Music is full of unique talents from all around the world. Being a competitive field, now more than ever, with the creation of digital platforms and the rise of new music and multimedia companies, some artists consider the music industry to still be a male-dominated market.
It was the lead and influence of female singer-songwriters like Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, and Bessie Smith, (read: African-American Singer-Songwriters Who Greatly Impacted Music and History) among many others, which encouraged women to follow their path in music and arts.
Here are some amazing female musicians that you may have not heard of (but you definitely should!)
1. Brittany Howard (Alabama Shakes)
Genre: Southern blues/rock
Brittany Howard is the lead singer and guitarist of the fiery blues-rock quartet, Alabama Shakes. The band was originally called “The Shakes” and was formed by bassist Zac Cockrell, drummer Steve Johnson, and touring keyboard players Ben Tanner and Paul Horton. After the release of their last album Boys & Girls, the album peaked number six in the US, earning three Grammy nominations, including Best New Artist and Best Rock Performance.
Alabama Shakes - Hold On
Did you know? The band started with live song covers in Athens, Alabama while they had to travel further looking for a place to play.
2. Tula Ben Ari
Rising star, Tal Ben Ari, aka, Tula, came to the public’s eye back in 2006 when her participation in the videos “Chanda Mama’” and “Let's Not Worry” with international project Playing for Change, became a huge viral hit, with millions of views on YouTube. This marked the beginning of a successful and fruitful international career as a singer and performer.
She performed and recorded with these groups all around the world, and developed an international reputation as a versatile, virtuoso singer, who can easily perform various genres of music with enormous skill.
Tal Ben Ari 'Tula' and Roberto Luti | Teach Your Children | PFC Day
In 2016, Tula moved back to Tel Aviv after 11 years abroad. In Tel Aviv, she had immediately started collaborating with some of the country's most prominent world and jazz musicians, performing all around the country and collaborating abroad. Also in 2016, Tula started collaborating with electronic music producers such as the famous Junno Reactor (The Matrix movies) and Haim laroz (Zehava Ben) and performing in some of the world’s biggest electronic music festivals.
Tyrone | Playing For Change | Live Outside
3. Adrianne Lenker
Adrianne Lenker learned her first guitar chords at the age of 10, and her years of dedication to music led her to apply for a summer program at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, which led to a full-time scholarship.
Before forming the indie rock band Big Thief, Lenker released her solo album, Hours Were the Birds, and in 2016 she released Masterpiece with Big Thief. Today the group continues to tour in North America and Europe, stopping at festivals and cities, mostly preferring to improvise on their performances.
Did you know? Adrianne released her first solo material in 2006 as a prodigious teenager.
4. Titi Tsira
Titi is a young woman that hails from Gugulethu, a black African township in the suburbs of Cape Town, South Africa. Raised by a mother who was an actor, and a father who was a singer, Titi began singing at a very early age. Since then, she has enjoyed a successful career both as a solo musician and as a member of various bands.
Yahamba (Remastered) | Playing For Change Band | Live in Australia
She has been a member of the Playing For Change Band since 2009. Her music is a mix of soul and pop fused with African influences, and she is excited to add her unique and powerful voice to the Playing For Change Movement.
Watch Titi Tsira in this “Back To Your Roots” Live Outside along with the PFC Band
5. Claire Finley
Claire Finley is an electric bassist from Davenport, Iowa who currently resides in Key West, FL. As a 2009 Berklee College of Music graduate, she enjoys playing many different styles of music in all different capacities. Performing live continues to be her passion, but you will hear her sparkling vocals and pocket grooves shining through on a vast number of studio and live recordings as well.
Traveling and seeing the world through music has always been a top priority in Claire’s life. While at home she enjoys the perks of the Florida Keys...finding inspiration at the beach and performing at iconic venues around town with new and old friends.
Watch Claire Finley along with Jason Lamson and Hiram Garzaro | PFC Livestream
6. Angel Olsen
Genre: Indie folk/rock
Angel Olsen is an American singer-songwriter from Missouri. Since 2010 she has released five solo albums Half Way Home (2012), Burn Your Fire for No Witness (2014), My Woman (2016), All Mirrors (2019), and Whole New Mess (2020).
Did you know? Before becoming a solo artist, Angel Olsen had previously recorded and toured with the indie rock band Bonnie 'Prince' Billy & The Cairo Gang.
Angel Olsen - Shut Up Kiss Me
7. Keiko Komaki
Keiko Komaki personifies music. An accomplished pianist and B-3 player, Keiko Komaki hails from Kagoshima, Japan, and began playing the piano at just five years old. After graduation from Kunitachi College of Music, she quickly became more interested in the improvisation world, playing funk, blues, and jazz fusion, rather than her classical roots. However, it was a few years later that she learned of New Orleans music. She later visited New Orleans for Jazz Fest and decided to take the bold step in 2006 to move to the city and make it as a musician, despite opposition from her family.
