When people think guitarists, their minds probably go to rock music.
Additionally, their minds probably also travel to white male guitarists, and maybe a few Black males.
But what about Black female guitarists?
While you could probably name one or two, there are so many you probably have yet to learn about.
So let’s do it!
Black female guitarists do exist, and they’re tremendously talented.
For older names like Sister Rosetta Tharpe to newer musicians like Tracy Chapman, here are some Black female musicians who bring jammin’ to another level.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a popular singer and guitarist in the 1930s and 1940s.
You could say that she paved the way for women, especially when it came to the music industry.
Born in 1915 in Arkansas, she got her musical talents from her mother who was a singer and a mandolin player at her local church.
Tharpe joined her mother in performing at age six.
After settling in Chicago, Tharpe and her mother began performing at religious concerts where Tharpe started to receive great recognition for her talents.
Towards the end of the 1930s, she recorded her first songs and they were instant successes, making Tharpe an overnight sensation.
One song in particular, “Rock Me,” is said to have influenced Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Not only has Sister Rosetta Tharpe become known as “the original soul sister,” but she is also called “the Godmother of rock and roll.”
Cora Fluker grew up in Livingston, Alabama, on a cotton plantation.
A lot of her singing began when she was working with her family.
Fluker began singing spirituals, blues, and ballads.
She was inspired by her uncle who also sang and played the guitar.
She was so inspired that she made her own guitar.
She got some screw wire, a plank, and fashioned her own guitar.
While Cora Fluker couldn’t read or write, she could definitely sing.
Although known for being a great guitarist, she dedicated her life to preaching.
Norma Jean Wofford – “The Duchess”
Norma Jean Wofford was born in 1942 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
While much isn’t known about her life, this is what we do know.
Norma Jean’s career took off when she replaced Peggy Jones as Bo Diddley’s female guitarist.
When fans were displeased with the departure of Jones, Bo Diddley nicknamed Wofford “The Duchess” and told fans that she was his sister.
Bo Diddley also taught her to play the rhythm guitar and she sang alongside the Bo-ettes.
Throughout her four years with the group, from 1962 to 1966, she recorded four albums with them.
After her death in 2005, Bo Diddley described her as “his first sidekick.”
Tracy Chapman is a star by every definition of the word.
While she has taken a step away from the limelight and releasing music, at the height of her career, she was unstoppable.
Chapman was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and was raised by her mother.
When she was three, her mother bought her a ukulele, and her musical journey began.
She began playing the guitar and writing music at age eight, and her stage debut came in 1985 when she was an opening act as Boston’s Strand Theater.
In 1988, at the age of 24, she released her eponymous debut album.
This is where you can hear her songs “Fast Car” and “Talkin’ ‘bout a Revolution.”
The talent behind her album would earn her three Grammy Awards.
Throughout the span of her career, Chapman has released eight albums and currently has four Grammy Awards.
Born in June 1897 in Algiers, Louisiana, Memphis Minnie was known as a blues guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter.
She was born Lizzie Douglas and was the oldest of thirteen.
Because her family nicknamed her “Kid” when she was younger, she began performing under the name Kid Douglas, as she wasn’t fond of the name Lizzie.
A year after moving to Mississippi, she was gifted with a guitar.
She would learn to play the banjo at age 10 and the guitar by 11.
At the young age of 13, she ran away from home to live on Memphis’s Beale Street where she supported herself through sidewalk performances.
This would lead to her touring with the Ringling Brothers Circus from 1916 to 1920.
She was then discovered by Columbia Records where they changed her name to Memphis Minnie, and called her husband, and duo Kansas Joe.
Over the next few years, she would record hundreds of songs, her most popular being “Bumble Bee,” “Nothing in Rambling,” and “Me and My Chauffeur Blues.”
Felicia Collins might be a familiar face to you.
Born in Jackson, Tennessee, Collins was shortly relocated to the Bronx, before she spent her childhood growing up in Albany.
She bought her guitar at a young age, and it was actually while she was studying graphic design in college that she really began focusing on her music.
She began playing with local musicians and was asked to play guitar for the Thompson Twins, a British Pop Band.
She would soon begin working with Al Jarreau where she would eventually become the lead guitarist.
As I mentioned before, you might recognize Collins, and that would be because of her work with the CBS Orchestra.
In 1993, Collins worked on Cyndi Lauper’s Hat Full of Stars, and afterwards, Paul Shaffer, the bandleader, asked to join.
After accepting, Felicia Collins performed with the CBS Orchestra for the Late Show with David Letterman from 1993 to the show’s ending in 2015.
She has since performed in Off-Broadway productions and was even asked to perform a tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe at the 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions.
While her earliest beginnings are pretty vague with her bouncing around from state to state, Kat Dyson’s push to play music came from her mother.
She was one of seven children, and she had an early interest in music.
Her mother would give her Mahalia Jackson and Ella Fitzgerald records to listen to.
After singing in her school choir, Dyson asked her mother for a guitar.
Although her mother passed away shortly after, Dyson credits her playing the guitar because her mother believed she could.
During the mid-90s, Dyson would become a part of New Power Generation where she played alongside Prince.
She worked on numerous Prince albums, and that’s not where her work ends.
She played alongside musicians like Mavis Staples, Jimmie Vaughan, and B.B. King.
