Many people would say that drumming is a man’s game. But these 31 women are proof that gender doesn’t matter when it comes to being a rockstar. These best female drummers have redefined modern percussion while playing with some of the world’s most famous bands.
1. Gina Schock
Gina Schock is a professional drummer who is best known as the drummer for the band The Go-Go’s; however, she has played with many bands over the course of her career. She, along with the other members of The Go-Go’s, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2021.
Her signature aggressive percussion style has been cited as the main reason for The Go-Go’s success, with supporters pointing out that the band’s greatest tracks opened with drum solos. Under Schock’s leadership, the band’s music became synonymous with upbeat dance tunes.
2. Claudia Gonson
Claudia Gonson is best known for her work with the band The Magnetic Fields. Fans have described her as the real brains of the enterprise, acting as both the band’s manager and musical collaborator of frontman Stephen Merritt. But even without acknowledging Gonson’s contributions behind the scenes, it is crystal clear that she is incredibly talented.
She not only plays the drums but also provides keyboards and vocals on all the band’s tracks. Her talent is also evident in her ability to play percussion in a non-rock genre, alternating between gentle and forceful drum beats.
3. Dottie Dodgion
Dottie Dodgion was one of the earliest pioneers of modern drum work, but sadly, there are few recordings of her performances. Her father was also a drummer, and she learned her craft from him early on. As a teenager, she explored both singing and drumming and performed in live jazz groups. However, after her second husband told her to choose a musical specialty, she decided to pursue drumming exclusively.
Her career spanned 50 years, starting in the 1950s. In her autobiography, Dodgion said that she performed with Benny Goodman’s orchestra for a short period but was fired when she drew more applause than he did. She played at live jazz festivals in the later parts of her career and was still drumming into her eighties. She passed away in 2021 at the age of 91.
4. Sue Hadjopoulos
Sue Hadjopoulos was one of the greatest drummers of her era. Joe Jackson’s major 1982 album Night And Day wouldn’t have been possible without her. She truly holds the album together at every step.
She went on to play with Cyndi Lauper, Laurie Anderson, the B-52s, Simple Minds, and numerous other prominent musicians. Hadjopoulos found herself in high demand for film and stage soundtracks as well as albums and tours.
5. Moe Tucker
Moe Tucker is a true bright spot in the best female drummers lineup. She had impeccable timing, managing to play perfectly while standing up. Her minimalist drumming and androgynous appearance immediately set her apart. She didn’t use a bass drum and kept to the simplest patterns.
The NYC-based band The Velvet Underground wouldn’t have been possible without her skills. She rose again to prominence in the 1980s, releasing four solo albums where she had famous musical guests or played every instrument herself. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
6. Evelyn Glennie
Dame Evelyn Glennie is a Scottish percussionist who is renowned for her skill and philanthropy. She became deaf at age 12 after a few years of steadily declining hearing. Nevertheless, this has not held her back as a drummer.
She regularly plays barefoot while on tour and during recordings to allow her to better feel the music. She tours globally as a soloist as well as with numerous musicians and orchestras. Glennie was one of two laureates for the 2015 Polar Music Prize.
7. Viola Smith
Viola Smith has a remarkable story as one of the earliest—perhaps the first—professional female drummers. Her career began in the 1920s. She played in the NBC Symphony Orchestra and her Broadway debut was in Cabaret’s original run. She was famous for using a massy kit. She was heavy on the toms, leading to critical comparisons to Gene Krupa.
Most of her work has been lost, with the best surviving video recording being a 1939 clip with the all-woman band The Coquettes. Despite being known as the “fastest drumming girl,” she still had to grapple with plenty of barriers to women in the music industry.
8. Meytal Cohen
Meytal Cohen is globally celebrated with a massive online following. She learned to play drums at age four. She moved from her birthplace Israel to Los Angeles at age 21. At this point, she began to actively pursue a professional career in the music industry.
She soon started touring with major figures. In a short time, she became an accomplished songwriter and producer in her own right. She has a unique drumming style and is very personable with her fans.
9. Jen Ledger
Any list of top female drummers needs to include Jen Ledger. She became legendary as the percussionist for Skillet and undoubtedly paved the way for the band to make it big. Her immense talent ranges from hard-hitting rock beats to delicate, precise fills.
Though many drummers are overlooked, Ledger’s talent simply can’t be overlooked. She has drawn a dedicated fanbase that recognizes her enormous skill, which contributes steadily to the progression of rock—not to mention female empowerment in the music industry.
10. Patty Schemel
Patty Schemel was the drummer for Hole, a glamorous band surrounded by an air of decadence. Her primal punk drumming style was sophisticated and powerful. While she eventually left the band due to conflicts with a producer, she immediately went on to work with Courtney Love.
Schemel is still one of the best drummers in grunge—and probably in modern music generally. She has maintained her intense style and sharp skill throughout her career.
