All-women band

From Academic Kids

All-women bands are musical groups where women sing and play all the instruments. They are distinct from girl groups, where the women sing but do not play any instruments.

Although women have long been a part of the musical landscape, with composers such as Anna Amalia, Princess of Prussia and sister of Frederick The Great writing music in the 1700s and, more recently, Germaine Tailleferre of Les Six (which included Erik Satie) who worked with Jean Cocteau, as well as composing for the theatre and dance troupes, it was in the 1900s, with the commencement of the Big Band and Swing era, that all-women bands began to emerge. Perhaps the best-remembered of such orchestras is the International Sweethearts of Rhythm.

But it was with the advent of Rock and Roll that groups comprised solely of women began to flourish. As evidenced by numerous compilations, particulary of garage bands, during the 1960s many women were playing in bands, although few were signed to major labels and so did not come to the forefront of public attention. However, records by all girl bands on smaller, regional labels are being rediscovered and are highly prized by collectors today. For instance, Feminine Complex released their self-titled album in the 1960s; in the 1990s it was rereleased on CD by independent label Teen Beat. One of the strangest groups from the 60s is undoubtably The Shaggs, a group of sisters who, with limited mastery of their instruments, as well as song structures, ended up creating their own, unique, musical language and are revered as 'outsider' musicians today, with a devoted cult following.

Among the earliest all-women rock bands to be signed were Goldie and the Gingerbreads, to Atlantic Records in 1964, and Fanny in 1970. The Roche sisters, Terre and Margaret/Maggie, recorded their first major-label album in 1975; their younger sister Suzzie joined them to form the Roches and to record (usually with male session musicians) and tour (usually without supporting musicians; all three play guitar and other instruments). Also in 1975, the Canadian duo of sisters, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, recorded the first of a string of albums. Joan Jett's first group the Runaways were also an early commercially successful, hard-edged all-women (or, indeed, all-girl, since all were in their mid-teens) band, releasing their first album in 1976; other members included Michael Steele, then known as Mikki Steele, and Lita Ford.

Meanwhile, in the 1970s, a number of feminist folk music-based performers began fostering a Women's Music Movement; a number of women moved between the more-traditional folk festivals and the women's gatherings, including some of the members of the 1980s all-women bluegrass band Blue Rose.

Punk, a progression in some ways of the garage rock of the 1960s, naturally included all-women bands just as garage rock had in the 1960s and opened the door wider for women with a desire to perform, spawning groups such as the Raincoats, the Slits, and Lilliput. Some well-known otherwise all-women bands had men in the band at times, particularly but not limited to drummers.

Meanwhile, two bands had a very large commercial and pathbreaking effect in the early and mid 1980s; both came from the LA punk/garage scene, though did best commercially with the work most slickly distant from their roots. The Go-Go's and the The Bangles were the first all-women rock bands to find sustained success; each had a sequence of three major-label albums in the first segment of their careers, released not a few hit singles apiece, and inspired not a few other young women, both positively and, perhaps, negatively (as when the Bangles ended the first phase of their collective career as very nearly a chorus, playing fewer of their own instrumental tracks on each album in turn and on guest appearances on television). Both bands have released reinvigorated reunion albums in the 2000s: the Go-Go's' God Bless the Go-Go's (2001) and the Bangles' Doll Revolution (2003)).

With the resurgence of interest in pop-punk bands in the US in the early 1990s, L7 became very popular, while demonstrating onstage and in interviews a self-confident "bad girl" attitude at times, always willing to challenge assumptions about how an all-women band should behave. Although it could be debated whether the existence of all-women bands is inherently political or not, many groups comprised of women have set forth with a political aim in mind. Particularly in the 1990s, Riot Grrl groups such as Bratmobile and (the not all-female) Bikini Kill have addressed feminist and other socio-political issues they feel are inherent in the estate of the women's band. Other punk bands, such as Spitboy and its successor Instant Girl, have been less comfortable with the some of the childhood-centered issues of much of the Riot Grrl esthetic, but nonetheless also have dealt explicitly with feminist and related issues. All-women Queercore bands, such as Tribe 8 and Team Dresch, also write songs dealing with matters specific to women and their position in society.

Courtney Love, leader of Hole, has said that it's impossible to find a female bass guitarist. This is belied by her own former bassist Melissa Auf der Maur, famous and impressive bassists such as Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, Me'shell Ndegeocello, D'Arcy Wretzky of the Smashing Pumpkins, Kim Deal of the Pixies and the Breeders, and the retired Kim Coletta of Jawbox. Regardless of her view, it is doubtful that it would be difficult to find women playing any manner of instrument today (the punk band Women of Destruction/Estrojet has long featured an accordianist), as all-women bands continue to proliferate.


  • Bayton, Mavis (1998) Frock Rock: Women Performing Popular Music. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 019816615X
  • Carson, Mina Julia (ed.) (2004) Girls rock!: Fifty Years of Women Making Music. Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0813123100
  • Gaar, Gillian G. (1992) She's a Rebel: the History of Women in Rock & Roll. Seattle, Wash.: Seal Press. ISBN 1878067087
  • O'Dair, Barbara (ed.) (1997) Trouble Girls: the Rolling Stone Book of Women in Rock. New York: Random House. ISBN 0679768742
  • Raphael, Amy (1995) Never Mind the Bollocks: Women Rewrite Rock. London: Virago. ISBN 1853818879
  • Savage, Ann M. (2003) They're Playing Our Songs: Women Talk About Feminist Rock Music. Westport, Conn.: Praeger. ISBN 0275973565

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