Playing the drums is one of the best feelings in the world. Sure there’s chocolate cake. And procreation. But neither lasts as long or is as sinlessly satisfying. It’s no wonder, then, that women are also as interested in drumming as men. So why do we hardly ever hear about female drummers?
It turns out there’s a long history of women drummers that goes back, well, maybe as long as there have been people. But at certain points in different societies, it probably became taboo for women to drum like men, or at least frowned upon.
Well, those times are over. In our modern world, women are well established in music, and drumming is no exception. So, here are the female drummers you should know.
Moe Tucker (Velvet Underground, Half Japanese, Lou Reed, solo)
Moe Tucker is as good a person to start with as any. She’s one of the most influential female drummers in one of the most influential bands of the past 50 years. Oops, over 50 years. The Velvet Underground & Nico album came out in 1967!
Tucker is known as a minimalist drummer and perhaps the godmother of punk drumming. She has expressed a basic dislike of cymbals which, after all, are not drums, and she is a drummer.
A true innovator…
So her work in the Velvet Underground was drum-heavy and cymbal light. Giving the band a very unusual backing sound for the times. In her later work, she used cymbals but kept her beats minimal, sparse, and perfectly timed.
She played standing up as opposed to sitting on a throne which gave her easier access to the kick drum. And used a simplified kit of toms, a snare, an upturned kick drum, and played with mallets as opposed to drumsticks. As mentioned, she rarely used cymbals.
Meg White (The White Stripes)
If Moe Tucker was minimal in her playing, Meg White showed herself to be an even more basic and yet hugely successful drummer. Along with husband/fake sibling Jack White, the White Stripes played stripped-down rock with a garage attitude.
Meg White started drumming on a whim and was completely untrained. Yet, she managed to lay down some heavy, hard-hitting beats that defined the drum and guitar combo.
Sheila Escovedo (Marvin Gaye, Prince, solo)
If the name Sheila Escovedo doesn’t ring your bell, try the name Sheila E. This solo pop/funk singer started as a drummer and percussionist in the late 1970s. That’s where she perfected her funk chops, playing hard and heavy, with a real funk feel.
Sheila E. loves funk’s ghost notes and feeling the space between the beats. That’s probably why she was Prince’s top touring drummer for his band back in the 80s.
Since then, Sheila E branched out on her own, making a career for herself as a power-pop singer. But can she still play the drums? Oh, most definitely!
Hannah Welton (Pandorum, Bellevue Suite, 3rdeyegirl / Prince)
Since I’m talking about great female drummers who played with Prince, I have to mention Hannah Wheaton. As a professionally trained musician, Wheaton’s chops are clean and heavy. She’s a hard-hitter who’s comfortable with jazz, rock, pop, funk, Latin beats, and whatever else gets thrown at her.
After completing her education at the Chicago College of Performing Arts, Welton played around with Chicago area groups. It was then that she was scouted by Prince for his newest backup band, 3rdeyegirl, and rocked with them until Prince died in 2016.
Samantha Maloney (Hole, Motley Crue, Eagles of Death Metal, Peaches, The Chelsea)
Speaking of rock drummers, it’s time to bring in some heavyweights. The first is Samantha Maloney, a power-packing hard hitter who joined Courtney Love’s grungy glam band Hole at age 22. Maloney quickly learned how to manage the rock and roll lifestyle, touring with Hole around America and the world at the height of their popularity.
After Hole, Maloney has been offered numerous thrones with different acts as varied as Motley Crue, Peaches, and Eagles of Death Metal. She also produces and has managed up-and-coming bands. Maloney is known for powerful driving beats and hard-hitting stamina.
Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney, Stephen Malkmus, and the Jicks, The Shins, Quasi)
I know what you’re thinking. Janet from Rocky Horror Picture Show never played the drums! Right – different Janet Weiss.
This Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney fame is one of the most solid, dependable, and hard-working female drummers I know of. She plays rock like she was born to bash out the beats and with confidence and an assured sense of timing. That gives the many, and I mean many, acts that she has contributed to a solid foundation upon which to build their musical ideas.
