The Women Who Defined Grunge Music

Throughout the history of grunge music, it’s often the men who get all or most of the glory. From Kurt Cobain to Chris Cornell, Layne Staley to Eddie Vedder, it’s the fellas who get all the limelight.

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Too often, the women who made major impacts on music are forgotten—or at least not highlighted properly. So we wanted to showcase a significant group of women who inspired the genre, raged in the songs, and gave many hope they could do the same.

[RELATED: The Daughters of Grunge: How a New Musical Generation is Blooming from the Sludge]

It’s thanks to these artists we got folks like Carrie Brownstein, Kathleen Hanna, and many more.

1. Courtney Love

The frontwoman of the Los Angeles-born band Hole, Courtney Love is likely the most famous gal of grunge, given that she was a songwriter and performer during the genre’s height in the 1990s and because she was married to the King of Grunge, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. With melancholic songs like “Doll Parts” and an attitude that could send shock waves through Standards and Practices, Love was just what grunge needed, a powerful matriarch.

2. Tina Bell

Tina Bell came up in the home of grunge—Seattle—in the 1980s with her band Bam Bam, which she was in with her husband, Tommy Martin. The group, which also featured future Pearl Jam and Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron, influenced many of the grunge bands to come, despite the fact that Bell never got her full due. A Black frontwoman, Bell’s legacy continues to make waves today, despite her death in 2012.

3. Mia Zapata

While Mia Zapata’s band The Gits had one foot in riot grrrl and one foot in grunge, the group didn’t really identify with either. But listening to the music, it’s clear there were connections to both feminist and sludgy genres. Sadly, Zapata never got to see the fruits of her work pay off, as she was murdered in Seattle while coming home from a shift at the bar where she worked. Nevertheless, her impact continues today.

4. Carrie Akre

Carrie Akre was in two major rock bands in Seattle in the 1990s, Hammerbox and Goodness. Both bands made major waves in the Pacific Northwest, which was the center of the grunge movement in the late 20th century. Today, Akre plays with a grunge legend (Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready) in their rejuvenated band The Rockfords. As a grunge rock frontwoman, it didn’t get much better than Akre on the mic. She had a low range, a great sense of melody, and lyrics that pierced.

5. Donita Sparks

The Chicago-born frontwoman for the Los Angeles punk-rock-meets-grunge band L7, Donita Sparks knew how to rage. If you’ve ever seen someone snarl, that is the energy that swirls inside Sparks’ soul. She rampages, compels, and knows how to rise up from the mud like a vine. Check her out in the video below. She amazes with every growl.

6. Dolores O’Riordan

While some may quibble with this designation, Dolores O’Riordan and her Irish-born band The Cranberries knew how to keep it rock and keep it dark. Their hit “Zombie” was as grunge-worthy as anything from the PNW. O’Riordan helped inspire many others like her to take up singing, put on some dark clothes, armor up with their truth, and make their musical mark.

Editor’s note: this piece originally cited Shirley Manson as the lead singer of the Cranberries, when it is Dolores O’Riordan, obviously

Photo by Ke.Mazur/WireImage

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