Five groundbreaking female vocalists born before 1940

Modern music is not the same without these five amazing female vocalists born before World War II began.
Portrait Of Billie Holiday
Portrait Of Billie Holiday / Heritage Images/GettyImages
3 of 3


Jackson was born in 1937 and released her first, self-titled album when she was just 20 years old. The very first track, “Day Dreamin,” is a fairly standard country ballad, served up with a nice dose of nasal twang. She grows increasingly wilder and more reckless as the tracks progress until you hit the end of side one with “Long Tall Sally.” And we are in full-out rockabilly.

By the end of the album – “Let’s Have a Party” – she is grinding her voice as punk rockers would do several decades later while singing “Some people like to rock, some people like to roll – But movin’ and a-groovin’s gonna satisfy my soul – Let’s have a party,” before serving up a high-pitched “Wooo” the way John, Paul, and George would a few years later.

Jackson, who would influence a great many country rock singers, was herself primarily influenced by the king himself, Elvis Presley. She said he was the one who convinced her to sing a new style of music.

Like Nina Simone, Jackson could not be confined by a single genre. She bounced from blues to country to gospel and back to rockabilly. But she never strayed too far from proto-rock and roll, even on a song like “Closer to Jesus.” Jackson was a contemporary and friend of Buddy Holly’s. They played shows together and Jackson covered Holly’s songs like “Oh, Boy!” “Rave On” and “Raining in My Heart.”

When she was 66, Jackson released Heart Trouble, which contained tracks recorded with Dave Alvin, Elvis Costello, and the Cramps. And 18 years after that, Joan Jett produced and performed on the 84-year-old’s last album.

Must listens: “LET’S HAVE A PARTY” and “SEARCHIN’”


If Tina Turner had done nothing more than sing with Ike & Tina Turner, she would still be regarded as one of the best soul/funk singers of her generation. Her solo career in the 1980s and beyond earned her the label “Queen of Rock,” as she became a dominant voice in the world of rock and roll as well.

Next. Worst Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ever. Worst Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ever. dark

Private Dancer (1984) yielded massive hits including “What’s Love Got to Do With It” as well as the title track. She also covered Al Green, the Beatles, and offers up a glorious version of “I Can’t the Rain,” which was originally recorded by a singer we will get to in the next article.

Of course, by that point, Turner had been shouting, shrieking, and screaming for almost thirty years. The power and emotion are evident from the first single she released with Ike – “Just a Fool” in 1960. Tina’s impassioned verses were juxtaposed against the restrained Ikettes on the chorus.

From there, it was high-octane blends of soul, funk, and rock like “Waist Deep, River High” and the anthemic “Proud Mary.” And I don’t know if there is more seminal rock/funk than “Nutbush City Limits.” Artists from Janis Joplin to Beyonce have spoken about how they were influenced by the Queen of Rock and Roll.


More music news and analysis: