Lady Plays the Blues: Killer Female Blues Guitarists

Blues iconography is overloaded with male guitar heroes, to the point that you’d think nobody without a Y chromosome ever hoisted an axe to bang out some blues riffs. In fact, the truth couldn’t be more contrary to that notion. Women guitarists have been a vital component of the blues since the beginning. So let’s leave B.B., Stevie Ray, and the rest of the boys out of the conversation for once and let some well-deserved light shine on the ladies who have contributed to the blues-guitar continuum, from the early days all the way up to the present moment.

Memphis Minnie started making music in the late 1920s; her songs and guitar style made her a queen of the country blues and even influenced later generations of blues rockers like Led Zeppelin, who covered her classic “When the Levee Breaks.” Sister Rosetta Tharpe became a pioneer of the electric guitar in the ’40s, while Etta Baker and Elizabeth Cotten emerged as influential guitar stylists in the ’50s (even though Cotten had already been at it for decades). And in the ’60s, Jessie Mae Hemphill started making her name; she would become a linchpin of the Mississippi hill-country style.

From the ’80s onward, the number of gifted female blues guitar slingers has grown exponentially, and these days there are more of them out there than ever. Susan Tedeschi, Sue Foley, and Ana Popovic are a few of the most widely known fret-burners of the contemporary crop. But the likes of Samantha Fish, Australia’s Fiona Boyes, and Brits Dani Wilde and Joanne Shaw Taylor are tearing it up these days too. So if you think the halls of blues-guitar greatness are strictly a boys’ club, you’re about to be proven wrong in the most pleasurable way possible.