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10 revolutionary vocalists you should know

Betty Davis

For all the sexually upfront, aggressive women in the seventies, Betty Davis might have been the exceptionally true voice expressing such a personality. A great performer and beloved liberator whose open sexual attitude had been very controversial at the time. Due to her sexually aggressive stage persona (and what not) she was barred from performing on television in the US. In Europe we love(d) her a lot more, "Her Act Too Spicy For U.S. Tastes; Betty Davis Finds Success In Europe". (Jet. Vol. 50, No. 4: 57. April 15, 1976) and consider her early disappearing from stage a great loss. Her die hard funk on Nasty Gal and They Say I'm Different deserve the shine. It's good to know that her "All you lady hater's don't be cruel to me' line on the Betty Davis album lives on.

Billie Holiday

Strange Fruit marked that moment in music history were poetry, politics and vocal music came together. It took an exceptional creative singer to understand how to vocalize a horrific message in an artstic way. With her interpretation she planted the seed of a whole new vocal genre.


You might hate her or love her, but staying indifferent is hardly an option. Her very flexible voice and unique vocal styling is beloved by many, and irritating to others, Björk's enormous production is famous for its 'idiosyncratically collaborations.' On several occasions she addresses the lack of acknowledgement (it comes down to being a woman). In an interview she stated: "If a guy had done all the strings, all the choir arrangements, and a lot of the production on his album, he would have credit for his work. It’s always like I’m this esoteric creature; that I just turn up and sing and go home. People still don’t seem to take me seriously as a songwriter and arranger and producer.’ A sad truth for many female professionals.

Courtney Love

Formed the band Hole in 1989, it was to become one of the most successful rock bands of all time fronted by a woman. Her influence could not be underestimated. She is one of the most important contributor of feminist music. The way she undermined the mainstream expectations of how a woman should look, act, and sound influences female performers to this day. In an interview in 1994 she stated: "I would like to think–in my heart of hearts–that I'm changing some psychosexual aspects of rock music.

Édith Piaf

You love French songs? Then no way can you have escaped Edith Piaf. Unknown to many, the legend Édith Piaf could very well be respected as a songwriter. She wrote many of the lyrics to her songs and in collaboration with different composers she added her melodic signature. She contributed greatly to the revolutionizing of the cabaret-genre due the intensity and artistry of her performance. She loved the highly emotional themes of the classic French chanson, but colored them with her own melancholy, mournful palette. She managed to transform the French lyrics about heartache, tragedy, poverty, and the harsh reality of life into an internationally understood art form. A song such as Non Je Ne Regrette Rien (No, I don't regret a thing) mesmerizes old and new audiences, of all walks of life. In 1998 her song La Vie en Rose, written and performed in 1945, was voted a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. She launched the careers of Yves Montand and Charles Aznavour (among others) and to this day influences, one way or another, everyone who sings in French.

Janis Joplin

Hearing Janis Joplin for the first time was a revelation. True, we knew she owed a lot to Bessy Smith, but bridging genres like she did was a much needed, and highly efficient, attack on the persistent segregation in music. Additionally she honored the brilliant songwriter Bigg Mama Thornton who wrote great song like 'You ain't nothing but a hound dog' and her classic Ball and Chain.

Laurie Anderson

Say early electronics in pop music and you say Laurie Anderson. And yes, 'pop' does not cover it. A true daring creative pioneer. She is known for her multimedia presentations, being a visual artist, composer, poet, photographer, filmmaker, electronics whiz, vocalist, and instrumentalist. She even invents her own instruments. Who was not impressed seeing her O Superman in 1980, rising to number two on the British pop charts? That was just the beginning of a love affair for her die-hard fans.

Meredith Monk

There's not a pioneer like Meredith Monk, admired for her 'extended vocal technique' and 'interdisciplinary performances.' She is a composer, singer, director, choreographer and creator of new opera, music-theater, films and installations. As a vocalist she emancipated the voice as a pure instrument liberating it from the dogma's and functionality within musical composition. My all time favorites are Dolmen Music and Do You Be but so much more amazing creativity oozed out forming her exciting body of work.

Millie Jackson

This deep powerful voice has been a savior to many. The big heart to come home to and get a reality check. She gave the mantra 'Telling it like it is' a whole new meaning, and included hard biting raps in the midst of her songs long before it became a genre. There is no doubt about it, her criticized career —her special brand of risqué music, paved the way for many of today’s forward female recording artists and entertainers. From her first 'A Child of God,' through 'Slow Tongues' and "Phuck You Symphony" she boldly goes where others follow.

Nina Hagen

Talking about a revolution, Nina Hagen was the epitome of shock, the unexpected needle in the haystack. An opera prodigy at age nine, a punk queen in her twenties; she created her own unique theatrical punk vocals. If anyone could express the neuro-divergent experience, if anyone could have us listen to German lyrics in 1979, it would be Nina Hagen from Berlin. During a notorious TV show she demonstrated various female masturbation positions causing an outrage with the other guests and even the final dismissal of the host. More importantly: her Nina Hagen Band debut deserves a top ten listing in any collection.

There are so many more revolutionaries who would fit this list, who changed the face and sound op pop music. So if you see us on stage doing 'our thing' remember we're carrying the torch forward.

Loui Lind performs The Teddy Bear song upfront and personal @Wendelmoet Sessions. Q-factory, Amsterdam (photo@vanReinout)

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