Musicians unveil their top 50 female artists of the recording era

Who is the most influential female music artist of the recording era? ­­

Music academics from Southern Cross University have created the ultimate ‘conversation starter’ in generating their top list of female musicians – with a uniquely Australian perspective.

The Contemporary Music degree’s course coordinator Dr Matt Hill said Southern Cross University has launched the list ahead of International Music Day on October 1, when music lovers around the world reflect on the musicians who have shaped our culture.

“The University’s music staff generated this list based on the cultural and commercial significance of the female artists of the recording era, with one famous musical example from each – it was a lot of fun,” Dr Hill said.

“Those at the very top of the rankings are either a pioneer of their own style of music or a highly regarded and successful artist based on critical and commercial acclaim.

“We fully expect these rankings to be controversial as music is incredibly subjective and we encourage people to engage with the list and discuss it passionately; just as much as we did when we were collating it.

“The rationale we used for the list also reflects the focus of Southern Cross University’s Music Program – the longest serving contemporary music degree offering in Australia. We encourage our music students to explore broadly and be open to all different musical styles while they’re finding and honing their own sound.”

Topping the list is ‘first lady of the blues’ Mamie Smith, pioneer of the global commercially-recorded music industry of the jazz and blues tradition. Mamie was the first African-American artist to make blues recordings, performing from the 1920s through to 1939, including the hit tune ‘Crazy Blues’.

Also included in the list’s Top 10 is prolific songwriter and jazz artist Billie Holiday, ‘first lady of song’ Ella Fitzgerald and Grammy-award winning Helen Reddy – the first Australian woman to top the US charts – who sang the 70s feminist anthem ‘I am Woman’.

Senior Lecturer and musician artist Dr Leigh Carriage said the list showcases how women have been on the forefront of innovation in every style of popular music in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

“We’ve included those who we feel are the most important contemporary and popular female musicians through an Australian lens – including high-profile Australian artists,” said Dr Carriage.

“These artists have helped shape the music we continue to enjoy and embrace today.”

Dr Carriage founded the Women In Music mentoring program at Southern Cross University – the first of its kind in Australia – more than two decades ago.

To view the full list and rationale visit and find Southern Cross University’s Spotify Playlist here.

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