White Washed: Black Women in Rock

While my love for female-based rock music is well-documented and longstanding, even a fangirl like me can easily admit that riot grrrl and the punk scene more generally have long been a largely homogeneous affair, with a lack of racial diversity and inclusion among its iconic musicians and those who loved them. Partially inspired by Black History Month and partially by Beyonce’s rendition of Alanis Morissette’s classic at the most recent Grammy’s (skip to 3:10 in the video), I wanted to showcase some women who defied narrow expectations and produced amazing music.

Grace Jones

Of those included in this post, Grace Jones is possibly the most recognizable and iconic. Recording since 1977, Grace Jones has released ten studio albums and racked up Saturn Award, MTV Music Video Award, and Grammy nominations along the way. She moved from disco to New Wave to dub reggae to dance, all while collaborating with musicians from as many backgrounds as the genres she sampled. Her lengthy multi-media career is far more detailed and complicated than I can quickly describe here, but the least I can do is put her at the top of the list.

Poly Styrene

Poly Styrene is known best for making orthodontia punk rock in the mid- to late-70’s as she sang lead for X-Ray Spex. Their song “Oh Bondage Up Yours” has been retrospectively interpreted as a proto-riot grrrl anthem, but the band and their music on a whole focused more on anti-consumerist and anti-racist messages. Poly Styrene’s vocal style was as unique to the punk scene at the time as her hair bows and Day-Glo ensembles, lending to X-Ray Spex’s overall reputation as one of the more inventive bands of the punk era.

Kimya Dawson

Kimya Dawson, a one-time Moldy Peaches member and a sometimes Bitch Benefit performer, has been charming fans for the last ten years. Already a seasoned performer, her contributions to the Juno soundtrack broadened the reach of her frequently silly but always touching songs. While dealing with topics like self-esteem, disenfranchisement, and a nomadic lifestyle, Kimya Dawson’s music is now rightfully reaching the ears of many due to the film’s popularity.

Adee Roberson & Osa Atoe (of New Bloods)

Since 2006, Adee and Osa have constituted two-thirds of the Portland-based queer post-punk band New Bloods (along with Cassia Gammill). With their use of the violin and call-and-respond vocals, they remind me of The Slits and The Raincoats in the best possible way. When not playing the drums, the violin, and the bass guitar, all the band members rotate singing duties, creating a sound that’s hard to believe is only coming from three people.

Fefe Dobson

While more commercial than some of the previous musicians, Fefe Dobson nonetheless combated the same kind of racial bias when she broke out into the pop punk world previously dominated by female acts like Avril Lavigne. During the height of her popularity, Dobson was stereotyped as a contemporary R&B singer because of her race, despite her clear interest in rock music. Her self-titled album (2003) earned her two Juno nominations, as well as a hit single (“Take Me Away”).

Shingai Shoniwa (of Noisettes)

In preparing for this post, it was suggested by a friend and Bitch staff member to check out Shingai Shoniwa (along with Cocknbullkid below) and I am glad I did. Shingai fronts the Noisettes, a British band that switches between and blends together post-punk, blues revival, dance and rock. Noisettes have been around since 2003 and recently reached #2 on the UK Singles Chart.


As mentioned before, Cocknbullkid was another recommendation. As the writer and self-producer of her super dancey songs, I feel like I was already predisposed to liking this Londoner based on her moxie alone. In addition to creating excellent music, Cocknbullkid (aka Anita Blay) speaks out against media outlets attempting to fit her into a specific category due to her race. Additionally, according to this interview, she shaved half her head and put on weight deliberately to point to the beauty standard bias in the music industry.

Solange Knowles

Seeing as this post started off with Beyonce, it only made sense to end it with her sister. Solange Knowles might seem like an odd choice for a “women in rock” post (based on the R&B/pop sensibilities of her first two records). However, between her recent cover of the Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness Is The Move” and her upcoming Of Montreal collaboration, Solange may be attempting to win the hearts of indie rock fans the world over. Let’s put her in the “only time will tell” pile and agree that this cover is awesome.

I hope that you enjoyed this round-up (and possibly found some new music to listen to!). This is by NO MEANS a complete list, so please let us know who you think is missing in the comments section below!

by Annalee Schafranek
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39 Comments Have Been Posted

Some others to add

Joan Armatrading - phenomenal amazing wonderful transcendent songwriter and performer.

Sharon Jones (of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings) - like a shot of seratonin straight to the brain.

Janelle Monae - a versatile and insanely creative artist.

I am digging V.V Brown right

I am digging V.V Brown right now. "Shark in the Water" always has me singing along at the top of my lungs.

a few more

Lisa Kekaula from The Bellrays
Skin from Skunk Anansie

Joan Armatrading yes!!

