Influential Women in Music

To kick off International Women’s Day programming, we’re showcasing individual picks for influential women in music throughout the week.

Aretha Franklin - Queen of Soul

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Aretha Franklin was a singer, songwriter, actress, pianist and civil rights activist. Aretha Franklin is known to be the defining star of the “golden age of soul music of the 1960s.” Franklin’s musical career spans over 7 decades and during that time she was able to amass 18 Grammys and six American Music Awards. Franklin also received three special awards from the Grammys, the Legend Award, Lifetime Achievement Award and MusiCares Person of the Year. She is known for hits such as “Respect”, “I Say a Little Prayer” and “Freeway of Love”. Aretha Franklin has sold over 75 million records worldwide and had held the top spot of having the most songs to debut on the Billboard Top 100 before being dethroned by Nicki Minaj in 2017. While she is known as the Queen of Soul, she has also produced gospel and R&B tracks. 

In August 2018, Aretha passed away from pancreatic cancer. While I didn’t grow up listening to Aretha Franklin it’s quite clear that she has had a great impact on the music industry. There have been multiple artists who have said the Queen of Soul has had an influence on the musical stylings of other artists such as Jennifer Hudson or Luther Vandross. While she may be gone, her legacy lives on.



Singer/songwriter Halsey first appeared on my radar in early 2015 after a friend sent me a link to their “Ghost - 1 Mic 1 Take” performance. Born Ashley Nicolette Frangipane, she took inspiration from an upbringing in New Jersey and New York. The moniker itself is both an anagram of their birth name and a nod to Halsey Street in Brooklyn, which they credit as being the birthplace of her song writing journey. She skyrocketed to mainstream success with debut album Badlands, released on August 28th, 2015. Debuting at #2 on the Billboard 200 chart, the album touring cycle ended with a headlining show at Madison Square Garden, where presale tickets sold out in 24 hours. Their follow up album Hopeless Fountain Kingdom was released in 2017, debuting at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart. This achievement was doubly monumental as she was the first woman that year to have a number one charting album.

Halsey’s down to earth persona and relatability easily settled into a new niche of modern dark pop. Their lyrics read as an untouched journal entry written from the perspective of someone discovering themselves in a rapidly changing world while trying to stay connected to what is familiar. Her blend of ethereal, emotionally gripping alternative/electro pop that touches on topics such as LGBTQ+ relationships, mental health, and complicated family dynamics, is partially inspired by personal experience. Her influence as a public figure extends to an involvement in advocacy work. In June 2020, they launched the Black Creators Fund. Entirely funded by the Halsey team, the initiative aims to provide “resources, information, and points of contact” for Black creators to help them launch their platforms. The combination of her unique discography, artistic process, and usage of their platform to encourage involvement with social justice activism, has made them a household name.