75 Years of Women's Achievements in the Music Industry
These trendsetters combined fierce intelligence with the daring to chart their own course, making music history -- and knocking down gender barriers -- in the process.
The first female radio DJs emerge during World War II led by “G.I. Jill” (Martha Wilkerson), whose morale-boosting broadcasts from Los Angeles cheered U.S. troops worldwide, countering the propaganda-spewing “Axis Sally” and “Tokyo Rose,” who broadcast anti-American sentiment from abroad.
Miriam Abramson (later Bienstock) co-founds Atlantic Records with her husband, Herb Abramson, and Ahmet Ertegun. She handles the company’s finances and production. In 1949, Ruth Brown, who grew up in segregated Virginia, signs to the label, bolstering it with hits and prompting the label’s moniker, “The House That Ruth Built.”
Ella Fitzgerald wins two Grammy Awards in the inaugural year of the competition (best vocal performance, female and best jazz performance, individual). The only other women recognized that year were opera star Renata Tebaldi and pop singer Keely Smith, who each won one award.
Connie Francis becomes the first solo woman to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool.” Then, beginning in 1964, The supremes set a record (which still holds today) as the female pop group with the most Hot 100 No. 1s, racking up 12 in the 1960s.
Suzi Quatro releases her self-titled debut album, helping women make their mark on ’70s rock. It went to No. 32 on the Official U.K. Albums chart, but it would be five years before she cracked the top 40 of the Billboard 200 with 1979’s If You Knew Suzi, which reached No. 37.
Joan Jett takes Quatro’s baton and runs with it, fronting The Runaways, one of the first all-female rock groups (and the most iconic of the era). Jett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.
Mariah Carey notches her 12th Hot 100 No. 1 hit with “Honey,” passing Madonna and Whitney Houston (11 each at the time). By the end of the 1990s, Carey will up that total to 14, and in the 2000s to 18, becoming the solo artist with the most Hot 100 No. 1s, and the second-most of any act, next to The Beatles (20). The ’90s, meanwhile, are the high-water mark for female acts, who account for 49 percent of Hot 100 No. 1s that decade.
Sylvia Rhone is appointed chairman /CEO of Elektra Entertainment Group, becoming the first woman, and first African-American in the industry, to hold the title at a major label.
Aretha Franklin is the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That April, she scores her second Hot 100 No. 1 -- and first since “Respect” in 1967, with “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” with George Michael.
Frances Preston, who started her career as a radio station receptionist, is appointed president/CEO of BMI, becoming the first woman in the music industry to achieve the top executive rank. She leads the organization until 2004, nurturing the careers of thousands of songwriters, performers and music publishers.
Madonna delivers a now-iconic performance of “Like a Virgin” at the first MTV Video Music Awards. The song was the first of seven Hot 100 No. 1 hits she scored during the decade, tying her with fellow 1980s star Whitney Houston for the most No. 1s in the ’80s among all female acts.
Julie Greenwald is promoted to president of Island Records.
Madonna’s Sticky & Sweet Tour becomes the highest-grossing tour by a solo female artist, with $408 million in box-office receipts.
Beyoncé takes home six Grammy Awards -- the most won by a female artist in a single night. (Adele will tie the record in 2012.)
Taylor Swift becomes the first woman to replace herself at No. 1 on the Hot 100 when “Blank Space” dethrones “Shake It Off.”
Beyoncé ups her Grammy nominations to 62, the most of any female artist. Alison Krauss is Grammy’s winningest woman: She has taken home 27 statuettes and is tied with Quincy Jones as the second-biggest Grammy winner of any gender.