11. Debbi Peterson
Debbi Peterson was the drummer for the Bangles when they were practically a garage band. In its early days, the band often covered The Yardbirds and The Seeds.
Peterson’s performance expanded with the band without ever losing touch with its roots. She also sings in practically every track, not only as a backup but often as the lead. She is without a doubt one of the best drummers on the list.
12. Tennessee Thomas
Tennessee Thomas is a drummer who should be a power-pop staple. She was the drummer in The Like, and their album Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking? is an overlooked gem.
Together with guitarist and singer Z Berg, Thomas was the core of The Like with her originality and wit. She also plays with Jenny Lewis in Nice As Fuck, where she continues to impress with her inventive style.
13. Janet Weiss
Janet Weiss is a phenomenal post-punk drummer. She combines intensity, invention, solid songcraft, and a real groove. She is widely considered one of the best drummers of all time. She plays with the band Sleater-Kinney, who is famous for their unusual setup of using a guitar as a bass. Weiss brings all the oomph this needs to work.
Her work in the duo Quasi made a piano and drums lineup into a full-on rock and roll experience. Her skill was also a powerful foundation for the eccentricities and improvisation in Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks.
14. Samantha Maloney
Samatha Maloney was a powerful all-pro drummer who could step into practically any band and thrive. She often hopped into roles during band shake-ups or retirements. She joined Hole after the departure of Patty Schemel and filled in for Tommy Lee during his hiatus from Mötley Crüe. She also took over for Josh Homme on tour with Eagles Of Death Metal.
She doesn’t appear in any of those bands’ classic albums because of the timing of her membership. Nevertheless, her craft was vital to keeping each band going in tough spots.
15. Sheila E.
Sheila Cecilia Escovedo, known by her stage name Sheila E., is a percussion powerhouse. She toured with Prince, debuting with the Glamorous Life album. Though she first didn’t get the chance to really show off her skills, Prince eventually placed her on a full kit. She also got the chance to shine during his famous after-shows, which featured lots of jamming and improvisation.
These opportunities brought her into the public eye, eventually earning her the reputation of one of the most talented drummers of the era.
16. Meg White
Meg White became well-known as the drummer and backup vocalist in The White Stripes. But although she is extremely talented, she also gained attention for her contained percussion style, which was much less flashy and aggressive than many of her contemporaries.
White is a master of the controlled drumming style that guides performances without overwhelming them, something she said was very much in line with her own personality. Nevertheless, she has won four Grammy awards for her work with The White Stripes and is widely considered one of the best drummers of modern rock.
17. Dee Plakas
Demetra Plakas, publicly known as Dee Plakas, became known for her work as a percussionist with the band L7. The all-female punk rock band helped shape the direction of the genre throughout the 1980s and the 1990s, featuring an aggressive, ferocious style.
Plakas was no exception, earning the nickname The Goddess of Thunder. Her instantly-recognizable style and technical drum skills garnered a reputation as a fixture of the punk rock scene, paving the way for female musicians in the genre.
18. Cora Coleman-Dunham
Cora Coleman-Dunham has been drumming all her life. She started playing in a school band when she was only five years old and continued until she was in college. Even before beginning her professional career, she was making history as the first female section leader in Howard’s Thunder Machine.
In 2002, she earned the title of Nation’s Best Amateur Drummer after beating 5,000 other drummers in Guitar Center’s National Annual Drum-Off. She is widely known in the pop music genre, having played with Beyoncé, P!nk, Il Divo, Prince, Roger Nelson, Zucchero, and many others. She has played during two Superbowl half-time shows, with Beyoncé and Prince, separately.
19. Sandy West
Sandy West made history when she founded The Runaways with Joan Jett at the age of 15. They were one of the first all-girl hard rock and metal bands and became more famous than almost any girl group that came before them. West’s remarkable drumming abilities were an essential part of the band’s success, and they especially shone during the band’s international tours.
Sadly, she did not have a long music career after The Runaways disbanded in 1979; her other ventures weren’t successful, and she was forced to find work outside the music industry after the band’s manager, Kim Fowler, withheld her money from her. However, Time Magazine among others referred to her as a pioneer of the modern rock genre.
20. Senri Kawaguchi
Senri Kawaguchi is a Japanese drummer who achieved enormous success at a young age. She was born in Tokyo but moved to the United States at the age of 15 to attend the High School of Music & Art in New York City. She was instantly successful in the school’s drumline and began performing with other professional musicians while she was still in her teens.
Though she considers herself a drummer of Japanese jazz fusion, she has also gained a reputation as a figure in the resurgence of girl bands in Japan.
21. Anika Nilles
Anika Nilles is a German drummer who made a name for herself through social media, particularly her own YouTube channel. She began studying percussion as a child and studied at the University of Popular Music and Music Business.
