The Best Female Folk Musicians You Need to Know

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Here are some of the best female folk musicians you should know, including Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, and Emmylou Harris.

Joan Baez

Joan Baez is a folk singer and songwriter who first gained prominence in the early 1960s. A leading voice in the protest movement of the 1960s and 1970s, Baez’s music often reflects her political beliefs. She has released more than 30 albums over her career and is considered one of the most influential female musicians of her generation.

Judy Collins

An American folk singer and songwriter, Judy Collins is known for her clear voice and interpretations of traditional and contemporary folk songs. A child prodigy, she began playing the piano at the age of five and started performing in clubs and coffeehouses in her teens. She released her first album, A Maid of Constant Sorrow, in 1961, and since then has released more than 50 albums. Judy Collins is also a well-respected author, having written several books including an autobiography and a novel. In recent years, she has been active as a social activist, particularly in support of gun control.

Emmylou Harris

Emmylou Harris is an American singer, songwriter and musician. She has released dozens of albums and singles over the course of her four-decade career. She is considered one of the best female folk musicians of her generation.

Harris was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1947. She began her musical career playing country music in clubs and bars in the South. She rose to prominence in the 1970s with her albums “Pieces of the Sky” and “Elite Hotel.” She has won multiple Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008.

Harris’ music has been influenced by a variety of genres, including country, folk, rock, blues and pop. Her songs are often about love, loss and heartache. She has collaborated with a number of well-known artists, including Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Neil Young.

Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton is an American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, actress, author, businesswoman, and humanitarian, known primarily for her work in country music. Her compositions have been recorded by other artists more than any other songwriter in the history of modern music. She has 35 number-one hits on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart as a solo artist; a record for a female artist. She has had 25 songs reach the top of the Billboard Country charts, a record for any artist. she has released 42 studio albums, 10 compilation albums, and four live albums.

Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell is a Canadian singer-songwriter who is widely regarded as one of the best female folk musicians of all time. She has released more than 20 albums and has received numerous awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and the Polar Music Prize. Mitchell is known for her lyrical and musical honesty, as well as her adventurous use of alternative tunings and open chord voicings.

Gillian Welch

Gillian Welch is an American singer-songwriter who performs with her musical partner, David Rawlings. She is known for her ” traditional folk” style, which often includes elements of old-time music. Welch has released eight albums, including the Grammy-nominated The Harrow & The Harvest (2011).

Natalie Merchant

With a career spanning over three decades, Natalie Merchant is one of the most respected and well-loved female folk musicians of our time. A true artist in every sense of the word, Natalie has always followed her own muse, fearlessly exploring new musical territory and expanding the boundaries of what is possible in folk music.

Natalie got her start in the early 1980s as the lead singer and primary songwriter for the indie rock band 10,000 Maniacs. With hits like “These Are Days” and “Candy Everybody Wants,” 10,000 Maniacs became one of the most successful bands of their era, earning critical acclaim and a loyal following of fans.

In 1993, Natalie embarked on a solo career with the release of her debut album Tigerlily. The album was an instant success, going platinum and spawning the hit single “Wonder.” Over the next few years, Natalie would release a string of celebrated albums including Ophelia ( 1998) and Motherland ( 2001), cementing her reputation as one of the most talented and original singer-songwriters of her generation.

Natalie is also known for her fearless political activism and her commitment to social justice. She is a passionate advocate for environmental causes and has been involved in numerous charitable organizations over the years. In recent years, she has been particularly involved in raising awareness about human trafficking and modern slavery.

If you’re looking for intelligent, thought-provoking folk music with a message of hope and resilience, look no further than Natalie Merchant – she is sure to inspire you!

Kate Bush

Kate Bush is a British singer, songwriter and record producer. Her eclectic musical style and idiosyncratic vocal performance have made her one of the United Kingdom’s most successful solo female artists of all time. Although she has been variously described as a pop icon and a national treasure, Bush has said herself that she considers herself more of an “experimental” musician.

Bush was born in Bexleyheath, Kent, to English medical doctor Robert Bush and his wife, Hannah Daniels. She was raised as a Catholic in nearby South East London and began writing songs when she was 11 years old. She recorded her first demo tape at the age of 13, which led to a publishing deal with EMI Music Publishing. She signed with EMI Records when she was 16 years old and released her debut album The Kick Inside in 1978.

The album debuted at number three on the UK Albums Chart and has since been certified Platinum by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). It was followed by Never for Ever (1980), which reached number one in the UK, making Bush the first female artist to achieve a self-written number-one single on the UK Singles Chart with “Wuthering Heights”.

Other notable albums include Hounds of Love (1985), The Sensual World (1989) and Aerial (2005). Throughout her career, Bush has received numerous awards and nominations, including five Brit Award wins. She has also been nominated for three Grammy Awards. In 2002, she was awarded an Outstanding Contribution to Music Award at the Q Awards. In 2014, she received a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for “services to music”.

Shawn Colvin

Shawn Colvin is an American singer-songwriter and musician known for her vocal style, guitar work, and lyrical storytelling. Active since the late 1970s, she has released thirteen albums and won three Grammy Awards, including two for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Raised in rural South Dakota and Texas, Colvin began playing guitar in her teens and joined a rock band while attending university. She moved to New York City in 1974 after graduating with a degree in psychology, where she worked as a waitress while performing folk music at clubs and coffeehouses on the city’s Lower East Side.

Mary Chapin Carpenter

Mary Chapin Carpenter is an American folk singer and songwriter. She has released 15 albums, including her 1992 debut album Hometown Girl, which went platinum. Carpenter’s music is characterized by her acoustic guitar playing and her singer-songwriter lyrics. Her work often addresses issues of social justice, particularly with regard to gender and violence.

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