The musicians, executives, producers, and writers behind some of the decades biggest hits and changes in the industry.
We cannot close out the decade without celebrating the Black women in music who made an impact on the industry and beyond.
Whether behind the scenes, in front of the mic, building empires, or shaking things up in the boardroom, our melanated sisters played a major role in moving music forward in the 2010s.
This is certainly not a complete list of the women who work tirelessly in the industry, but it does highlight some of the songwriters, musicians, executives, and producers who have left their mark on music.
Fans saw Beyoncé blossom into a cultural icon in the 2010s. The surprise release of her self-titled album Beyoncé changed the way artists release music. Her 2016 album Lemonade made a massive cultural impact. And, for many, Beyoncé changed the way fans think of the concert-going experience with show-stopping tours complete with an all-female band and bar-raising visuals. Beyoncé went beyond being a singer and became a capital “E” Entertainer.
We also got to know the once super-private singer a little more in the 2010s through specials and documentaries, including Life Is But a Dream and Homecoming.
And the married mother of three did all this while launching her own entertainment company, Parkwood Entertainment, which has signed artists like Chloe x Halle and serves an umbrella for all things Bey, including her Ivy Park clothing line.
It’s hard to imagine what hip-hop in the 2010s would look like without Nicki Minaj.
The same woman who bodied the men on Kanye West’s “Monster,” released at the top of the decade in 2010, became a household name with the release of her debut album, Pink Friday, released the same year, later followed by Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, The Pinkprint, and Queen.
Many female rappers who came after Minaj have acknowledged the rapper’s influence and it’s easy to see the path the Queens native has paved for other women in the genre, especially when it came to expanding her brand beyond the music—from spirits deals to fashion collaborations.
Playful with her sexuality, brash, and unafraid to take risks, there are many female rappers who came before Minaj but in the 2010s, she was undoubtedly the queen of rap.
The Rihanna reign just won’t let up.
In the 2010s, Rihanna gave us a number of hits like her 2011 infectious single “We Found Love,” song of the 2016 summer “Work,” and “Bitch Better Have My Money,” a 2015 anthem rumored to be about the accountant who allegedly drained the singer of millions.
But the singer didn’t just stop with music. Rih Rih became a mogul.
In 2017, Rihanna launched her own beauty brand, FENTY, which later extended into fashion with the launch of lingerie line Savage x Fenty. The singer is now dubbed the wealthiest female musician alive.
Vice President of Talent and Touring at Live Nation, Heather Lowery is the person who makes sure that your favorite live events go off without a hitch. She makes sure stage production meets the artist’s standards, negotiates contracts, makes sure talent arrives on time and ensures they get what they need.
Lowery’s rise to the top hasn’t always been easy. “I was a one-woman army,” she told Nylon earlier this year. “I had to figure out how I could compete and stay alive and make a living with all of these major agencies that can offer the artists so much more.” She’s also had to deal with touring managers and agents who think “I’m a groupie, the agent not knowing how to speak with me, the colleague that won’t look me in the eye because he’s so used to dealing with men.”
Throughout the decade she’s been involved with live events such as Broccoli City Festival in Washington, D.C., Roots Picnic in Philadelphia, and countless tours for artists. But now she’s expanding her own platform, Femme It Forward.
Femme It Forward highlights, empowers, and celebrates women in music and entertainment. A recent partnership with Live Nation will soon expand the scope of the platform.
Singer-songwriter Victoria Monét is the superstar behind some of music’s biggest hits. She’s released singles such as “Ass Like That,” “Monopoly” featuring Ariana Grande, and last year’s EP Life After Love, Pt. 2.
But if you check the credits of some of your favorite songs, you’ll likely see Monét’s name listed alongside other major artists. She helped pen a number of hits on Ariana Grande’s Thank You, Next, including the title track and “7 Rings.” She’s featured on the 2012 Nas track, “You Wouldn’t Understand.” And she previously wrote for one of the decade’s biggest girl groups, Fifth Harmony.
In this decade, Monét became the popstar’s go-to girl for infectious chart-toppers.
As Executive Vice President of Urban Promotions at Atlantic Records, Juliette Jones is one of the most powerful women in music. She’s the exec behind acts such as Bruno Mars, Cardi B and Gucci Mane.
