For decades, rock has been viewed as the most aggressive genre of music. This was the reason why for years, this field was mainly dominated by males. However, despite the role of gender in discussing rock music, it is almost impossible to ignore the opinion that women significantly contributed to the development of this genre (Selph 14-22). In this context, Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, and Tina Turner can be identified as the most influential figures in rock music among other female contributors to this genre (Gaar 1-8). The purpose of this paper is to discuss Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, and Tina Turner as leading rock music performers in their subgenres and analyze the significant impact they made on rock music in general.
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Janis Joplin’s career covered the years of 1962-1970, and she became known as one of the most influential female rock performers of that period. Joplin started her career while performing with Big Brother and The Holding Company. The band specialized in playing the blues, and this genre of music influenced Joplin’s interpretation of rock music in the future (Gaar 92-104). The singer attracted the public’s attention because of the rawness of her manner of singing, virtuosity, and passion. Thus, in the context of blues-tinged rock, Joplin demonstrated a new interpretation of a female rock singer who is equal in her performance and power to men on the stage.
However, although listeners accentuate the uniqueness of Joplin’s voice, there are also opinions that her performance was often extremely intense in its emotion that affected the quality of her sound. Still, this aspect emphasized her femininity and created a path for further development of reflective feminine rock music that was powerful in its impact on both male and female listeners (Gaar 140-148). Joplin’s contribution to rock music is so considerable that, for many people all over the globe, she became associated with the psychedelic rock of the 1960s as an iconic figure of that decade.
Joplin was the queen of psychedelic and blues rock, and one of the most influential figures in punk rock was Patti Smith who became the female leader of the punk movement in the 1970s. In contrast to Joplin’s passion for signing, Smith accentuated the role of lyrics in her works. She did not revolutionary change the sound typical of punk bands, but she added reflexivity to the traditional garage-band spirit of this type of rock music.
As a result, Smith created a unique variant of the pure feminine punk music that attracted listeners because of lyrics and self-reflexivity (Gaar 195-199). However, although some researchers accentuated the femininity in Smith’s performance, the singer herself and other critics accentuated the idea that Patti succeeded in overcoming any gender barriers in her works (Gaar 195-208). From this perspective, Smith influenced the development of punk rock music while determining the place of a woman in this complex and male-oriented subgenre while highlighting its certain aesthetic qualities and the importance of lyrics.
During the periods when Janis Joplin and Patti Smith developed specific subgenres of rock in which they became female leaders, Tina Turner realized her path to the title of the queen of rock and roll. She started her career in blues and soul music with her husband Ike Turner. However, she became widely known in the world in the 1980s as a pop-rock diva, who combined the principles of rock and roll and pop music in one genre.
Turner significantly differed from the female rock singers of the 1960s-1970s because of her image (Turner and Loder 217-220). The main focus was not on an African American woman performing the blues, but on a sexual female who understood and proclaimed her power.
Turner’s solo career is successful, and she remains to be one of the most influential figures in both rock and pop music. In Turner’s works, much attention was paid to lyrics and romantic themes that were rather atypical for African American male rock music. Thus, Turner became known as the female rock and pop singer whose lyrics and performance were highly emotional. This aspect allowed some critics to discuss Turner only as an African American pop star of the 1980s-1990s, rather than an influential figure in rock music despite the instrumentation she used (Gaar 286-290; Selph 42-54). Turner’s unique contribution to rock music is in the fact that she demonstrated a new variant of an image for singers accentuating femininity that was ignored by women in the rock of the past.
Referring to the examples of Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, and Tina Turner, it is possible to state that women have significantly contributed to the development of rock music. Thus, these women added to the progress of three different subgenres of rock: psychedelic rock with the elements of the blues, punk rock, and pop-rock. They influenced later women’s views regarding rock music in general and performance, sound, and images appropriate for females working in this genre in particular.
Gaar, Gillian G. She’s a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock and Roll. 2nd ed., Da Capo Press, 2002.
Selph, Cynthia, editor. Spirituals to Rock and Roll: The History of American Music and How It Conquered the World. 13th ed., McGraw Hill, 2014.
Turner, Tina, and Kurt Loder. I, Tina: My Life Story. 2nd ed., HarperCollins, 2010.