Five transformative female vocalists born between 1950 and 1970

These amazing female vocalists helped transform music and each was born between 1950 and 1970 (OK, one was 1971).
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Our first two forays into influential female vocalists focused on artists from the pre-history of rock and roll (those born before WWII), and on the first wave of singers in the rock era (those born in the 1940s.) For our third and final chapter, we are looking at five singers who faced a different landscape. For these women, born between 1950 and 1970 (OK – 1971, actually), the walls had already been knocked down. Rock & roll had become a leading force in popular music.

That doesn’t mean they did not face some pretty high hurdles. Women were still primarily shunted off into safe genres, delivering romances, soft rock, and pop. When most of these artists were coming of age, Linda Ronstadt defined what a female rock/pop star was.

Ronstadt had a huge voice, was capable of singing a wide range of genres, and achieved plenty of success in the mid-‘70s. But she was marginalized by many critics and fans alike because she didn’t write her own songs. Somehow, that made her less authentic. That never happened to Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra, but in the new era, it was a strike against you.

Five of the best female vocalists born between 1950 and 1971

Yes, the walls may have been knocked down, but there was still a lot of territory for vocalists to explore. New genres, from country rock to disco to hip hop, offered room to grow. And women’s voices expanded in all directions. Some of those voices grew warmer and more intimate. Others shouted and shrieked louder than they ever had before.

Regardless of subject matter or technique, the best of them continued to offer what the vocalists we have already discussed in previous eras had given. Instantly recognizable voices that changed the way future singers would practice their craft.


Karen Carpenter was never seen as a groundbreaking figure during her lifetime. Among most rock and roll fans in the 1970s, she and her brother Richard were the anti-Christ. Soporific love ballads of a bygone day. Such criticism may be fairly laid atop Richard, whose arrangements of many Carpenters songs, with a few notable exceptions, were treacly and mundane. But Karen’s voice was special. Even the rock and rollers, if they bothered to listen, would have to admit that.

Karen Carpenter didn’t have a huge voice the way some singers do. She had a pure voice. That voice was often called “angelic.” It makes sense, because her voice in a song like “I Won’t Last a Day Without You,” sounds like it is coming from somewhere otherworldly. Despite the sappy arrangement, she breathes life into the melody. There is a warmth in her tone that few vocalists have ever matched.

That was her real strength. That warmth. That uncanny ability to open her soul and soothe the pain of heartache. “Rainy Days and  Mondays” is one of the towering romantic ballads of the 1970s. It’s a good Paul Williams/Roger Nichols tune, but it is Karen’s delivery that sends it over the top. The intimacy is palpable.

That’s what Karen Carpenter taught to the vocalists who admired her. Rather than screaming, you could reach deep inside and simply be as open and honest as possible. Considering she began as a performer who literally preferred to hide behind her drum kit, Karen Carpenter’s rapid evolution as a singer is even more remarkable.

Her friend Petula Clark performed a touching rendition of “For All We Know” shortly after Karen’s death in 1983 after a long battle with anorexia. Owing in part to her association with an older brother who arranges her music, many fans view Billie Eilish as a modern-day Karen Carpenter. Personally, I’d prefer to see Eilish show a bit more restraint in her breathless vocals. I’d like to see her pick up that touch of understatement from Karen Carpenter.