Joan Armatrading yes!!

The definition of diversity

I know this particular post has to do with black women in rock. However, I am rather turned off by anyone who defines diversity as "black" vs "white." This leaves out a whole lot of people, which is most obvious when you make comments about the punk/hardcore scene being mostly homogeneous. The scene has always had a large Latino/Latina contingent, especially as it was constituted on the West Coast--but even back East. Out here, it was mostly Mexican-American;, back East, it was the Cuban-Americans and Puerto Ricans. I guess they're not "diverse" enough. Silly me. I'll have to tell my Latino husband (whom I met on the punk scene) and my Latina daughter (whom we raised on the punk scene) that when I get home. They'll be very interested to learn that they don't count as diverse because they aren't black.

I'm sorry for putting you

I'm sorry for putting you off, but (as you admit) this blog post was never attempting to address the WIDE range of participants in and fans of punk and rock music. Nor was I intending to define diversity as a general concept that only meant being black. A discussion of black musicians who have faced discrimination or have been excluded from a genre by critics does not preclude the existence of other kinds of identities and backgrounds within the punk scene. My comment about homogeneity was meant as a criticism, not a prescription. However, I really appreciate your feedback and would love to hear about some musicians who you would want to see featured in a discussion of diversity in the punk scene.

I loved this list and it

I loved this list and it certainly introduced me to some new artists and broadened my views on some familiar ones. As far as the criticism goes on the author's seemingly 'black vs. white' labeling of diversity, while very exclusive of Asian. Latino and other embodiments of diversity, to me it seems to highlight more of a "black vs. non-black" divide. Which would agree with what the current sociological findings are. I also believe that the author's intent was to provide examples of women of color in rock that defy stereotyping and labeling, which to be honest seems predominately be an issue of black women of color, who define themselves as anything other than R&B/Hip-Hop/Soul/Pop. Even our everyday lives, you may not see as many Asian, Hispanic or Black women/people who are apart of this culture as much as their white-counterparts, but when you do encounter that diversity, more often than not, people tend to be surprised/intrigued about the black person's involvement, because our society tells us that it's not the 'norm".

black women rock and so do all women of color!

i would say that latina and cuban and puerto rican mexican women are also Black women who rock. we all the same sis. african/native/brown women...

they should be included is the convo...that's why labels suck....

i agree with you..accept i consider my african/latina/cuban/sisters. sisters.

much love


What about white Latinas?

What about white Latinas? Are we your sisters too? Not all Latin people are "of color".

But I get your point.



Sorry to tell you this but

Sorry to tell you this but Latino/Latina is not a race (if there ever was such a thing as that, but an ethnicity.

Some latinos/latinas are of African descent for example in addition to those of European, Indigenous, Middle Eastern, Asian, and mixed race whatever.

There were more black people brought to latin America that those brought to the USA. They may bot be African-American, but heck some people that we refer to as "African-American are actually Afro-Carribean (like Sidney Portier), African, or Afro-Latino/Afro-Latina.

Just so you know.

Pretty good

for a short blurb, but Fefe Dobson and Avril Lavigne as "pop-punkers". Um, not at all. Good try though!

"I know this particular post

"I know this particular post has to do with black women in rock. However, I am rather turned off by anyone who defines diversity as "black" vs "white." This leaves out a whole lot of people, which is most obvious when you make comments about the punk/hardcore scene being mostly homogeneous. The scene has always had a large Latino/Latina contingent, especially as it was constituted on the West Coast--but even back East. Out here, it was mostly Mexican-American;, back East, it was the Cuban-Americans and Puerto Ricans. I guess they're not "diverse" enough. Silly me. I'll have to tell my Latino husband (whom I met on the punk scene) and my Latina daughter (whom we raised on the punk scene) that when I get home. They'll be very interested to learn that they don't count as diverse because they aren't black."

Well said !

Greetings from a "white".... with part black and red (thus yella) ancestry


Latino is a mixed race

Latino is a mixed race identity in itself, some are black, some are white, some are native, etc.


Thanks so much for this post.

There may not be many but black, latin and Asian artists have added a lot to music over the years including the alternative scene so it's nice when a little homage is paid to them x.x.x.

If you have included women

If you have included women with pop and r&b sensibilities, what about about Janelle Monae?

Her influences are vast and wide ranging. she is amazing. And she cites david bowie and grace jones as her largest influences. http://www.myspace.com/janellemonae

Why is this article titled

Why is this article titled "White Washed: Black Women in Rock" tho?


