To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re taking a look back at decades of all-female musical groups. Through pop, punk, rap, rock, and everything in between, we go all the way to the 1940s when The Andrews Sisters harmonized for the troops during World War II, to the 1960s when bee-hived singers helped shape the sounds of Phil Spector and Motown, to the 1990s when Destiny’s Child mobilized fellow women to demand respect and Sleater-Kinney put feminism at the fore, ushering in the riot grrrl-inspired Pussy Riot.
Read on for 18 of the most influential all-female groups.
Years Active: 1925-1951, 1956-1967
Songs You Know: “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Bei Mir Bistu Shein”
Why They’re Great: The three sisters from Minnesota hit it big entertaining American troops with their tight harmonies during World War II, and became the biggest girl group in the first half of the 20th century. They recorded with Bing Crosby and the Glenn Miller Orchestra, appeared in 17 Hollywood films, and had 113 songs on the Billboard chart (46 in the top 10). With the popular Yiddish song “Bei Mir Bistu Shein” they became the first female group to earn a gold record.
Years Active: 1957-1972
Songs You Know: “Dancing in the Street,” “Heat Wave,” “Nowhere to Run”
Why They’re Great: Martha Reeves started as a secretary at Motown’s A&R department and her group occasionally sang backup for Marvin Gaye. Good thing the label’s founder Berry Gordy gave them a shot in the studio. They went on to be one of Motown’s biggest groups in the 60s, with 26 songs on the Billboard chart. They shot to fame in 1963 with Grammy-nominated “Heat Wave” and solidified their place in history the following year with “Dancing in the Street,” the feel-good anthem of the decade.
Why They’re Great: Sisters Veronica (Ronnie) and Estelle and cousin Nedra grew up singing together in Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. Producer Phil Spector ushered them to success with the 1963 breakout “Be My Baby,” which became the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson’s all-time favorite song and inspired him to write “Don’t Worry Baby.” The Rolling Stones opened for the Ronettes on a UK tour, where Ronnie had a romance with Keith Richards AND John Lennon (not to mention Spector back home) and Estelle with George Harrison. They became the only girl group to tour with the Beatles. The trio provided some of his best “wall of sound” hits, but Spector’s marriage to Ronnie was abusive; he kept her hostage at his California mansion until their divorce in 1974.
Years Active: 1959-1977
Songs You Know: “Baby Love,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” “Where Did Our Love Go”
Why They’re Great: The ladies from Detroit signed with Motown and provided hand claps and back up vocals for Marvin Gaye and the Temptations while releasing a string of unsuccessful singles. They earned their name with the hit “Where Did Our Love Go” in 1964, followed by “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” and “Back in My Arms Again”–five number one singles in a row. They were the first all-female group with a number one album on the Billboard 200 with Supremes A’ Go-Go (which knocked out the Beatles’ Revolver).
Years Active: 1963-1968
Songs You Know: “Leader of the Pack,” “Give Him a Great Big Kiss”
Why They’re Great: In 1964 the two sets of sisters from Queens had a record deal before any of them were 18 years old. That year they hit it big with “Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand).” They performed with the Beatles and toured with James Brown and the Rolling Stones. The follow-up single “Leader of the Pack” earned them a “bad girl” image, and rose past the Beatles and knocked The Supremes’ “Baby Love” out of the number one slot.
Years Active: 1962-Present
Songs You Know: “Best of My Love,” “Boogie Wonderland”
Why They’re Great: The sisters were recording steadily for over a decade before they hit it big in 1977 with the Grammy-winning disco hit “Best of My Love.” Closely associated with Earth, Wind & Fire, the Emotions were featured on the group’s hugely successful “Boogie Wonderland” two years later. They’ve been sampled by the likes of Mariah Carey, LL Cool J, and Ghostface Killah.
Years Active: 1969-Present
Songs You Know: “I’m So Excited,” “Jump (For My Love)”
Why They’re Great: You don’t sing for over 4 decades without covering a wide range of musical and sartorial styles. They’ve donned floral 40s dresses and big 80s hair, and received Grammy nominations in country, R&B, and pop categories. Their 1974 country “Fairytale” not only won a Grammy but was covered by Elvis Presley. It’s hard to believe they’re the same group that gave us the positively pop dance tracks “I’m So Excited” and “Jump (For My Love).” They continue to perform to this day.
Years Active: 1978-1985, 1990, 1994, 1999-present
Songs You Know: “We Got the Beat,” “Our Lips Are Sealed,” “Vacation”
Why They’re Great: Coming out of LA’s punk/new wave scene, The Go-Go’s differentiated themselves from many other groups on this list by being entirely self-directed, majorly bad ass rock stars who answered to no one. With their 1981 debut album Beauty and the Beat, they became the first and only all-female band who wrote and played all their own music to top the album charts. It went triple platinum and is regarded as one of the most important new wave records.
