Marilyn Manson and Evanescence while supporting their hard rock tunes.
Between 1979 and 2008, the Chrissie Hynde-fronted Pretenders were one of the most consistent names in rock, never going more than five years without releasing a new album. Their commercial peak came in 1986 with Get Close, which contained the band’s two biggest hits, “Don’t Get Me Wrong” and “My Baby.”
Long-running garage rockers the Heartless Bastards have been accruing the respect of festivals behind Erika Wennerstrom’s powerful vocals since forming in the mid-'00s. The band has released four albums, with fourth LP Arrow -- featuring Spoon’s Jim Eno as producer -- issued in 2012.
Dolores O’Riordan possessed one of the most memorable voices of the mid-'90s, and she put it to good use as the leader of the Irish pop-rock act The Cranberries. “Zombie” and “Linger” have inspired a countless number of sing-alongs in which massive crowds try to imitate the singer’s vocal affectation; O’Riordan, however, remains one-of-a-kind.
Hurray for the Riff Raff
Alynda Lee’s folk project Hurray for the Riff Raff was formed after the songwriter ran away from her Bronx, N.Y., home at 17, ended up in New Orleans and picked up a banjo given to her by a close friend. Lee has often been joined by a cast of male musicians, but the voice of the group is declaratively her own.
The duo of singer Alexis Krauss and guitarist Derek Miller has been blowing out speakers ever since their high-wattage debut single “Crown on the Ground” was released. First album Treats was critically beloved upon its 2010 release, and Sleigh Bells has spent the first half of the decade owning large audiences at festivals and headlining shows.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Karen O and co. have crafted an impressive run as alt-rock soothsayers after busting out with the heartstrings-tugging single “Maps.” Now four albums and over a decade into their careers as a trio, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have jumped from electro-dance, gospel, fuzz-rock and post-punk without ever losing their identities.
Indie-pop newcomers MisterWives (a play off of the term “sister wives,” since the band is one girl and four guys) have earned a sizable live following thanks to pristine tracks like “Reflections” and “Vagabond.” The group’s debut album, Our Own House, was released in February 2015.
Siouxsie and the Banshees
The intersection of rock music and avant-garde goth art pulses through the work of Siouxsie and the Banshees, with leader Siouxsie Sioux (born Susan Janet Ballion) becoming a crucial voice in the U.K. post-punk movement of the late '70s. Every modern indie artist citing The Cure and The Smiths as major influences typically name-checks the unflappable Siouxsie and the Banshees as well.
The Dead Weather
In 2009, The Kills (another band that could have made this list) saw singer Alison Mosshart lead a rock supergroup that included Jack White on drums, Queens of the Stone Age’s Dean Fertita on guitar and The Raconteurs’ Jack Lawrence on bass. The psych-rock project produced two albums, and rumblings of a third have recently begun.
The explosive stage energy of singer Alice Glass found a perfect complement in the 8-bit beats of producer Ethan Kath in this experimental electro-punk project from Toronto. Crystal Castles released three albums between 2008 and 2012, before calling it quits in 2014.
The raw energy of Marissa Paternoster has been serving as the fuel for Screaming Females, an indie-rock band hailing from New Jersey, for a decade. Rose Mountain, the trio’s triumphant sixth album, was released in February 2015.
She & Him
Long before she was starring on New Girl, actress Zooey Deschanel tried her hand at a folk collaboration with cult indie figure M. Ward. The duo worked, and She & Him has released five albums -- including a Christmas LP and a covers set -- since 2008.