Cindy Blackman Santana (Joss Stone, Buckethead, Lenny Kravitz, Carlos Santana, solo)
Cindy Blackman Santana, or usually called just Cindy Blackman, is a well-known drummer who has a solid background in jazz, rock, funk, and more.
She attended Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music and gigged around New York City, honing her craft and listening to great drummers. Then, in 1993, she began playing with Lenny Kravitz and has continued this relationship for 18 years.
Blackman is also a solo artist and accomplished bandleader, having recorded multiple records with her own bands. She plays and also teaches across a range of styles. But is best known for her jazz, Latin, and funk beats. It probably doesn’t hurt that she’s also married to guitar legend Carlos Santana.
Terri Lyne Carrington (Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Esperanza Spalding, Stan Getz, solo)
While Cindy Blackman studied at Berklee, Terri Lyne Carrington was a professor there. This should tell you something about her musical ability and experience. She has three, count them, three Grammy Awards under her belt, including the 2013 award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album. She was the first woman to win in this category.
Carrington is fast and furious on the drums. As a jazz drummer, she is at home in just about any tempo and time signature you can think of. She also composes her own works and has led her various bands on several solo albums. As a drummer, this woman is a living legend!
Dame Evelyn Glennie (Bjork, Bobby McFerrin, Steve Hackett, Bela Fleck, solo)
That’s right, “Dame.” This percussionist was appointed as Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2007. Is there still a British Empire? Who cares! It just means she has been recognized as an incredible musician and cultural icon.
Glennie has recorded numerous solo albums and work on other artists’ tracks. She collaborates and plays with orchestras and ensembles around the world, scores film soundtracks, and has even been on Sesame Street. Oh yeah, and she’s deaf. Glennie is usually found playing barefoot so that she can “hear” vibrations of the music through her feet. Now that’s legendary.
Up-And-Coming Female Drummers
After all these incredible musicians, there are still some names to run through. The female drummers you should know have to include those women making names for themselves online. Through recording drum covers, tutorials, and their own work, many female drummers are changing the scene by shaking up how drumming celebrity works.
To name a few…
Metal drummer Meytal Cohen made her way up the musical ladder. Her channel of drum covers of heavy songs has garnered her millions of subscribers and tens of millions of views.
Anika Nilles is an extremely talented jazz and rock drummer who also teaches online and records tutorials. The clips of her unique compositions and her teaching videos have helped hundreds of thousands of aspiring drummers, both female, and male.
Senri Kawaguchi also inspires with her tight jazz style and insane sense of rhythm. And don’t forget intense drummer Sarah Thawer rocks her kit to covers and originals while also teaching complex Indian rhythmic patterns.
Want to become a better drummer?
Then you’re going to need the best equipment, so check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Beginner Drum Set, the Best Jazz Drum Sets, the Best Cheap Beginner Electronic Drum Sets Under $500, the Best Portable Drum Kits, the Best Drum Practice Pads, the Best Snare Drums, and the Best Drumsticks you can buy in 2021.
Plus, don’t miss our handy guides on Different Types of Drums, How To Set Up Your Drums, How to Play Drums, and How To Build Your Own Soundproof Home Studio For Drums for more helpful hints and tips.
Not Even Close to All The Female Drummers You Should Know
There are so many more gifted, talented, and popular female drummers out there, that I can’t possibly hope to put together a comprehensive list. However, I do hope that I’ve at least highlighted some of the most influential, the most unique, and the grooviest women who’ve beaten the skins in the past 50 something years.
But things are changing these days. With the advent of social media and home studio recording, it’s now easier and more accessible for drummers to get their beats heard. This is true for up-and-coming female drummers who can make cover videos, play their own originals, or even give tutorials online.
This new generation of drummers is both competing to push drumming to the next level and inspiring more girls and women to get into drumming. If you’re one of these potential drumming legends, look to these new and legendary players. Their techniques and experiences can help you to achieve what few women have in the past – shredding the drum kit like it’s on fire.
Until next time, may the beat go on.