She gained attention on YouTube not just for her technical skill but also for her creative percussion covers and flamboyant, unique playing style.
22. Georgia Hubley
Georgia Hubley has had a multi-decade-long career in jazz, rock, and indie rock. She was one of the founders of the group Yo La Tengo, which was formed in 1984. During her time in the band, she was recognized for her seamless ability to synchronize with her bandmates with speaking, resulting in flawless improvisation.
Her drumming is heavily influenced by jazz with its free-wandering feel and alternating heavy and delicate percussion.
23. Jody Linscott
Jody Linscott became famous as the drummer for The Who. During their live performances, she was impossible to overlook, with her full drum set, enormous sound, and over-the-top playing style. She favored less-common percussion instruments such as timbales and timpani, lending to her unique sound.
She is invariably named on any list of best drummers, and both Paul McCartney and Elton John have said they considered her one of the greatest drummers in history.
24. Hannah Welton
Hannah Welton is a modern-day professional drummer whose combination of natural talent and classical training brought her under the eye of some of the best musicians of the modern era. She developed an interest in percussion at a young age, and her natural giftedness earned her the tutelage of drumming teachers such as Ruby Alvarez and Louie Bellson.
She attended the Chicago College of Performing Arts, where she was trained by the legendary drummer Paul Wertico. Eventually, Welton’s skills drew the attention of Prince himself, and she toured with him before his death in 2016.
25. Terri Lyne Carrington
Terri Lyne Carrington came from a musical family and was introduced to the jazz scene at a young age. In fact, she was playing with professional musicians while she was still a child. Though she has always emphasized smooth jazz, she has also explored other genres including soul and R&B.
She has won three Grammy awards and was the first woman to win a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album. Carrington has worked with many great musicians, including other female drummers such as Sheila E.
26. Kate Schellenbach
Kate Schellenbach made a name for herself as the drummer for the Beastie Boys, but that wasn’t the end of her career. After making inroads into the funk and punk scene, she provided percussion for the 1990s alternative group Luscious Jackson. She played an important role in developing new drumming styles that crossed genres between pop, rock, funk, punk, alternative rock, and indie rock.
Though she later went into a career in television, working as a producer on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Schellenbach continues to drum professionally, including reuniting with former bandmates.
27. Linda Pitmon
Linda Pitmon developed an interest in drumming in high school as a way to manage symptoms of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. However, it quickly became apparent that she had a rare talent for percussion. After high school, she joined the band Zuzu’s Petals.
She is well-known for her minimalist drumming style, which she says gives her the chance to improvise and work with the music as she wants to. Pitmon also played with Filthy Friends and Wynn’s Miracle Three. She is married to musician Steven Wynn, and they continue to play regularly together.
28. Bobbye Hall
Bobbye Hall was ubiquitous during the 1970s, playing on some of the top hits of the decade. She collaborated with Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye, Carole King, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, and Pink Floyd, among many others. She is widely known for her Latin-inspired percussion, favoring bongos, tambourines, and other similar instruments. From a young age, she was drawn to percussion, “drumming” on household objects before beginning to perform in nightclubs.
During the 1970s, she became well-known for her contributions to the soul jazz genre, attracting the attention of many famous musicians. Hall is also famous for using a wide variety of instruments, including her own body, such as with snaps and claps.
29. Karen Carpenter
Karen Carpenter is mostly remembered as the female vocalist from the brother-sister duo The Carpenters. But her love of music began with percussion and she was a wildly skilled drummer. She played most, if not all, of the drum tracks on at least two of The Carpenters’ albums and was famous for her astounding ability to play the drums and sing at the same time.
Her technique was incredibly skilled, perfectly paired with a soft voice and complex arrangements. Though she passed away at the age of just 32, she was highly respected as a percussionist in her time and is still considered one of the best drummers in history.
30. Honey Lantree
Honey Lantree was an early pioneer in the world of rock and roll and may have been the first female drummer to contribute to a top single. During the British Invasion of the 1960s, she was the drummer for the band The Honeycombs.
She gained widespread attention after their song “Have I The Right” flew to the top of the charts. It heavily emphasizes percussion, giving Lantree a chance to shine in a time when drummers—and female musicians in general—were often overlooked. The band never again had a song as successful as this, but the tune is considered one of the earliest examples of post-punk.
31. Cindy Blackman
Cindy Blackman entered the rock-and-roll scene when female drummers were far from the norm. In fact, she wasn’t just involved in rock-and-roll; her career has spanned genres from jazz to funk and everything in between.
Blackman got her start with Lenny Kravitz and was instrumental in helping grow his popularity. She has an amazing talent for improvisation and recreation, which has helped her refine older techniques in revolutionary ways. Though she is best known for her ability to create pulsing jazz beats, she is also a famously versatile musician for whom no challenge is too complex. Her skilled techniques and ability to explore music have earned her a reputation as one of the best drummers alive today.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
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