Women of the Guitar, 10 of the Best Female Guitarists in History
There's no way around it, playing the guitar has always been an overly male dominated field. There is absolutely no reason this must always be so, as the women listed here and countless others prove women can play the guitar quite well. I don't know why it is guitar playing has always highlighted and glamorized testosterone, but I think we can all agree here this is the case. Women are either overlooked in favour of male guitarists, or it could be females less often seek to play the six strings.
What I hope to provide here for my reader is a cross-section of female guitarists. This isn't any sort of ranking from best to worst. There's also no way a list of ten female guitarists could be done without leaving out some absolutely fantastic female players. I'm certainly not interested in slighting anyone who I didn't put on the page.
Women playing guitar within many genres of music will be shown. It's not like there's a style of music where women gravitate to over others. Wherever there is music, and the music involves a guitar, there are also going to be female players.
What I'm hoping for here is the reader who lands on this page learns about a female guitarist they previously hadn't known of, and just maybe, they'll give her a listen, and discover something they find wonderful.
Memphis Minnie - The Queen Of The Delta Blues
1. Memphis Minnie
Born Lizzie Douglas in june of 1897, Memphis Minnie was the only female to ever be considered the equal of the male bluesmen that were her contemporaries. Not only were her vocals considered the equal of the greats, but her guitar playing and song writing too.
Kid Lizzie, as she was also sometimes known, learned to play guitar and banjo at home as a child, and then she ran away from home as an early teenage girl, made her way to Memphis, Tennessee, and started performing in nightclubs. She spent forty years as a recording artist, and created her own damned style of the blues by fusing her Louisiana home's country blues to Memphis blues. Supposedly Minnie was married three times, and each time to another bluesman guitarist, but this isn't verifiable, what is-is she was one of the first to embrace the electric guitar, and during her lifetime, one of her songs was made famous the world over by Led Zeppelin.
Memphis Minnie died of a stroke in a nursing home in 1973. Bonnie Raitt paid for her headstone, and it's inscribed as follows:
"The hundreds of sides Minnie recorded are the perfect material to teach us about the blues. For the blues are at once general, and particular, speaking for millions, but in a highly singular, individual voice. Listening to Minnie's songs we hear her fantasies, her dreams, her desires, but we will hear them as if they were our own."
Bonnie Lynn Raitt
2. Bonnie Raitt
Nine times so far Bonnie Raitt has won Grammy Awards for her country, folk, and blues infused music, and there's going to be more awards for this female guitarist whether she records again, or not. Bonnie comes from a very musical family, and began performing for her family at a young age. In 1967 she enrolled in Harvard's Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and at a radio interview with blues promoter Dick Waterman, her life changed forever, and she became the first successful Anglo woman of the blues.
By the time the decade of the 1970s rolled around, Bonnie Raitt was performing in clubs around New York, and she was being stalked by scouts from record companies that wanted to sign her to their record label. She signed with Warner Bros, and in 1971 released her first record titled Bonnie Raitt. Bonnie's interpretation of traditional blues and skill with playing bottleneck slide guitar received loads of critical acclaim and admiration, as there were precious few women at the time who were known for their guitar playing.
Throughout the decade Bonnie Raitt would record highly acclaimed music which never much made her money, America wasn't into it so much, and she eventually dipped into a drug and alcohol problem.
Bonnie Raitt credits the late Stevie Ray Vaughan with helping her to bust free of addiction, and twenty years after she started recording professionally, she was finally a hit with audiences everywhere, and we're all still forever waiting on her next album now. Myself, I could literally explode from joy whenever the great Bonnie Raitt songs from the soundtrack to The Urban Cowboy comes on either the radio, or my massive digital music collection when set to random.
3. Emily Remler
"I may look like a nice Jewish girl from New Jersey, but inside I’m a 50-year-old, heavyset black man with a big thumb, like Wes Montgomery." Emily Remler, in her own words.
The life of Emily Remler, who was probably the single greatest female jazz guitarist to ever live, ended far too soon due to her heroin addiction. While every artist must have a muse, there's been quite the lot of gifts and loses that have come and gone from the world of art via drugs, and especially opiate drugs. Born in New York City in 1957, Emily started playing the guitar just ten years later, and played constantly until she died. Extremely educated in the forms and styles of complex jazz, she gained the admiration of virtually everyone within the genre,
"When the rhythm section is floating, I'll float too, and I'll get a wonderful feeling in my stomach. If the rhythm section is really swinging, it's such a great feeling, you just want to laugh "—Emily Remler
Once when asked how she'd liked to be remembered, Emily had the following to say:
"Good compositions, memorable guitar playing and my contributions as a woman in music…. but the music is everything, and it has nothing to do with politics or the women’s liberation movement."
