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(NO?) Strings Attached:
Female guitarists in contemporary music

(Released July 2009)

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  by Les Reynolds  


Key Citations



A Short List of Others


Provided here is a short list of female guitarists who have contributed in some significant way to paving a path for others, or simply through ability and perseverance have played a large role in raising awareness of female talent on the guitar:

Cindy Cashdollar: (b. 1956), steel and lap slide guitarist. First female lead guitarist for the previously all-male Western swing band Asleep at the Wheel-a position she held for eight years and for which she received five Grammy awards. (34)

Cindy Cashdollar
Cindy Cashdollar

Rory Block: (b. Aurora Block, 1949), American female blues guitarist and singer, a preserver and notable exponent of the country blues style. She learned her craft in the 1960s in her father's New York City shoe shop due to the folk singers and rediscovered Delta bluesmen who gathered there. (35)

Rory Block on YouTube
Rory Block, YouTube, "Crossroad Blues"

Ana Popovic
Ana Popovic performs at the Heritage Blues Festival, Wheeling, West Virginia, August, 2005
Ana Popovic: (b. Belgrade, Serbia, 1976), was first introduced to the blues through her father's extensive record collection and sessions hosted in the family home. Popovic, a quick study, founded her first serious band at age 19 and was playing outside her country in less than a year. She has relocated to the Netherlands (originally to study jazz guitar), although she remains a fixture on the European blues scene (due to her skill on slide guitar) and has toured several times in the United States. She is noted for her diversity and ease in switching from one style or genre to another. (36)

Sharon Isbin: (b. 1956 Minnesota). She has been called a "brilliant virtuoso," "classical guitar's reigning diva" and "one who plays with mesmerizing finesse" (quotes from the London Times, Dallas Morning News and Los Angeles Times). The Grammy-Award winning artist has been acclaimed for her lyricism, technique and versatility, with over 25 recordings spanning Baroque, Spanish/Latin and 20th century to crossover and jazz-fusion. (37)

Lily Afshar: Along with Isbin, this Iranian-American is noted as one of the world's best female classical guitarists, having been critically acclaimed by numerous organizations and won multiple awards. She was in 1986 among the 12 international guitarists selected to play for Maestro Andres Segovia in his Master classes at the University of Southern California, in which Segovia praised her skill. Afshar teaches classical guitar at the University of Memphis. (38)

Classical Guitarist Xue Fei
Classical Guitarist Xue Fei, London, England, April 27, 2004

NOTE: Afshar's date of birth is difficult to find-it's as if there's a purposed attempt to not supply that information anywhere.

Organizations and Others: Various individuals and organizations currently advocate for female musicians.

Former musician and music industry veteran Carla DeSantis has focused on rock music, founding and publishing the groundbreaking and award winning ROCKRGRL Magazine, which ran from 1994-2005 as the only national publication strictly for female musicians. She also created and produced two successful and critically acclaimed ROCKRGRL music conferences, held in Seattle, Washington in 2000 and 2005. Today, DeSantis lectures throughout the country and abroad on the topic of gender disparity in rock and is a panelist at various music industry events. (39)

Fair Music is the first global initiative for fairness and justice in the music business. The organization has an extensive agenda, including advocating for female artists. (40)

Indiegrrl works to create networking, educational, and showcasing opportunities for women as an international members' organization that supports women in the arts regardless of race, religion, or sexuality. It was founded in 1998 by Seattle, Washington-based musician Holly Figueroa (now Figueroa O'Reilly) as a forum for information, networking, and conversation about independent music from a female perspective. Indiegrrl is now more than a networking group of women singer/songwriters and is committed to bringing on new members and new sponsors for the growth of supporting independent women singer songwriters, groups, and female fronted bands. (41)


Gender discrimination in the music industry is a long-term, ongoing issue. Research suggests that some of this has its roots in social mores as well as socialization differences beginning at an early age. Representation of women in performing with certain instruments and in certain genres (i.e., jazz and guitar) remains imbalanced-although this appears to be changing. Present-day concerns point more to overcoming marginalization as opposed to outright rejection. Widespread social trends, however, may be countering this marginalization. Finally, several female leaders have undertaken advocacy efforts to ensure that the marginalization and under-representation of female guitarists in modern-day music becomes less of an issue in the future.

Bach to Rock Students at Battle of the Bands

These young students are inspired by the artists mentioned in the article, and like those women, they are trying to break the mold

© 2009, ProQuest LLC. All rights reserved.

