6 Of The Greatest Female Bassists of All Time

The best bassists are felt in the groove, not heard over top of it, and the greatest female bassists of all time are certainly no exception. These talented instrumentalists are the driving forces behind some of the best cuts, albums, and genres of modern musical history, showcasing their ability to not just stay in the pocket but dictate where that pocket is in the first place. 

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We should also note this is hardly a definitive list. Mentioning every single woman who has mastered their manipulation of the low end would require an encyclopedia’s worth of pages. For clarity and brevity’s sake, we’re listing some (but certainly not every) amazing female bassist spanning the last six decades or so.

Carol Kaye

A list of the greatest female bassists wouldn’t be complete—dare we say, accurate—without mentioning Carol Kaye. An accomplished member of the Wrecking Crew and prolific studio musician, Kaye’s invariable grooves are on tens of thousands of records of all genres. From Frank Sinatra to Sonny and Cher to the Monkees to the Beach Boys, Kaye’s ability to craft the perfect bass line for a song she might’ve only heard for the first time that day made her one of the most sought-after session bassists in southern California.

Tina Weymouth

David Byrne might have been the face of the Talking Heads, but Tina Weymouth was the feel. As a founding member of the new wave band, Weymouth solidified the group’s unique sound by incorporating elements of punk and funk into her writing. Despite this, she often faced rampant sexism both during her time in the band from fellow bandmates to the decades that followed. Although she’s often pushed to the side in favor of Byrne’s larger-than-life persona, Weymouth turned Byrne’s eccentricities into something pop-sensible.

Gail Ann Dorsey

Gail Ann Dorsey is responsible for the infectious rhythms on records and live performances of artists like David Bowie, Tears for Fears, Gwen Stefani, Ani DiFranco, Seal, Boy George, and more. She’s also a solo artist, having released three solo records from the late 1980s to the early 2000s. Bass Player magazine awarded Dorsey with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021. Although she had been playing bass since she was a young teenager, Dorsey originally attended the California Institute of the Arts for filmmaking before focusing on music after just a few semesters.

Kim Deal

Kim Deal of the Pixies, Breeders, and Amps fame is living proof that the best bassists are felt, not heard. Deal’s consistency and minimalist approach to writing bass parts allowed the rest of the band to flourish on a rock-solid foundation. While she often excludes herself from the category of “real bass players,” her no-frills approach to bass playing has influenced countless musicians. Because, in the end, Deal doesn’t need drawn-out solos and complex riffs to prove she’s a great bass player. The grooves speak for themselves. 

Suzi Quatro

While Suzi Quatro certainly wasn’t the first notable female bassist (Carol Kaye was doing session work when Quatro was still in elementary school), Suzi Q is one of the greatest on-stage female bassists. Getting her start in the 1960s garage bands The Pleasure Seekers and, later, Cradle, the iconic bassist was one of the first women to become a forward-facing figure of the rock genre. She also dove into other creative pursuits, boasting a recurring role on Happy Days among other television, theater, and radio gigs.

Rhonda Smith

When Prince says, “This is Rhonda, and she is funky,” you know you’ve done something right as a bass player. Such was the case for Nova Scotian-born bassist Rhonda Smith, who was Prince’s touring and recording bassist for nearly a decade. Smith has also contributed her undeniably funky grooves to other soul and R&B artists like Chaka Khan, Beyoncé, Erykah Badu, and rock and roll greats like Jeff Beck. She received a Juno Award (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) for Best Contemporary Jazz Album for her work with Jim Hillman and the Merlin Factor.

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