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Top 10 Iconic Female Singers Of The 50s to 70s

VO: Emily Brayton
Script written by Q.V. Hough. The upper echelon of female voices from a not so distant past. In this video, MsMojo counts down our picks for the Top 10 Iconic Women in Music of the ‘50s to ‘70s. For this list, we’re counting down the most progressive and timeless female artists from the 1950s to the 1970s – women that set themselves apart through originality, creativity and perseverance. Special thanks to missthangusa@gmail.c for submitting this idea on our interactive suggestion tool at

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Script written by Q.V. Hough.

Top 10 Iconic Women in Music of the ‘50s to ‘70s

The upper echelon of female voices from a not so distant past. Join MsMojo as we count down our picks for Top 10 Iconic Women in Music of the ‘50s to ‘70s.

For this list, we’re counting down the most progressive and timeless female artists from the 1950s to the 1970s – women that set themselves apart through originality, creativity and perseverance.

#10: Joni Mitchell

Raised in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, this emotive songstress emerged with a complex, eclectic sound in the late 60s. With the counterculture movement underway, most notably in California, Joni brought something fresh to the scene, writing about timely issues in a most inquisitive way. By the 70s, Mitchell would incorporate jazz and jazz musicians into her arsenal and released eight albums during that span, but it was 1970’s “Ladies of the Canyon” and her follow-up “Blue” that demonstrated her supreme artistry and ability to connect with all demographics.

#9: Dolly Parton

In 1967, this country legend introduced herself with an album called “Hello, I’m Dolly.” And while she didn’t have the initial reach of more radio-friendly female pop stars, her ability to write songs that tell a story was second to none. Case in point, “I Will Always Love You”, released in 1974. Visually, Dolly obviously commands attention, and her magnetic personality helped sell the product, yet she’s undeniably one of the most brilliant songwriters of her generation. And while Dolly would ultimately cross over into film during the 80s and become a superstar, it was her modest recordings of the 60s and 70s that forever changed the landscape of country music.

#8: Stevie Nicks

In the scope of popular music, Stevie Nicks is simply a defining figure of her genre. However, in early 1975, she was known- if at all- for her work with Lindsey Buckingham. Of course, this was before each of them joined Fleetwood Mac. And so, through her first three studio releases with the new group, Nicks wrote some of the most beloved pop rock hits of the time, made even more poignant through her hypnotic live performances that helped shape a place for women in rock and roll. Even if her personal life wasn’t always so easy, she made everything look so easy on stage. A natural across the board.

#7: Patti Smith

Before there was punk rock as we know it now, there was Patti Smith. In 1975, she released “Horses”, combining a rock aesthetic with poetry while inadvertently and slowly changing the world around her. Within a five-year span, Smith released four landmark records, and regardless of their commercial success, it was Smith’s edgy persona and creative vision that fueled the scene. And as a result, countless musicians often turn to Smith’s music these days to connect deeper with their own art and to connect with a truly honest musician.

#6: Diana Ross

When you think of Motown, plenty of influential male artists come to mind, but the fact remains that The Supremes were the most successful Motown group of the 60s. For many fans, Diana Ross provided the soundtrack to their lives, all the while bringing comfort to devoted listeners in a turning point of American history. And then came the 70s, as Diana branched out on her own, not only releasing a vast collection of successful albums but also lending her talents to the world of cinema. Above all, Diana brought life to her lyrics on stage, thus making her the ultimate triple threat of her time.

#5: Janis Joplin

The Passion. The Style. The Voice. Just two weeks after the 1970 death of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin passed away in a Hollywood motel, yet her musical legacy had already been established. Through her deeply moving live performances as the lead singer of Big Brother and The Holding Company, and through the vocal grit that infused would-be classics, Joplin managed to inspire contemporaries during her brief run at the forefront of rock music. And today, the Janis aesthetic can be heard and visualized at any coffee shop throughout the United States and beyond.

#4: Tina Turner

Coming to fame with Ike Turner, Tina’s a multifaceted woman that knew how to get it done. With a career dating back to the 50s, Tina Turner presented an alternative sound to the more popular R&B sounds of her time, and she left it all on stage throughout the 60s, leading up to the duo’s most successful release entitled “Workin’ Together”. Of course, the title didn’t necessarily reflect reality, and Tina later embraced Buddhism to cope with the rather tumultuous relationship, as she established herself as a true independent woman with four iconic 70sreleases. Just look at Beyoncé to understand the lasting legacy of Tina Turner.

#3: Etta James

It’s all too natural to correlate Etta James to her mega popular single, and album, “At Last”. But just as Bob Dylan would thoroughly revolutionize the folk scene from 1960 to 1965, Etta transformed both the blues and the R&B genres, most notably through her jawdropping contralto vocals. The 70s presented a variety of personal problems - as the decade did for many of her fellow artists - yet Etta’s authenticity and bravery alone made her a woman to admire, and her supremely polished vocals allowed future pop musicians to understand the true art of a finely-tuned vocal.

#2: Ella Fitzgerald

Though many female artists have innovated their respective genres over the decades, Lady Ella was truly the First Lady of Song. Emerging as a teenage performer during the early 30s, Ella Fitzgerald paid her dues in the industry, all the while struggling as a female artist with no precedent to study. And so, when pop music took on a different sound in the 50s, the Queen of Jazz was more relevant than ever as a vocal inspiration for any female artist with a desire to improve their craft. And she even brought Frank Sinatra out of retirement in the 70s. Not many people have that type of dominance.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

Barbara Streisand

Karen Carpenter

Billie Holiday

Patsy Cline


Donna Summer

#1: Aretha Franklin

Some people learn to sing, and some are naturally good enough to perform with the best, but Aretha Franklin is in a category all her own. It’s not that she didn’t pick up a few tricks from her predecessors like any committed singer would, it’s just that Aretha was obviously born to sing. By 1960, at the age of 18, the journey began. However, given the racism of the American 60s, and an industry dominated by male executives, even a voice like Aretha’s took some time to earn the proper amount of r-e-s-p-e-c-t, and once her famous single dropped in 1967, well, there was no turning back. A voice like hers can always warm the heart and touch the soul of even the most hardened individual.

So, do you agree with our selections? Who do you think is the most iconic female singer from the 50s to 70s? For more musical Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to MsMojo.

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