4. Jennifer Batten
Jennifer Batten has been around a while, and though you've maybe not seen her so much, you've probably heard her work as a sessions guitarist. If you don't know, a sessions guitarist is the person that gets hired to do some work in a recording studio, and typically because whoever the band's guitarist is, isn't up to snuff, and so they call in Jennifer to make the "song perfect."
Jennifer Batten also has three solo records, and has recorded with jazz and rock fusion luminaries such as Jeff Beck, and Carmine Appice. You might have seen Jennifer and not known it whist she'd performed with the late Michael Jackson, who clearly had the money to afford the best available guitarist for his shows!
Charo, One Of The World's Most Skilled Flamenco Guitarist
I've personally seen many discussions about female guitarists where the name of Charo is brought up, and people simply had no idea she even played guitar. I'm talking about people who knew already exactly who Charo was, as she's been a rather flamboyant television personality for decades.
Charo's date of birth is somewhat a controversy. Her birth records in Spain list her as ten years older than she says she is. Regardless of any of that, she's been a comedian, actress, and yes, a fantastic guitarist for a long long time.
Charo studied both classical and flamenco guitar in a school in Madrid. This school was founded by none other than the great Andres Segovia. At one time Charo was considered among the greatest flamenco players in the world.
6. Aurora "Rory" Block
Rory Block is a country blues guitarist and vocalist who started her career very young, retired to raise a family, and then restarted her career, and even tours with her son on drums. Rory Block has studied with the blues giants who were still living when she was younger and recorded songs written by many of them on albums mixed with her own compositions, she's won numerous awards, and still occasionally tours and records.
Her autobiography is available on Amazon.com in pdf format. And there are enough Youtube videos available to keep you in the blues zone for months. She's got her cult following, but should have been given a lot more exposure by mainstream radio and mass media. Her rendition of Robert Johnson's Crossroads Blues is very intense, and is only but a sample of her mastery of guitar.
7. Orianthi Panagaris
Most often known as just Orianthi, Miss O. Panagaris is a guitarist of Greek and Australian decent that is likely to be seen and heard more and more as the years go by, but make no mistake, she's already made her name well known both far and wide. She's played with people like Carlos Santana, Prince, Michael Jackson,Eric Clapton, Steve Vai, and recorded her own solo albums in which she does all the vocals, guitar, and most of the drums too.
The rather attractive Orianthi started her professional career at the very young age of fourteen years opening for electric guitar wizard Steve Vai, and since then, she's recorded and performed with acts as diverse as Carrie Underwood to Alice Cooper.
8. Liona Boyd
Having taken guitar lessons at a young age from none other than the great classical guitar master Andrés Segovia, Liona Boyd is a female classical guitar master, but being a consummate musician, she never stopped, and went on to study with the French classical guitar master Alexandre Lagoya too. Known as "The First Lady Of The Guitar," Liona Boyd has lived up to that name.
"Through your beauty and talent you will conquer the public, philharmonic or not." - Andres Segovia.
Despite Liona's classical training and style, she's toured the entire globe opening for fellow Canadian Country Folk guitarist and singer/songwriter, Gordon Lightfoot, and recorded with persons like blues rockers Eric Clapton and David Gilmore. According to Wikipedia, Liona Boyd is in the studio now working on vocals for a new album.
9. Molly Tuttle
Molly Tuttle is the absolute Queen of Bluegrass guitar. She's more than just that, but flatpicking is an extremely difficult form of guitar playing, and there's never been a better female flatpicker than Molly Tuttle. She's far and away the superior of countless men who've tried their hand at it. I'm saying I'm one of those men.
I've probably more respect for Molly Tuttle than any other female guitarist in the history of guitar, but I freely admit this has a lot to do with the type of music I've personally pursued, and even played on stage, in an amateur fashion. Molly is also a fantastic singer, songwriter, and banjoist.
Molly is the only woman to have ever won the International Bluegrass Association's Guitar Player of the Year Award. She began playing guitar at eight years of age, and by the age of eleven, had become good enough to play on stage with her father. She's less than thirty years old at present, and there's nothing but a brilliant future ahead for her.
10. Susan Tedeschi
Susan Tedeschi was already a very big deal before she married Derek Trucks, but now we have the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and this is a led by the husband and wife, two of the most awesome contemporary blues rock guitarists in the world. I could never complain about that.
Susan is of Italian ancestry, and I've lost count of just how many of the great American guitarists are from Italian blood. It's an example of European diversity in America making me, and countless others very proud. Susan was always, from a very young age, more attracted to African American music than any other sort, and yet again, isn't the United States the most wonderful garden for musical flowers in this world?
Susan started off her professional career opening up for legends. She only got to do this because she was good enough for it. What sorts are we talking about here? Oh just Bob Dylan, The Allman Brothers, Buddy Guy, John Mellencamp, B.B. King, and anyone else on those high levels, she even recorded with Double Trouble, Stevie Ray Vaughan's band.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Wesman Todd Shaw