Years Active: 1989-1993, 2004-present
Songs You Know: “Hold On,” “Release Me”
Why They’re Great: These three women have greatness in their genes–Carnie and Wendy Wilson are the daughters of the Honeys’ Marilyn Rovell and The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson; Chynna Phillips parents were in The Mamas & the Papas. They grew up together and their self-titled debut album released in 1990 included three number ones and earned them four Grammy nominations. At the time, it was the best selling album by an all-female group.
Years Active: 1994-2006, 2014-present
Songs You Know: “Jumpers,” “Bury Our Friends”
Why They’re Great: With roots in the feminist punk rock riot grrrl scene of the Pacific Northwest, the trio from Portland (including Portlandia’s Carrie Brownstein) released seven albums from 1995 to 2005. They issued social and political critique with urgent vocals and booming drums, and became perhaps the most critically acclaimed group of their time. Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield called them “the best American punk band ever,” and Time’s Greil Marcus upped the ante by once calling them “America’s best rock band.” After an indefinite hiatus of nearly a decade, they’re back this year with No Cities to Love.
Years Active: 1989-present
Songs You Know: “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It),” “Don’t Let Go (Love),” “Whatta Man”
Why They’re Great: The quartet combined the girl group tradition with new jack swing and ended up with an electrifying groove that gives you no choice but to sing and dance along. They earned seven Grammy nominations, most of which were for their 1992 album Funky Divas that included “My Lovin’” and a cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Something He Can Feel.” And who could forget their collaboration with fellow ladies from Salt-N-Pepa on “Whatta Man.”
Years Active: 1985-2002, 2007-present
Songs You Know: “Push It,” “Shoop,” “Whatta Man”
Why They’re Great: The first and best-selling female rap group of all time, Salt-N-Pepa paved the way for other rapping women in hip hop’s early days like Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown. They made a name for themselves as unapologetic MCs with 1987’s “Push It” and continued their success into the 90s with “Let’s Talk About Sex,” “Shoop,” and “Whatta Man” with En Vogue. In 1995 they won a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for “None of Your Business.”
Years Active: 1989-Present
Songs You Know: “Wide Open Spaces,” “Cowboy Take Me Away”
Why They’re Great: The trio rocked the country music world in the late 90s, winning 13 Grammys along the way. During a 2003 concert in London lead singer Natalie Maines spoke out against the war in Iraq. The group received fierce backlash and a massive boycott from fans and the industry alike. They addressed the controversy head on in their follow-up album, which earned them five Grammy awards and reestablished the group as an unstoppable force.
Years Active: 1990-present
Songs You Know:“Waterfalls,” “Creep,” “No Scrubs”
Why They’re Great: TLC had it all: that blend of rap and smooth vocals, flashy matching outfits, empowering and catchy songs. Their debut album went triple-platinum, and their follow up CrazySexyCool brought the hits we still love. But they’ve also faced hardship, including illness, bankruptcy, and the 2002 death of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes. We’re happy to say they’re still at it, and recently completed a Kickstarter campaign to fund their fifth album, due out this year.
Years Active: 1994-2000, 2007-08, 2012
Songs You Know: “Wannabe,” “Say You’ll Be There,” “Spice Up Your Life”
Why They’re Great: At the end of the last millenium, young girls were split on the ‘N Sync vs. Backstreet Boys debate, but The Spice Girls brought them all together. With their insanely catchy pop songs and oh-so-digestible packaging, they introduced a new generation of youth to feminism–or at least the phrase “girl power,” and even spoofed themselves in the Hard Days Night-esque movie Spice World. They were the 90s girl’s Beatles. It was never quite the same after Geri Haliwell left in 1998, but the women have periodically reunited since.
Years Active: 1990–2006
Songs You Know: “Say My Name,” “Bills, Bills, Bills,” “Survivor”
Why They’re Great: Destiny’s Child stood defiantly against cheaters and bug a boos in The Writing’s on the Wall, and continued with more pop-focused female power anthems on the follow-up album with “Bootylicious,” “Independent Women,” and “Survivor.” We’ve missed their beautifully blended voices after they disbanded in 2006. In the words of Michael Showalter, “It’s probably a little too soon to say for sure but I feel like, out of the three, Beyonce has had the most post-Destiny’s Child success.”
Years Active: 2007-present
Songs You Know: “The Wire,” “Forever”
Why They’re Great: The three Haim sisters harmonize and blend R&B with folk rock to a very exciting effect. Their 2013 debut album Days Are Gone led to a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. The world is clearly interested and eager for what’s next. We hear they’re working on a second album, and will be on tour this summer opening for Taylor Swift.
Years Active: 2011-present
Songs You Know: “Punk Prayer,” “Kill the Sexist”
Why They’re Great: The Russian feminist collective at the intersection of the riot grrrl movement, performance art, and pure political protest, Pussy Riot stages impromptu live performances and cuts them into short videos that address the rights of women and the LGBT community, and rage against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Two members were jailed in Russia for “hooliganism” and served 21 months before their release in December of 2013.