YouTube Videos

List of Visuals


  1. Liner notes, Morvan's CD "Cures What Ails Ya."

  2. Ibid.

  3. Bowers, Jane and Tick, Judith, editors. Women Making Music: The Western Art Tradition, 1150-1950. University of Illinois Press, 1986.

  4. Atlas, Allan W. Ladies in the Wheatstone Ledgers: The Gendered Concertina in Victorian England, 1835-1870. Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle Vol. 39, 2006, 1-235.

  5. Gillett, Paula. "The Musician as Entrepreneur, 1700-1914: Managers, Charlatans, and Idealists" (Entrepreneurial Women Musicians in Britain from the 1790s to the early 1900s. 2004, Indiana University Press).

  6. Pickering, Samantha. Doctoral Student, School of Educational Psychology, Measurement & Technology, University of Sydney, Australia.

  7. Griswold, P.A. and Chroback, D.A. (1981) "Sex Role Associations of Music Instruments and Occupations by Gender and Major," Journal of Research in Music Education, 29 (1), 57-62.

  8. O'Neill, Susan A, and Boulton, J. J. Psychology of Music, Vol. 24, No. 2, 1996, 171-183: "Boys' and Girls' Preferences for Musical Instruments: A Function of Gender," Department of Psychology, University of Keele, UK.

  9. Zervoudakes, Jason, and Tanur, Judith M. State University at New York-Stony Brook, "Gender and Musical Instruments: Winds of Change," Journal of Research in Music Education, Vol. 42, No. 1, Spring, 1994, 58-67.

  10. Walker, Mark J. Troy State University: Influences of Gender and Sex-stereotyping of Middle School Students' Perception and Selection of Musical Instruments: A Review of the Literature, Visions of Research in Music Education, Vol. 4, January 2004

  11. McKeage, Kathleen. "Where Are All the Girls? Women in Collegiate Instrumental Jazz." Paper for Gender, Education, Music and Society (GEMS). Number 1, Spring 2002.

  12. Clawson, Mary Ann. Wesleyan University. "When Women Play the Bass. Instrument Specialization and Gender Interpretation in Alternative Rock Music" Gender & Society, Vol. 13, No. 2, April, 1999, 193-210.

  13. Endres, Kathleen. "Sex Role Standards in Popular Music," The Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 18, No. 1, Summer, 1984, 9-18.

  14. Holland, Brian D. Modern Guitar Magazine, February 29, 2008.

  15. Watson, Tom. Modern Guitar Magazine, May 1, 2007.

  16. Ouellette, Dan. Acoustic Guitar Magazine, March, 2006, 71-72.

  17. Ibid.

  18. Gilbert, Andrew. "Guitar Goddess: Patty Larkin Brings Together Some of the Best Women Players in the World," Boston Globe, November 4, 2005.

  19. Geisel, Ellen. "La Guitara," Dirty Linen Magazine. August-September 2006, No. 125.

  20. Muriel Anderson Website.

  21. Document Records.

  22. Ibid.

  23. Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

  24. Lennon, Sheila. "If You Want to Hear Sister . . . The Revival of Gospel's Rosetta Tharpe," Providence Journal, March 24, 2005.

  25. Evans, David. "Jessie Mae Hemphill: Black Women in America-an Historical Encyclopedia, edited by Darlene Clark Hine. Carlson Publishing. Vol. 1. 555-556. (1993).

  26. Flaska, Barbara. "Jessie Mae Hemphill: The High Water Mark Keeps Rising," Pop Matters, 1987.

  27. Marti, Kris Scott, "Ani DiFranco, Folksinger and Entrepreneur" After Ellen, November, 2004

  28. Bonnie Raitt Website.

  29. Biography for Joni Mitchell. IMDb, The Internet Movie Database.

  30. Wild, David (reprint) "Joni Mitchell," Rolling Stone magazine, October 21, 2002

  31. Biography for Joni Mitchell. IMDb, The Internet Movie Database.

  32. Wild, David (reprint) "Joni Mitchell," Rolling Stone magazine, October 21, 2002

  33. Ibid.

  34. Cindy Cashdollar Website.

  35. Rory Block Website.

  36. Ana Popovic Website.

  37. Sharon Isbin Website.

  38. Lily Afshar. NationMaster Encyclopedia.; Lilfy Afshar website.

  39. Carla DeSantis Website.; Yahoo newsgroups January 22, 2009.

  40. Fair Music.

  41. Indiegrrl.

All websites accessed in June and July of 2009