But although her artists are currently killing the game, sadly Jones still has to face sexism in the music industry, she revealed in an interview with Billboard. However, she hopes to change that soon with a mentorship program for women in the industry. Working with Thea Mitchem, Executive Vice President of Programming for iHeartMedia’s Northeast division, Jones hopes to see more women rise to the top.
“It’s important, as women, that we learn to use our power to support each other, plus be comfortable in asking questions and voicing our career desires. We need more [Atlantic chairman and CEO] Julie Greenwalds and Sylvia Rhones in the top seats—someone who sees the potential in women,” she said.
If you don’t know Sylvia Rhone’s name then you don’t know the music industry.
The veteran was promoted to helming an entire label earlier this year, by becoming the chairman and CEO of Sony’s Epic Records, a label with a roster that includes André 3000, 21 Savage, and Travis Scott.
This isn’t Rhone’s first time helming a label. From 1994-2004 she was the Chairman and CEO of Warner Music Group’s Elektra Entertainment Group. Rhone was also appointed in 2004 to President of Motown Records and Executive Vice President at Universal Records.
Since her time at Epic, Rhone has ushered in a new era of success for the company with the label’s presence in hip-hop massively expanding.
“Everything we do is a testament to our incredible artists who set the bar of the entire Epic culture, inspiring our dedicated executive team every day and enriching the legacy of this great label,” Rhone said in a statement following her promotion.
Motown Records President Ethiopia Habtemariam told ESSENCE back in 2015 the secrets to her stellar career. It included advice such as learn to master every skill and task, teamwork makes the dream work, and have passion.
Clearly, it’s advice that works because under her stewardship, Motown Records has been reborn. She’s tapped Atlanta-based label Quality Control Music for a partnership that’s resulted in the success of rap groups, including Migos and City Girls while working with soul artists like BJ the Chicago Kid and Erykah Badu.
Forever an iconic label, under Habtemariam’s leadership Motown is leading the way once again as a trendsetter in music.
Ebony Naomi Oshunrinde, known professionally as WondaGurl, is the architect behind some of the decade’s best songs.
The producer has credits on Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money,” Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, and has worked with Travis Scott on a number of projects.
One of music’s youngest producers—she’s only 23—WondaGurl is just getting started.
Queens native Diana Gordon has released tons of music, blending genres on her 2011 debut With the Music I Die and EPs like Human Condition: Sanguine and Pure.
But Gordon might be best known for her work behind the scenes. She’s written for Beyoncé, specifically the singer’s iconic album Lemonade, with Gordon penning tracks, including “Daddy Lessons,” “Sorry,” and “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” She’s worked with Chloe x Halle on “The Kids Are Alright” and Diplo and Mark Ronson’s infectious hit featuring Dua Lipa “Electricity.”
Recently, much of Gordon’s focus has been writing for herself. With the credits to back her and the sound to match, the next decade could be all about Diana.
Based in New York City, Ebonie Smith is an award-winning producer and audio engineer who has worked with some of the biggest artists in music ranging from Janelle Monáe to Ciara. She’s even popped up in the credits of the Hamilton cast album.
In a 2018 interview with The Fader, Smith opened up about being a woman in a male-dominated industry, saying she doesn’t downplay being a woman. “I don’t play that—never have. My mother raised me to always believe in everything that I bring to the table, and I’ve used it all. It’s gotten me where I am, and I’m proud of it,” she told the magazine.
Along with her incredible music, Smith launched Gender Amplified, an initiative that spotlights and educates women in music.
Ester Dean has been penning hits for artists since the early 2000s and in the 2010s, you can guarantee that nearly every hit from your favorite artist had been touched by Dean.
From Nicki Minaj’s “Pills N Potions” to Beyoncé’s “Countdown,” if you wanted a hit in this decade, you called Dean.
Dean even expanded beyond music in the 2010s, appearing in films and TV shows like Pitch Perfect and RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Tayla Parx is another hitmaker artists call when they want to top the charts.
Throughout the decade, Parx teamed up with artists, including Alicia Keys, The Internet, Chloe x Halle, Janelle Monáe, and Anderson .Paak.
Along with penning some of music’s best songs, Parx is a performer in her own right with a number of singles. She became one to watch when she released her debut album We Need to Talk earlier this year.
