Founded in 1983 by Ahmet Ertegun, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame began inducting artists in 1986 without a home. Ertegun, a Turkish-American businessman and co-founder of Atlantic Records, wanted a museum to document the history of rock music. Many cities bid for the opportunity to give a home to the museum, and Cleveland won the bid. Ertegun and Suzan Evans created a committee, which included all men and one woman, Noreen Woods, to establish induction rules. Although called Rock and Roll, a versatile genre, the Hall of Fame honors legendary music icons and contributors.
Many female artists began their careers decades before the Hall’s formation, but its inception year didn’t include a single woman. It wasn’t until the following year when Keith Richards nominated Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul. Franklin began singing gospel in the church where her father was a minister. When she turned 18, she left to pursue secular music. Franklin rose to fame at age 25 after her soulful rendition of Otis Redding’s “Respect.” She has won countless awards and is an inductee of several Halls of Fame. Being the first black woman artist inducted, she soon shared her position in 1988 with the Supremes—the Motown trio of Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard. The continued traction of black female artist inductees continued with a myriad of genre mixtures, such as blues, motown, jazz, and soul.
The first white female inductee didn’t come about until 1995. Inducted by Melissa Etheridge, Janis Joplin joined the ranks of those robust female voices already in the Hall, like Bessie Smith, a 1989 inductee, who inspired her to become a singer. A self-described “misfit” in school, Joplin left her Texas town, shedding her old persona to join the likes of many artists in San Francisco. The ‘60s were the most influential times in American history for creativity. Joplin’s husky voice, mirrored with her bodily dance of stressing each syllable, put her amongst some of the greatest singers of all time.
Another woman who came about in the ‘60s was Joni Mitchell—1997 inductee and Canadian singer. She migrated from Canada to New York, marrying American folk singer Charles Scott Mitchell. Her music resonated with the times, singing about feelings of joy, romance, and social and environmental ideals. Unlike earlier inductees, Mitchell’s music swayed like wild grass to folksy tunes, pondering thoughts of what was and what could be. Over time, her music expanded into jazz, R&B, and rock and roll.
In 1999, an English-born woman by the name of Dusty Springfield became an inductee. Next to the Beatles, she was the second English artist in the initial British Invasion, topping the U.S. charts with her single, “I Only Want to Be With You.” Fascinated by the U.S., she moved to America in 1970, after her success in ‘68 with her album Dusty in Memphis. One of her biggest hits was “Son of a Preacher Man,” also sung by the late Janis Joplin, and then later brought back to popularity in the 1993 Quentin Tarantino movie Pulp Fiction.
Bonnie Raitt was a risk-taker and a talent in a wide range of music genres. Raitt has remained consistent and popular over several decades, placing her into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. From California to New York to Philadelphia, her relocations wound up being defining moments in her life. Through personal and professional disappointments and setbacks, Raitt continued to pursue her music career, sometimes touring on her savings without additional income. Her commercial break came in 1989 with her album Nick of Time. Raitt continues to test time and musical talent.
Although not entirely a solo act, Debbie Harry’s group Blondie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. She is the face of Blondie, which produced multitudes of new wave music, making her a punk icon. Harry moved from New Jersey to New York to where she sang and waited tables at a popular club for artists and musicians. She joined Stilettos, a female trio, before branching out with guitarist Chris Stein to create Blondie. The group topped charts in the U.S. and U.K. One of her successful songs “Rapture” is considered the first rap song to hit #1 in the U.S. A soloist and group lead, Harry remains a great talent in the music, acting, and writing scene.
These women broke the barriers of race, convention, and hearts. They paved the way and opened doors for other female artists. With their crossover genres, sex appeal, and incredible voices, these women have cultivated music and made it their own. They owned their personas, unapologetic for the rules they broke in an industry dominated by men.
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Denise Haschka is a native of the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, and currently resides in Germany with her husband and fur-baby, Shakespeare. She can be stubborn and downright finicky; the last one doesn’t apply to food, though. Perseverance is a trait she often associates with her college degree, but she’s still waiting for her Pulitzer Prize nomination. Denise is a blogger, poet, and multi-genre author of two published books: a dark, psychological suspense thriller Net Switch; and women’s fiction/romantic comedy adventure Fogged Up Fairy Tale.