The title references the <em>perception</em> of rock/indie/punk music as being made largely by white people. Clearly, that is inaccurate and purely a perception. My intention with the title and the post was to point to this inaccuracy and to try to give some under-appreciated artists credit (and to open up the comments section for people to recommend artists they love as well). My intention was not to call these musicians &quot;white-washed&quot; themselves and I should have made that point more clear. Thank you for the feedback.

If your wanting to inspire

If your wanting to inspire more diversity within a genre of music, having the term "White Washed" as your title really isn't helping the matter.



Spot on!

Spot on!

agreed 100%

agreed 100%

Thanks a lot for the amazing

Thanks a lot for the amazing post!
I was a little bit surprised when I have been looking trough this great list of great black women in rock and didn't find there Tina turner and Rissi Palmer...
I have a girlfriend who is a black female vocalist. She was always complaining that it's hard for people to break through in the music industry, and it's even harder to do it being black and wanting to sing rock

Grace Jones is a classical

Grace Jones is a classical trained vocalist, former fashion model and muse to music producers such as Trevor Horn and Nile Rogers. It pains me to see such a wiki-ish sounding write up of a legend.

Also, her most iconic musical effort is her version of <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYkVtz6ozJE">"La Vie En Rose"</a>.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

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Everyone loves it when individuals come together and share ideas.
Great website, stick with it!

Tamar Kali! I appreciate the

Tamar Kali!

I appreciate the article.

Noice List !!!



Rock and roll was born from

Rock and roll was born from blacks. Nothing else to be said.

I'm glad to come across this

I'm glad to come across this list, as at least it's an attempt to account for women of color in punk music. I'm constantly disconcerted by the homogeneity of the punk scene where I live. There just aren't many black women in punk, or playing punk music, and there doesn't seem to be an interest from promoters, musicians, community leaders, to introduce punk music, and ethics, and DIY to to the young black women in the community. It's really depressing, as i think punk music is an eyeopener for all youths, regardless of gender and race.

Sandra St Victor

Thanks for all the great videos, I had no idea about most of these artist.

The first woman I think of when I think of black female rockers is Sandra St. Victor. Family Stand's musical diversity is a credit to their creativity and skill, but I think of them as a black rock band first and foremost even if their biggest hit was an R&B trac, also they are always on the BRC website http://blackrockcoalition.org/mission/manifesto/

Family Stand "Education ofJamie" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gPUVqVzySCk

But let's add newcomer, Brittany Howard. This girl is tearing up the rock scene.

Alabama Shakes "Hold On" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Le-3MIBxQTw

There are a lot of people who

There are a lot of people who are upset that this article is discussing color in music, as if this article is to blame for the color divide that exists in reality - it's not wrong to point out what ALREADY EXISTS. This article isn't the problem - this article hasn't created the continuing lack of blacks in rock music, nor has this article created the disturbing trend of grouping all black musicians into the R&B category, even when they're quite obviously playing rock music.

In other words, the anger that's being discussed here is misplaced. People get uncomfortable when they hear about skin color and then they want to take their discomfort out on the source of it. But this article was spot on, and it continues to be true even in 2013: if you're black and trying to break into the indie/rock/alternative scene, it's virtually impossible. The way is opening wider thanks to some of the acts on this wonderful list, though. But speaking as a 34-year-old black woman who's been performing indie forever, sometimes the scene can be downright uncaring.

I'm glad for a list like this. I found it while specifically looking for a list of black women rockers. Is it wrong of me to look for a list of people like myself so I can feel like, "Maybe there's a chance for me, look at all of these other women who look like me, they're out they're making it, I can too"? Everyone needs to be able to experience something like that. Just because someone compiled a list of black rockers doesn't mean that latino rockers don't exist.

The mere existence of this list doesn't invalidate ANYONE ELSE in ANY WAY. If a list like this disturbs you, it's your own issues coming to the forefront, because there's nothing in this list that is trying to say or even suggest that anyone who isn't black is somehow inferior. Simply pointing out that apples exist doesn't mean that you're suggesting that oranges suck! Folks are seriously reading into this and need to check their own motivations before projecting their inferiorities and issues onto other people!

I am a Not-quite-white singer

I am a Not-quite-white singer songwriter and have been fielding comments on the irregularity of me writing and performing country music for years. Once in a while it bums me out that people still direct these comments at me and I look for signs of other non-white women making music in non-stereotypical genres so I know I'm not alone and facing an impenetrable field. So, I REALLY appreciate this article. The title did not put me off the intention to bring attention to the fact that non-white women are racist-ly shoved into categories they shouldn't be in; being an artist in a genre that has typically been all white in the media does not mean I'm attempting to whitewash myself, pretending or wishing away my African-ness, It probably does mean that I'm American, though.

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