Who is the black woman in music history? ›
Some of the most successful names include Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Lena Horne, and Billie Holiday. Ella Fitzgerald, known as "The First Lady of Song", sold over 40 million records and won 13 Grammy Awards.Who was the first black women in the music industry? ›
Ma Rainey(1886-1939): Born Gertrude Pridgett in the Reconstruction-era Deep South, Rainey became the first female Black musician ever recorded in 1920, and was later dubbed the “Mother of the Blues”.Who is the most influential woman in music? ›
- Top 10 Most Influential Women in the music.
- Dolly Parton – A Living Legend.
- Carole King – Female Songwriter.
- Patti Smith – The Godmother of Punk.
- Ma Rainey, The Mother Of The Blues.
- Diana Ross – A Supreme Diva.
- Madonna – Boundaries?
- Bessie Smith – “Empress of the Blues.”
How blues great Mamie Smith paved the way for Black female musicians and their fans. In 1920, jazz singer Mamie Smith released a record called “Crazy Blues.” She was the first Black female singer to record and release a blues song.Who is the most famous Black female singer? ›
Aretha Franklin is one of the giants of soul music, and indeed of American pop as a whole. More than any other performer, she epitomized soul at its most gospel-charged.Who was the first Black woman to win a Grammy? ›
With the Grammys taking place during Black History Month, we looked at the illustrious career of Ella Fitzgerald, the first Black woman to win a Grammy. Tonight, the Recording Academy will host the 65th Annual Grammy Awards.Who was the first black female lead in Hollywood? ›
Nina Mae McKinney: Hollywood's First Black Movie Star opens with the premiere of a 35mm restoration print of King Vidor's all-Black musical Hallelujah!, her feature debut from 1929, in which she starred as a wisecracking Jazz Age flapper who gets caught in a deadly love triangle.Who was the first famous female musician? ›
In the history of music, sisters have always been doing it for themselves. The first female composer according to the history books was Kassiani, an 8th Century nun, who composed Byzantine chants.Who was the first known black musician? ›
Born A Slave, Street Performer Was First Black Recording Artist In 1890, George Washington Johnson became the first African-American to make commercial records. The Library of Congress is now adding Johnson's "The Laughing Song" to the National Recording Registry.Who are the 3 biggest female artist? ›
Best selling female artists like Beyonce, Madonna, Rihanna, and others have ruled the billboard top list. Madonna is on the top with 300 million record sales till now.
Who are the top 5 female singers of all time? ›
- Celine Dion. The inspiration behind this list is the fabulous Celion Dion, of course. ...
- Etta James. ...
- Madonna. ...
- Adele. ...
- Aretha Franklin. ...
- Cher. ...
- Whitney Houston. ...
- Mariah Carey.
Madonna. The Queen of Pop, Madonna, is the bestselling female artist of all time. She's released 14 studio albums, three soundtracks, five live albums and six compilations, plus 63 UK Top 10 singles. Since 1983, she's sold an estimated 335 million albums and singles worldwide.Who is the best-selling Black female artist of all time? ›
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) deemed Houston the best-selling female artist of the 20th century in the R&B genre. With over 200 million record sales, she is undoubtedly in a league of her own.
Black or white, Aretha Franklin is the most important woman in the history of popular music, the “Queen of Soul,” and one of the defining voices of the last 100 years. Originally a gospel singer, Franklin would merge her church singing background with an R&B style that would rule over the pop charts.
The “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin is not only one of the most prolific Black singers from the '60s but one of the world's best-selling artists of all time.Who is the greatest female soul singer? ›
1: Aretha Franklin (1942-2018)
Aretha Franklin wasn't the first singer called “Lady Soul” – that was Vi Redd – but for Franklin, the title stuck. You can add the title “Queen Of Soul” to that, too. Her status was justified, despite a sticky start that saw her release ten albums to only a modicum of success.
