International Women’s Day Music History Timeline

We've highlighted some significant female artists and innovators in music history to mark International Women's Day...


International Women's Day is an annual celebration aimed at championing the people, organisations and movements aiming to do more to forge equality for women. 

The event has been taking place for more than a century now (with the first event held in March 1911) and this year's focuses on 'Inspiring Inclusion'.

To mark the day, we've looked at the significance of the event in the music industry and some of the pioneering artists, composers and producers who have paved the way. 

Women in music

Female artists, musicians and performers have often been discriminated against within the music industry. A recent report from a UK parliamentary commission shone a spotlight on the ongoing inequalities, describing how women face "endemic misogyny and discrimination" in the music business and are "routinely undervalued and undermined". 

While this highlighted the huge amount of work required for greater equality to be seen in the sector, the report also looked at what it described as "encouraging signs" - according to the research, major recording companies reported near or above parity for women in senior leadership teams: 50 percent at Universal Music UK, 55 percent at Sony Music UK and 48 percent at Warner Music UK.

Elsewhere, BPI statistics for 2023 revealed how women artists spent 31 weeks at the top of the singles chart in the UK. 

Dua Lipa ('Dance The Night'), Ellie Goulding ('Miracle' with Calvin Harris), Kenya Grace ('Strangers') and Raye ('Escapism' feat 070 Shake) were among the British artists and their hits to contribute to this accolade.

Almost half (48.5 percent) of all the songs that made the Top 10 this year came from women - working either as solo artists or in collaborations. These numbers represent the highest annual share of hits for women this century." 

Here are some of the pioneering women whose music, creativity and influence has acted as musical inspiration and influence. 

Ethel Waters

Ethel Waters was an American blues, jazz, and gospel vocalist who became one of the first African-American women to achieve mainstream music success.

A significant moment for her was in 1933 when she was seen performing a version of 'Stormy Weather' by composer Irving Berlin at the Cotton Club in New York. He subsequently offered her a role in his Broadway production, 'As Thousands Cheer'

She went on to become the first African American woman to star in her own television show and be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award.

Billie Holiday 

Vocalist Billie Holiday emerged during the thirties as a musical force to be reckoned with, particularly within the world of jazz thanks to her unique vocal tones and phrasing. 

Her achievements were many, developing creative collaborations with pianist/arranger Teddy Wilson and tenor sax player, Lester Young, who dubbed her 'Lady Day'. 

She became one of the first Black women to work with a white orchestra when she toured with Artie Shaw in the late 1930s. Perhaps her most famous song is 'Strange Fruit', an anti-lynching poem depicting its horrors in the south of the US.

Delia Derbyshire

Delia Derbyshire is the much lauded electronic music pioneer and one of the most famous creatives to come from the UK's Radiophonic Workshop. 

Even if you don't know her name, you'll undoubtedly have heard Delia's music via the iconic TV theme theme for 'Doctor Who' that was first broadcast in the early sixties. 

Alongside this, she worked for the workshop for more than ten years at Maida Vale Studios, producing music for almost 200 radio and TV programmes. 

Diana Ross 

Diana Ross was born in Detroit and found fame as the lead singer of the Supremes, a girl group who released pop music via the iconic Motown Records during the sixties. 

The band are one of the best-selling girl groups of all time with hits ranging from 'Baby Love' to 'Stop! In the Name of Love'

Ross left the Supremes in 1970 to embark on her own successful solo career. This has seen her release 25 studio albums, numerous singles, and compilations that have sold more than 100 million records worldwide. 

Tina Weymouth 

As the bassist in Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, Tina Weymouth is one of contemporary music's most influential and inspiring performers. 

Her basslines helped shape many of the band's best moments, using her love of soul and funk to help their take on post-punk have a unique sense of groove and rhythm. Some of her best work can be heard on Talking Heads' albums, 'More Songs about Buildings and Food' and 'Fear of Music'.

Weymouth's playing with Tom Tom Club with her husband Chris Frantz was just as ground-breaking and their influence lives on to this day.


Emerging in the eighties, US artist and creative Madonna is known as the 'Queen of Pop' with millions of record sales, sold out tours and iconic moments to her name. 

From working with Chic's Nile Rodgers and hits including 'Like a Virgin' to 'Into the Groove' to starring in the cult classic 'Desperately Seeking Susan', Madonna's ability to stay abreast of the pop zeitgeist and court controversy has sustained her into her sixties. 

Being able to stay on top of the latest musical trends and work with leading producers has also helped, alongside a commanding live show that is still traversing the world as part of her most recent 'Celebration' tour.


Icelandic auteur Bjork was originally singer with the Sugarcubes before embarking on a solo career that has seen her touch on multiple musical styles and technologies to fuel her vision. 

Club culture, techno and industrial sounds were all melted down to form her mid-nineties album 'Post' while she's continued to bring together eclectic styles and experimentation on critically-acclaimed albums, including the more recent 'Utopia' and 'Fossora'

She has been named as one of the most influential pop artists of all time while also pushing the industry to take more action around its environmental impact. 

Sinead O'Connor 

The late, great Sinead O'Connor had a significant impact on contemporary pop culture, not only with her music and beautiful voice but in the way she challenged what a pop star should be. 

Throughout her career up until her death, O'Connor was an outspoken advocate for women's rights, controversially tearing up a photo of Pope John Paul II on 'Saturday Night Live' back in 1992. Her music also made her an icon, particularly her version of Prince's 'Nothing Compares 2 U'.

A forthcoming posthumous album, made with the brilliant Irish producer David Holmes, is expected to see the light of the day in 2024. 


Is there anything Beyonce cannot do? As a songwriter, artist and visionary, her view of what pop music can be continually resets the bar for others to follow. 

From her hits with Destiny's Child to an incredible solo career, Beyonce's musical journey has been full of surprises and accolades. 

An iconic set at Coachella, captured in the 'Homecoming' performance film, cemented her status as a musical icon - a headline slot at Glastonbury, the visual album success of 'Lemonade', the game-changing release of 'Crazy in Love', the multiple Grammy Awards. In 2024, she's changed the game again with the huge success of her latest country track, 'Texas Hold 'Em'.

Taylor Swift  

Taylor Swift may only be in her mid-thirties but has already achieved global dominance with her songwriting and multi-faceted take on pop music. 

Swift's star always been in an ascendance but 2023 proved to be her biggest year to date - her Eras Tour became the highest-grossing tour of all time (with gigs spanning three hours and hits from across her career), her music earned more than 26.1 billion streams on Spotify, she was named as Time Magazine's 2023 Person of the Year. The list goes on and her success shows no sign of slowing...

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by ICMP staff writer
March 5, 2024
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