There’s a common narrative that there aren’t many great female guitarists. Well, frankly that’s just bullshit. While it’s true there are more male guitarists deified as “rock gods,” the mere fact of how difficult it was to narrow this list down to 10 speaks to how desperately that myth needs to die.
By Nathan Leigh, AFROPUNK Contributor
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
So much of what we define as rock guitar wouldn’t exist without the pioneering work of Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Primarily a gospel singer, her treatment of the electric guitar as a distinct instrument from the acoustic laid the groundwork for the next 60 years of rock.
Tamar-Kali has risen to near icon status in the New York underground for her songs that drive powerful social commentary with a positive, personal feel. Whether backed by a string quartet as she has lately, or with her full band, Tamar-Kali’s power as a songwriter is undeniable.
As true as it is that rock wouldn’t be the same without Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley wouldn’t be the same without Lady Bo. Known as The Originator, his lead guitarist from 1957 to 1961 played an integral role in shaping the sound of rock guitar.
Valerie June recieves a lot of (deserved) accolades for her unique voice, but not nearly enough notice for her nimble guitar work. Her brilliance as a guitarist lies in her ability to make complex classic blues riffs sound almost effortless.
Maybe because of its aggression and iconic facial hair, metal is often painted as a boys-only-club. But there’s no shortage of woman who can shred. Diamond Rowe has earned a name for herself as the lead guitarist of thrash band Tetrarch.
Lianne La Havas
With a guitar as haunting as her voice, Lianne La Havas has been blowing up since releasing Is Your Love Big Enough. Her melancholy finger-picked guitar lines twist and bend beneath her massive vocals.
The daughter of activist and Sweet Honey in the Rock founder Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon (who if you haven’t seen live, you’re really missing out on a transcendent experience…), folk/blues musician Toshi Reagon’s badassery runs deep. Always outspoken, and always political, she proves that there is still water in the well of great activist/folk singers.
Sure, it’s hard to be more mainstream pop than the reigning Queen of Pop Beyonce right now, but that doesn’t make her longtime lead guitarist Bibi McGill any less deserving of a shoutout. Besides, she has flames shooting out of a Flying V.
Joining the legacy of great lefty guitarists Malina Moye blends funk, rock, and hip-hop with pop vocals and a DIY ethic. Her continued feats of guitar heroics earned her a proclamation of Malina Moye Day in her hometown of Lorraine, Ohio.
It says a lot about a guitarist’s skill when they can hold their own next to legendary guitar god Prince. But the Revolution’s current guitarist proved with her latest solo record Superconductor that she can more than stand on her own.