American Songwriter Readers Vote Greatest Female Songwriters of All Time

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We asked and you answered. American Songwriter turned to their social channels (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) to toss out a question to our readers. The question? Who is the greatest female songwriter of all time?

Our readers answered in droves. After tallying responses on all three social networks we narrowed it down to the top 10 vote-getters. The submissions were plentiful with names such as Patti Smith, Nina Simone, Lorde, and Joan Armatrading tossed about. However, there were 10 songwriters that made it to the top of the list.

Here are your choices for the Greatest Female Songwriter of All Time.

10. Lori McKenna

Photo by Thomas Heney

Lori McKenna is one of the most in-demand songwriters in the music industry. She won her third Grammy Award for Best Country Song for The Highwomen’s “Crowded Table” in 2021. Previously she took home CMA Song of the Year back-to-back wins for Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” and Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind” and Best Country Song at the Grammy Awards for “Girl Crush” and “Humble and Kind” in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Moreover, she became the first female to ever win Songwriter of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards in 2017.

9. Aimee Mann

Photo by Sheryl Nields

Aimee Mann’s career spans five decades beginning with her role in the ‘80s trio ‘Til Tuesday where she co-wrote their hit song “Voices Carry.” Her first solo album, Whatever, in 1993, followed by I’m With Stupid in 1995, established Mann as a top singer/songwriter. She later won an Academy Award in 1999 for her work on the Magnolia soundtrack, which includes the song she penned, “Save Me.” Mann also took home the Granny Award for Best Folk Album for her 2018 album Mental Illness. The 61-year-old Mann has since released 8 studio albums, including her latest Queens of the Summer Hotel in 2021.

8. Brandi Carlile

Photo by Pamela Neal / Sacks & Co.

Brandi Carlile has released seven studio albums and earned 18 Grammy Award nominations, breaking through in 2007 with her gold album, The Story, and hit single of the same name. She was the most nominated female at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards. The talented artist released a new best-selling memoir, Broken Horses, and a new LP, In These Silent Days, and formed an all-female quartet with Amanda Shires, Maren Morris, and Natalie Hemby called the Highwomen. Along with writing songs like “The Joke” and “The Story,” Carlile has penned songs for artists like Tanya Tucker, Miranda Lambert, and the Secret Sisters.

7. Stevie Nicks

Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images for iHeartMedia

With songs like “Dreams,” “Landslide” and “Edge of Seventeen” under her belt, it’s no wonder Nicks is on the list. Add to it “Rhiannon,” “Leather and Lace” and “Stand Back” and you have yourself a bonafide hit songwriter. Beginning her career as a duo with then-boyfriend Lindsay Buckingham, Nicks joined Fleetwood Mac in 1975, catapulting her career and the band. Nicks is the first woman to be inducted twice into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (with Fleetwood Mac and as a solo artist)

6. Diane Warren

Photo by Erik Melvin / Chasen & Company PR

Odds are, you’ve heard a Diane Warren song. And probably on the soundtrack of your favorite movie. While Warren may not perform her own hits, she’s a master songwriter, penning some of music’s biggest hits, including “If I Could Turn Back Time” by Cher, “Because You Loved Me” by Celine Dion, “How Do I Live” by LeAnn Rimes, and “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith. 
Warren has written nine No. 1 songs and 32 Top 10 songs and has won a Grammy Award, an Emmy, and two Golden Globes. According to Billboard, she is the first songwriter to have seven hits, all by different artists, on the singles chart at the same time.

5. Lucinda Williams

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One of the most revered songwriters in music, Lucinda Williams gained attention with her song “Passionate Kisses.” While Williams recorded it in 1988, to critical acclaim, it was when Mary Chapin Carpenter released the tune in 1993 that brought widespread recognition—Williams received a Grammy award (her first) for Country Song of the Year. The success opened doors for Williams who went on to release several critically-acclaimed albums, featuring songs “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” “Honey Bee,” “Can’t Let Go,” and “Joy. ” One of the trailblazers of Americana music, Williams was the first female recipient of the AMA’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting.

4. Taylor Swift

Photo by Beth Garrabrant / Universal

One of the most predominant singer/songwriters of the past decade, Taylor Swift became the first female to be awarded Songwriter-Artist of the Decade (2010-2019) in 2022. She wields her mighty pen as an extension of herself, creating mega hits like, “Love Story,” “Fearless,” “Bad Blood,” “Back to December,” All to Well,” and “Anti-Hero,” just to name a few.

“I write in real-time, I write these moments in time. The songs are written when I’m feeling what I’m discussing in the song, so it’s all sort of done when it’s happening,” Swift told David Letterman of her songwriting process.

Swift has made her mark in the annals of music, so much so that her fan base—Swifties—has become a part of the American lexicon. With her songwriting, she has pulled at our heartstrings, made us cry, and had us shaking it off with excitement—and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

3. Carole King

Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Carole King is one of the most significant songwriters of all time. Having written or co-written 118 pop hits dating back to the late ’50s, King was already selling songs to publishing companies, while writing songs for her vocal quartet, Co-Sines, and making demo albums with her schoolmate Paul Simon. By the 1960s, King met her soon-to-be husband and co-writer Gerry Goffin and went on to write some of the biggest hits.

“Working with Gerry had such an impact on everything I’ve done ever since,” King said. “He was the soul of what I was writing because to me, my idea of lyrics at the time—they filled spaces where music was but they didn’t have the depth that his lyrics did. When I did start to write lyrics, I understood on some primal level what was soulful and what was not.”

While she has written many hits for other artists, including, “Loco-motion,” “One Fine Day,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and “Take Good Care of My Baby,” King gained additional success as a performer writing her own songs such as, “It’s Too Late,” “Far Away,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” and “I Feel the Earth Move,” featured on her 1971 album, Tapestry.

2. Dolly Parton

Photo by Jeremy Westby / 2911 Media

Parton’s imagination is an integral part of her songwriting process, leading her to start writing songs at an early age. Since then, she’s published hundreds of songs and written thousands more. Parton has graced us with classics like “I Will Always Love You,” “9 to 5” and “Jolene” to name a few, cementing her place on the list of iconic songwriters.

“I’ve always prided myself as a songwriter more than anything else,” Dolly once told American Songwriter. “That’s my personal feelings. That’s not to say that’s what I do best. That’s my way of speaking for myself and speaking for life the way I see it. It’s an ability that I have and I’ve always loved being able to express myself.”

1. Joni Mitchell

Coming in at the top of the list, Joni Mitchell has written some of the most essential songs of our time, including “Blue,” “River,” and “Tin Angel.” Having honed her craft in coffee houses and folk clubs during the mid-to-late ‘60s, Mitchell embarked on a free-ranging career that remains without precedent. A 10-time Grammy Award winner, Kennedy Center Honor recipient, and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member, she quickly became a sensation known for her poetic verse, defiant honesty, daring investigation, and fluid playing.

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