An overlooked issue in the music community is that while representation for women musicians in media has historically been scarce (and still is), it is even more so for women musicians of color trying to make waves in an industry that often seems against them.
With Esperanza Spalding taking the Grammy award for Best New Artist in 2011, Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard winning three Grammy awards this year, and the surge of all-women (who are mainly black) bands backing up pop stars such as Beyoncé and Prince, things are looking up.
Although progress can be detected, the fact that lists of black media and cultural figures—meant to shine light on black American icons—who have pioneered or are furthering enormous change—are created in a specified month of the year is like giving the media a pass to delegate placeholders to assignments and telling themselves, “Ok, We’ll get to the bigger problem eventually. This will do for now.”
That said, history holds countless black women in blues and rock ‘n’ roll who pioneered and paved the way for future guitarists and bassists—for both women and men. To name a few: Memphis Minnie, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Beverly Watkins, Sylvia Robinson, Barbara Lynn, Lady Bo, The Dutchess, and many more. While of course race or gender shouldn’t be the driving identity with which recognition is given, we hope that this list reminds everyone about representation, and sheds light on some of today’s emerging artists that are totally killing the game.
With her socially-conscious lyrics and a big voice, folk-blues guitarist Toshi Reagon is an astounding talent. In 2015, she was honored as Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellow and launched the women-focused festival Word, Rock & Sword.
Jordan Martin: Daphne
Now based in Brooklyn, Columbus, Ohio native Jordan Martin performs music, often with a revolving cast of musicians, under the pseudonym Daphne. Her style is eclectic, merging influences from jazz, art rock, and lo-fi pop into something wholly unique. While still incredibly new to the scene, Daphne is slated to EP, “Last Believer” later this year.
Rachel Aggs – Shopping
Hailing from London, one of the world’s most musically rich cities for punk and rock, Rachel Aggs has become one of the best known faces of the current underground rock scene. With angular riffs reminiscent of Neo Boys, Kleenex/Lilliput and a zine titled “I Love My Guitar,” Aggs is basically your post punk dream come true.
Lianne La Havas
While the London based musician is mainly known for her silky vocals, she also plays guitar and bass. On songs like “Is Your Love Big Enough?” and “Au cinema,” her nimble guitar playing is the perfect accompaniment to it. The artist’s latest album Blood was released last year and snagged her a Grammy nomination.
Jade Payne – Aye Nako
Brooklyn based Jade Payne is the talented versatile woman you want to take on tour all the time. While we’ve seen her shredding on guitar on stage with punk band Aye Nako and bass for sludge rock band Thelma and the Sleaze, we’ve also seen her behind the mixing board at Mirah concerts and teaching soldering classes at the Willie Mae Rock Camp For Girls.
We originally discovered Celisse Henderson through Instagram after she tagged us in an unforgettable original song. Her style is diverse both rich in passion and technically savvy, paired with a vocal power that matches her riffing. In 2011, Henderson played a role in the Broadway play, Godspell, and while we haven’t yet seen her live we don’t doubt that Henderson will soon be thriving in the touring circuit.
Shana Cleveland – La Luz
You might recognize Shana Cleveland as the guitarist, singer and songwriter of La Luz—the band which quickly became an underground favorite for their floating melodies and concisely catchy guitar phrases, reminiscent of sunny beach parties and long drives. Watching Cleveland perform is just as surreal as the music she delivers. Whether it’s through surf-riffs or simple chord progressions, she has a gift of taking listeners through indescribably vivid memories.
Hailing from Austin, Texas, Jackie Venson is one of the most talented up and coming blues guitarists of her generation. With a gorgeous singing voice, a guitar style that is both dynamic and technically precise, and music that blends genres, she is one to watch out for. She is set to release a live album this fall.
With her blend of rock, funk, and soul, lefty lead guitarist Malina Moye has a sound that will take you back in time, taking a huge amount of inspiration from Jimi Hendrix, Prince and Stevie Ray Vaughn—and her style perfectly reflects that. In 2015, the Asian magazine Gitar Plus proclaimed her “The Queen of Funk Rock.”
Diamond Rowe – Tetrarch
As the lead guitarist and co-founder of the thrash metal band Tetrarch, Rowe is a hidden gem in rock music. However, she is not to be underestimated, especially her face-melting guitar work on songs like “Final Words” on Tetrarch’s most recent work EP, “Relentless.”