Bessie Smith, the “Empress of the Blues,” was one of the highest-paid Black entertainers of her time. Raised in Tennessee, Smith had a following by the age of 9, and by the age of 16, she was touring. In her mid-20s she struck out on her own and became one of the most famous blues singers of the 20th century.Who is the best selling female R&B group of all time? ›
1. TLC - TLC is the best-selling American female group and the second best-selling female group in the world, behind the Spice Girls, with over 50 million records sold.What female artist won the most GRAMMYs? ›
At the 2023 GRAMMYs, Beyoncé made GRAMMY history. That night, she took home the GRAMMY for Best Dance/Electronic Music Album for her 2022 album, Renaissance, securing her place as the artist with the most GRAMMY wins ever — counting 32 total GRAMMY wins across her decades-long career.Has a black person ever won Album of the Year? ›
In the 65-year history of the Grammy Awards, only 11 Black artists have won album of the year. Stevie Wonder became the first Black artist to win in 1974 for "Innervisions." He has since won thrice. Jon Batiste took home the award in 2022 for "We Are," becoming the first Black artist to win since 2008.
Which black artist has won the most GRAMMYs? ›
Aretha Franklin reigns as the queen of R&B. She has 18 GRAMMY wins to date, five recordings in the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award (1994) and a GRAMMY Legend Award (1991).What Black woman won an Oscar? ›
Halle Berry was the first, and so far only, Black Best Actress thanks to “Monster's Ball” (2001). The acting category with the most Black winners is Best Supporting Actress, with nine including recent champ Ariana DeBose for “West Side Story” (2021).Who is the golden girl of Hollywood? ›
Remembering Hollywood's 'Golden Girl': The life and career of Betty White – New York Daily News. U.S.Who was the first successful female artist? ›
Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614) was an Italian painter of the Mannerist school and one of the most important portraitists in Bologna during the late 16th century.Who was the most famous black singer in the 70s? ›
- Michael Jackson.
- Aretha Franklin.
- Stevie Wonder.
- Ella Fitzgerald.
- Ray Charles.
- Billy Henderson.
- Nina Simone.
- Marvin Gaye.
Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, form Georgia, was the “ Mother of the Blues,” and lived from 1886-1939. She was the first woman to incorporate blues into her act of show songs and comedy.Who was the first black rock singer? ›
|Studio portrait c. 1936, one of only three verified photographs of Johnson|
|Birth name||Robert Leroy Johnson|
|Born||May 8, 1911 Hazlehurst, Mississippi, U.S.|
With more than 100 million records sold, she is among the most successful female artists of all time.
|2||I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU||1992|
|3||...BABY ONE MORE TIME||1999|
|4||MY HEART WILL GO ON||1998|
|5||SOMEONE LIKE YOU||2011|
"Old Town Road" holds the record for the longest stretch at No. 1 with 19 weeks.
Which singer has the best voice? ›
- 1 of 35. Celine Dion. Kevin Winter/Getty Images. ...
- 2 of 35. Barbra Streisand. Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for BSB. ...
- 3 of 35. Etta James. ...
- 4 of 35. Nina Simone. ...
- 5 of 35. Aretha Franklin. ...
- 6 of 35. Whitney Houston. ...
- 7 of 35. Smokey Robinson. ...
- 8 of 35. Mariah Carey.
But it's Mariah Carey who takes the prize for the largest vocal range of all. She can reach a low F2 and hit an unbelievable G7, a note that dolphins would envy, and that only some dogs can hear.What female singer has the most number 1 hits? ›
This is a list of artists with the most number-ones on the U.S. Billboard Dance Club Songs chart. Madonna currently holds the record for the most number-one songs in the 43-year history of the chart, with 50. The only other artists to have achieved more than 20 chart toppers are Rihanna (33) and Beyonce (22).Who is the goat female artist? ›
|1.||Mariah Carey (4)|
|25.||Mary J. Blige (88)|
Elvis Presley, recognised as the best-selling solo music artist of all time by Guinness World Records, sold over 400.Who was the first black music artist? ›
Born A Slave, Street Performer Was First Black Recording Artist In 1890, George Washington Johnson became the first African-American to make commercial records. The Library of Congress is now adding Johnson's "The Laughing Song" to the National Recording Registry.Who was the first woman to music? ›
The first female composer according to the history books was Kassiani, an 8th Century nun, who composed Byzantine chants.Who was the Black woman who started rock and roll? ›
She was the queer Black woman who literally invented rock 'n' roll: Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She gave Little Richard his first gig outside the church. She opened the doors for Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly, and before the 1990s, almost no one into rock 'n' roll had heard her name.