She has lent her talents to works for the Eurythmics, Paul Shaffer, and Cyndi Lauper.
Born in Leesville, South Carolina, Linda Martell’s musical career began in a gospel group alongside her brothers.
Her first recorded single was in 1962 before she joined Plantation Records, a record company she would later cite as what led to her retirement.
During this time, she has a top 25 hit with the song “Color Him Father.”
She also made appearances on Hee Haw and was the first Black woman to perform at the Grand Ole Opry.
She would retire from music in 1974.
In an interview with Rolling Stones, Martell said she expressed to Singleton, the president of the company, that the label’s name had connotations of slavery.
She also expressed that promoters would cancel events when she arrived because they didn’t know she was Black.
While Martell’s career was cut short, she definitely paved the way for Black and female artists after her.
Joan Armatrading was born in Saint Kitts before her family relocated to England when she was three.
Armatrading’s father spent his youth in a band, however, he forbade his children from touching his guitar.
Even so, Joan Armatrading began writing songs at the age of 14 on a piano her parents had in their home.
Shortly after, her mom bought her a guitar from a pawn shop, and Joan began teaching herself how to play.
Her first performance was in the late 1960s where her brother asked her to perform at Birmingham University.
She would eventually perform around the neighborhood before she joined a touring production for the musical Hair.
This is where she met Pam Nestor who wrote 11 of the 14 songs that appeared on Armatrading’s debut album Whatever’s For Us.
The singer and guitarist has since put out 19 albums and has earned three Grammy Award nominations.
Etta Baker’s musical career began at a very young age.
Born in North Carolina, she began playing the guitar at three years old.
Her father, a player of the Piedmont blues, taught her several instruments which included both the 6- and 12-string acoustic guitar as well as the five string banjo.
Paul Clayton, a folk singer during the 50s and 60s, recorded Baker on a tape recorder and later released these guitar solos on his 1956 album.
It wasn’t until Baker worked with the Music Maker Relief Fund that she was able to get the rights back for the music he stole.
Baker would go on to receive the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award in 1989 and she was nominated for several Blues Music Awards.
The guitarist died at the age of 93, having spent 90 playing the Piedmont blues.
Definitely one of the more contemporary names on this list, you’d probably be more familiar with her work than most others on this list.
Rhonda Smith hails from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, before her family moved to Montreal when she was a child.
Her parents encourage her, as well as her three siblings, to play music.
This would lead to Smith playing the keyboards, guitar, and electric bass.
She would later attend McGill University where she studied jazz performance.
She even won the Juno Award for “Best Contemporary Jazz Album.”
Notably, she is also known for her work in the recording of Prince’s album Emancipation.
In addition to Prince, Rhonda Smith has also worked with Beyonce, Chaka Khan, and Erykah Badu.
When you hear who Divinity Roxx has worked with, you’ll definitely be familiar with her work.
Roxx’s career began in 2000 after she left a Bass Nature Camp and was asked by Victor Wooten to join his band.
Eventually, this would lead to Divinity Roxx’s career alongside Beyonce.
In 2006, she joined Beyonce’s performance team as a bassist and would eventually become Musical Director for “The Beyonce Experience” and “I Am… World Tour.”
You can also see her in the music video for “Irreplaceable.”
Divinity Roxx has performed at The White House, on the Grammys and BET AWards, and has performed on Saturday Night Live and Good Morning America.
Beverly “Guitar” Watkins
Beverly, like many musicians, took to music at a young age.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, she began playing music in school and eventually played bass for her high school band.
When she was around the age of 20, she joined a blues troupe and played around the Atlanta metro area.
The group, often known as Piano Red and The Interns, had two successful singles, one of them being “Dr. Feelgood.”
The group would break up a few years later, but that didn’t stop Watkins’s career.
She would later work with artists like James Brown, Ray Charles, and B.B. King.
After being rediscovered by the Music Maker Relief Foundation, Watkins was able to put about her debut CD in 1999 which earned her a Blues Music Awards nomination.
While you’d probably recognize Lauryn Hill for singing, it’s important to stress that she is also a musician.
Growing up in South Orange, New Jersey, Hill began singing at middle school basketball games.
She then appeared on amateur night at It’s Showtime at the Apollo.
While she began as a singer, we all know that she would eventually work on rapping as well.
As she continued to work on her skills through local showcases and talent shows, she also took acting classes in Manhattan which would eventually lead to her appearance in Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit.
Her musical ambitions would lead her to The Fugees, and their success came with their second album The Score.
The album would lead to the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album and it is currently listed as one of Rolling Stones best 500 greatest albums of all time.
Later, Lauryn Hill would go on to have her own solo career.
Her career would continue to grow with the release of her first solo debut album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
Hill currently has three American Music Awards, two Billboard Music Awards, and eight Grammy Awards.
African American Woman Guitarists, Conclusion
These aren’t the only Black female guitarists who know how to jam on their guitars.
There are guitarists like Odetta, Sylvia Robinson, and more.
If you know more, feel free to drop their names in the comments!
We are all for elevating Black people.
While we continue to dominate in hip hop and R&B, it’s important to remember that those two genres aren’t all encompassing of Black people.
You just have to know where to look.
And you can always trust that ThatSister will be a hub to help introduce you to talented Black people in all avenues of life.