Popular music is one of the most influential forces of the last century. It has the power to entertain, but also to educate. And with women being a growing force in the industry, it was only a matter of time before lesbian and bisexual women would make themselves known in the very straight, very male-driven music business. With this list of the 50 most important queer women in music, we highlight those females who have proven to be influential, not only to their own specific gay and female communities, but to the world at large, through their being successful musicians and open about their sexuality.
While there are several others who could be considered for the list, we weighed them on a scale of accomplishment (awards, chart positions), perceived influence (specific genres, areas of the world they come from and directly speak to) and how their sexuality has fit into their career (age/point in time in which they divulged their sexuality, speaking out for LGBT equality, working with other queer artists).
By honoring these women, we hope to remember the ones that have paved ways, made definitive statements and maintained celebrated musical careers that make us happy, make us want to sing, make us think, make us want to do something. It’s the music we live to, and it’s made all the more important to us because it’s from women who have something to say for us, and they set it to beautiful music.
50 Chely Wright
At the beginning of her career in 1995, Chely was named Top New Female Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music. Since then, she’s had 15 singles on the country music charts, including the hits “Shut Up and Drive” and “Single White Female.” When she came out this year, she became the first country star to publicly announce she was a lesbian after already having had success in the genre as a perceived straight woman. Her new single, “Broken,” came in at number one on the Country Music Indie Charts. Throughout her career, she’s won several awards from the Country Weekly Awards, Country Music Television and the International Bluegrass Music Association.
The singer from Austin, Texas was a member of several band, most notably Two Nice Girls, a quintet that scored a hit with “I Spent My Last $10 (on Birth Control and Beer).” In 1991, the band won a GLAAD Award for being an openly gay group. After they broke up, Gretchen continued as a solo artist, recording several albums and was inducted into the Austin Chronicle‘s Music Hall of Fame in 2001.
The bisexual frontwoman of English band Skunk Anansie was part of the Britpop movement in the 1990s. In 2004, the band was named one of the most successful UK chart acts between 1952 and 2003 by the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles & Albums. Their five albums, including some on Virgin and Epic Records, have peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 and have been international hits.
47 Judy Dlugacz
Before she moved on to Olivia Cruises, Judy helped found Olivia Records, the first ever womyn’s music record label that released music from Cris Williamson, Meg Christian, Teresa Trull and Linda Tillery. Judy put on concerts and musical events for women around the United States, and put out 40 records by female artists, several of them identifying as lesbians.
The out jazz/blues vocalist has released 10 albums throughout her career, and she has been highly regarded as one of the best vocalists on the contemporary jazz circuit. In 2007, her label released The Premonition Years: 1994-2002, a box set of Barber’s originals, covers and pop music tracks.
45 Donna Dresch
As the founder of Team Dresch, Donna is also a pioneer of queercore, the art and social movement that evolved from punk music. The band released two albums on Kill Rock Stars and one on her own label, Chainsaw Records, which released albums from pivotal riot grrl and queer bands including Heavens to Betsy, The Need, Sleater-Kinney and Tracy and the Plastics. The label still functions today.