Keiko has reached her goal of musical success in the city. Shortly after moving to New Orleans, she started playing with the late Marva Wright and the Wild Magnolias as their keyboard player and started performing at local clubs and touring with them until Marva passed away. Since then, she has played with many of the Crescent City's most beloved musicians including Benny Turner, Charlie Wooton, Vasti Jackson, Brass-A-Holics, Marc Stone, George Porter Jr, Johnny Vidacovich, and many more.
Watch Keiko Komaki perform in the Song Around The World “Lean On Me.”
8. Sara Bareilles
A gifted songwriter and a versatile pianist with no formal training, Sara Bareilles burst onto the pop scene with a naturally skilled voice that ranged from powerful and soulful to sweet and gentle, earning her instant comparisons to Fiona Apple and Norah Jones. At age 18, she left the Redwood forests of her hometown, Eureka, California, in pursuit of a music career in Los Angeles. Although she attended UCLA’s Communication Studies program, Bareilles spent the majority of her spare time studying her new environment and writing poetry and songs about her busy surroundings.
Sara Bareilles - Brave
With a hit album on her hands, Bareilles hit the road and toured heavily for the next two years, releasing a concert album Between the Lines: Sara Bareilles Live at the Fillmore along the way. Playing her songs night after night inspired her to begin writing new material, and Bareilles found herself drawn to material that was bigger, bolder, and peppier than the songs that comprised Little Voice. The result was Kaleidoscope Heart, which marked her second major-label effort upon its release in mid-2010. Kaleidoscope Heart debuted at number one on the Billboard charts, beginning a pretty hectic year for Bareilles. She toured the album well into 2011 and in the fall of that year, she signed on to NBC’s televised competition The Sing-Off as a judge.
After The Sing-Off wrapped up its run in the spring of 2012, Bareilles recorded the Once Upon Another Time EP with her fellow judge Ben Folds acting as producer. She toured semi-regularly throughout 2012 as she prepped a new album. That full-length record, her fourth, was called The Blessed Unrest and was released in July of 2013.
Playing For Change feat. Sara Bareilles, Chris Pierce & PFC Band | Song Around The World
Did you know? Sara Bareilles not only wrote and performed the song “Playing For Change” but was also previously featured in our Song Around The World “What’s Going On.”
9. Cindy Blackman Santana
Cindy Blackman Santana is a virtuoso drummer whose artistry spans the realms of jazz and rock. As a bandleader and musician, Cindy is a sound innovator with a passion for pushing creative boundaries and exploring movement and change. She is as known for the nuances and colors she brings to her beats and fills as she is for the sheer power of her soulful playing.
Cindy has been creating magnificent musical time and space since the beginning of her career as a busking street performer in New York City in the ’80s through the present day, touring the globe and making albums at the top of her game—including the critically acclaimed Another Lifetime (2010). In addition to collaborating onstage and in-studio with her group—also known as Another Lifetime—she has toured and recorded with artists including Pharoah Sanders, Cassandra Wilson, Bill Laswell, Joss Stone, Joe Henderson, Buckethead, Don Pullen, Hugh Masakela, and Angela Bofill.
Watch Cindy Blackman in this member exclusive Song Around The World “Oye Como Va.”
10. First Aid Kit
Genre: Soul/ folk
Sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg started gaining popularity when posting their soulful folk music videos on YouTube at the ages of 14 and 17 recording near woods. It wasn’t until 2010 that the duo released their first album The Big Black and Blue.
First Aid Kit - My Silver Lining
Anyone who’s ever seen LP live, or watched the much-viewed viral videos of her effervescent performances in which she accompanies herself on ukulele, knows that’s completely how she is, whether she’s performing at L.A. clubs filled with rabid fans or making a breakthrough, buzz-building appearance at the Austin City Limits Festival.
LP’s passion for music began in New York where she was born. Despite being raised in a “family where she was encouraged to pursue a career in law or medicine,” her mom loved to sing, and music became a constant presence and pursuit as she grew up. LP began taking inspiration from a range of artists—Jeff Buckley, Kurt Cobain, Chrissie Hynde, Joni Mitchell, Robert Plant, and Jim Morrison, to name a few—the voices, the wordplay, the swagger all stood out for her.
LP - Muddy Waters (Live)
LP’s distinctive talent, both as a writer and performer, is brought to the fore on her debut album Forever For Now, which was produced by Grammy Award-winning producer and Warner Bros. Records chairman, Rob Cavallo (Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Dave Matthews Band). Enlisting her favorite collaborators, including Isa Summers (Florence and the Machine), PJ Bianco, Billy Steinberg, and Josh Alexander, she has struck an inspirational tone. Songs like “Heavenly Light,” “Tokyo Sunrise,” and “Into the Wild” (also heard in the Citibank TV commercial) are brightly hopeful — the work of an artist always expanding, always digging deeper.
