In the world of music, it’s often the guys who are hailed as guitar gods. There are indeed many whose names will be forever etched on various top lists and music history records. Not to be outdone, however, there are several guitar goddesses equally deserving of respect and honor.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the “godmother of rock ‘n roll,” is considered one of the most inspirational musicians of all time. Joni Mitchell and Joan Jett are two of the most famous and influential. Vicki Peterson’s guitar skills helped shape the sound of The Bangles and Lita Ford is the first female to win a Certified Legend Award by Guitar Player magazine. And that’s just for starters, Below are five more names that should shine bright in the canon of great musicianship.
Mother Maybelle Carter
More than just the mother of June Carter Cash and mother-in-law of country legend Johnny Cash, Maybelle Carter is also considered to be among the best female guitarists ever, learning to play by ear at age 13. Thanks to a creation of style known as the church lick, thumb rush, and Carter Family picking, she attracted a list of admirers including Chet Atkins and Doc Watson.
Carter used her thumb to pick a tune on the bass strings while strumming rhythms on the higher strings which resulted in a sound that made it seem as though there were other guitars playing.
Folk blues legend Elizabeth Cotten was left-handed but played a guitar meant for right-handed players, developing a unique technique called “Cotten picking.”
Born in 1893, she taught herself how to play guitar as a child. Hired to cook and clean for composer Ruth Crawford Seeger, stepmother to acclaimed folk singer Pete Seeger, Cotten surprised the family when Peggy Seeger walked into the kitchen one day and saw her playing the guitar. Although they didn’t often announce them as covers, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and the Grateful Dead were among the artists who performed the “Freight Train” singer’s songs. Cotten was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2022.
Elizabeth Douglas, a/k/a Memphis Minnie, was a legendary blues guitarist whose career spanned over three decades. Her songs covered topics like crime, health, trains, and voodoo. Born in 1887, she played guitar on the streets of Memphis before joining the Ringling Brothers circus and eventually helping form the electric Chicago blues. Inspiring bands such as Led Zeppelin, the “Queen of Blues” would go on to have over 200 recordings under her belt.
“The Queen of Rockabilly” signed with Capitol Records in 1956 where she recorded a number of singles including hits like “Let’s Have a Party” and “Right or Wrong.”
At age 73, she mounted a comeback with her 2011 album The Party Ain’t Over, which was produced by Jack White of the White Stripes. Jackson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009.
Kaye is perhaps one of the most iconic bass players to ever pick up the instrument. The sought-after studio musician recorded bass and/or six-string guitars for the likes of Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, Quincy Jones, The Righteous Brothers, Tina Turner, and Ritchie Valens.
Kaye caught her big break in 1963 when an electric bass player didn’t show up for a recording session. The prolific musician has played on an estimated 10,000 recordings throughout her career.
Photo: Wanda Jackson, 1975 (public domain)