Did you know? We had the honor to record LP along with Waddy Wachtel in one of our Live Outside videos in 2016.
Soft Spot | LP & Waddy Wachtel | Playing For Change | Live Outside
12. Paula Fuga
Genre: Hawaiian music/ reggae/pop/ folk
Praised for her originality in song composition and ability to stir the deepest emotions with spellbinding and soulful vocals, Paula Fuga has established herself as one of Hawaii's most respected live performers.
Since the release of her latest recording, the EP Misery’s End, which featured guest appearances by Ziggy Marley and Jack Johnson, she has headlined the Alma Surf Festival in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and performed with Jack at Madison Square Garden and the Sydney Opera House Forecourt. She was featured on the song “Love Will Find a Way” with Nahko Bear and Trevor Hall for the album of her lifelong collaborator and guitarist, the musical genius Mike Love. She was honored to be a part of the 52nd Annual Merrie Monarch Hula Festival, performing alongside the Hawaiian cultural icon, Kaumakaiwa Kanakaole for the winning group, Hula Halau O Kamuela. She is among distinguished artists honored to perform for the President, having been invited for the 3rd time to the White House in Washington, DC.
Paula Fuga & Mike Love - "Misery's End"
“Music is my first love. Love is my first language.” – Paula Fuga
Currently, Fuga continues to widen her fan base as she embraces different genres of music with her signature entrancing vocals. She plans to keep traveling the world as she lives out her dream and shares her gift with a message of love.
Rain On Sunday | Paula Fuga | Playing For Change x Mana Maoli Collaboration
13. Natalia Lafourcade
Genre: Traditional Mexican music/ folk/ pop
Mexican singer and songwriter Natalia Lafourcade reminds us of the power of Latin identity in music, treasuring the heritage of regional Mexican music with a modern twist and the importance of narration and poetry in musical composition.
Natalia Lafourcade - Tú sí sabes quererme (en manos de Los Macorinos)
Natalia was induced to music as a medium for healing, a practice that she adopted as her lifestyle, and at just 17 years old she signed her first music contract and released her first song. She is also an activist who advocates for protecting the traditional roots of music in Mexico.
Did you know? Playing For Change recorded a version of Natalia Lafourcade’s song “Hasta La Raíz” in collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross to honor the families of the missing persons in Latin America.
Hasta la Raíz | Song Across Latin America | Intl Committee of the Red Cross + Playing For Change
14. Teté Garcia Caturla
Genre: Cuban music/ bolero / salsa
Born October 13, 1937, in Remedios, Villa Clara Province, Cuba, Regla Teresa García Rodríguez is a singer who directed the vocal group Cuarteto d'Aida. She is the daughter of one of the most important Cuban composers of the 1920s and 1930s, Alejandro García Caturla, and just like her father, her work has always been an important part of the traditional popular music scene of the country.
Teté Caturla represents the perfect qualities for being an ideal performer on stage, her sense of rhythm, speech, and the scenic domain are what make her presentations unique.
Cuba My Soul - Felix Baloy, Tete Caturla, Carlos Querol and guests
Did you know? In 1998, she joined the Afro Cuban All Stars project through the World Music and Jazz Festival and many others across Europe as a solo artist as well as collaborating with special guests on projects like the Buena Vista Social Club CD.
Watch Teté Caturla in our Song Around The World “Chan Chan.”
15. Shemekia Copeland
Genre: Blues/ R&B
With a recording career that began in 1998 at age 18, award-winning vocalist Shemekia Copeland has grown to become one of the most talented and passionately candid artists on today’s roots music scene.
Shemekia Copeland - Ghetto Child
Shemekia Copeland has performed thousands of gigs at clubs, festivals and concert halls all over the world, and has appeared in films, on national television, NPR, and in magazines and newspapers. She’s sung with Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Keith Richards, Carlos Santana, Dr. John, James Cotton, and many others. She opened for The Rolling Stones and entertained U.S. troops in Iraq and Kuwait. Jeff Beck calls her “amazing.” Santana says, “She’s incandescent…a diamond.” In 2012, she performed with B.B. King, Mick Jagger, Buddy Guy, Trombone Shorty, Gary Clark, Jr., and others at the White House for President and Mrs. Obama. She has performed on PBS’s Austin City Limits and was recently the subject of a six-minute feature on the PBS NewsHour. Currently, Copeland can be heard hosting her own popular daily blues radio show on SiriusXM’s Bluesville.
Watch “Blues Night”, a Mark’s Park episode featuring Shemekia Copeland.