One of my New Year’s resolutions is to read one book about women in music per month. And goodness are there are some excellent candidates! Below are 60 books. The list does not rank these books, rather the collection is to give you tons of choices for your reading pleasure. This post contains affiliate links via Bookshop, whose mission is to financially support local, independent bookstores.
Women in Music: 60 Books
Women in Music Books 1 – 10
Face It: A Memoir: Debbie Harry with Blondie has sold millions of albums worldwide and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.
Girl in a Band: A Memoir: Kim Gordon, founding member of Sonic Youth, fashion icon, and role model for a generation of women, now tells her story-a memoir of life as an artist, of music, marriage, motherhood, independence, and as one of the first women of rock and roll.
I Put a Spell on You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone: Simone changed the face of both music and race relations in America.
Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music: Ann Powers, NPR’s acclaimed music critic examines how popular music shapes fundamental American ideas and beliefs, allowing us to communicate difficult emotions and truths about our most fraught social issues, most notably sex and race.
All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Memoir: Kathy Valentine, Go-Go’s bassist Valentine’s story is a roller coaster of sex, drugs, and of course, music. It’s also a story of what it takes to find success and find yourself, even when it all comes crashing down.
I’ll Never Write My Memoirs: Paul Morley and Grace Jones, Iconic music and film legend Jones gives an in-depth account of her stellar career, professional and personal life, and the signature look that catapulted her into the stardom stratosphere.
Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday, Angela Y. Davis provides the historical, social, and political contexts with which to reinterpret the performances and lyrics of Gertrude Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday as powerful articulations of an alternative consciousness profoundly at odds with mainstream American culture.
Just Kids: Patti Smith, The legendary American artist offers a never-before-seen glimpse of her remarkable relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the epochal days of New York City and the Chelsea Hotel in the late sixties and seventies.
Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir: Carrie Brownstein, With Sleater-Kinney, Brownstein and her bandmates rose to prominence in the burgeoning underground feminist punk-rock movement that would define music and pop culture in the 1990s.
Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics: Dolly Parton and Robert K. Oermann, A landmark celebration of the remarkable life and career of a country music and pop culture legend.
Women in Music Books 11 – 20
Resistance: A Songwriter’s Story of Hope, Change, and Courage: Tori Amos, Filled with compassionate guidance and actionable advice–and using some of the most powerful, political songs in Amos’s canon-this book is for anyone determined to steer the world back in the right direction.
The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help: Amanda Palmer, Part manifesto, part revelation, this is the story of an artist struggling with the new rules of exchange in the twenty-first century, both on and off the Internet.
Tina Turner: That’s My Life: Tina Turner, The first authorized pictorial autobiography for the trade by the legendary Tina Turner, containing iconic as well as never-before-seen candid photos, letters, and other personal items of The Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, from her early career to today.
Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution: Sara Marcus, The epic, definitive history of the Riot Grrrl movement-the radical feminist punk uprising that exploded into the public eye in the 1990s, altering America’s gender landscape forever.
Living Like a Runaway: A Memoir: Lita Ford, Wielding her signature black guitar, Ford was the lead guitarist of the Runaways before embarking on her platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated solo career.
Lady Sings the Blues: Billie Holiday and William Dufty, The fiercely honest, no-holds-barred autobiography of Billie Holiday, the legendary jazz, swing, and standards singing sensation.
Delta Lady: A Memoir: Rita Coolidge and Michael Walker, The two-time Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter bares her heart and soul in this intimate memoir, a story of music, stardom, love, family, heritage, and resilience.
More Myself: A Journey: Alicia Keys, More Myself is part autobiography, part narrative documentary. Keys’s journey is revealed not only through her own candid recounting, but also through vivid recollections from those who have walked alongside her.
Patti LuPone: A Memoir: Patti LuPone, The legendary LuPone is one of the theatre’s most beloved leading ladies. Now she lays it all bare, sharing the intimate story of her life both onstage and off-through the dizzying highs and darkest lows-with the humor and outspokenness that have become her trademarks.
Between a Heart and a Rock Place: Pat Benatar, One of the best-selling female rock stars of all time, the incomparable Pat Benatar writes about her life, rock ‘n’ roll, and how her generation changed music forever.
Women in Music Books 21-30
My Life in E-Flat: Chan Parker, The remarkable memoir of a woman who witnessed some of the most important movements in the history of jazz.
Odetta: A Life in Music and Protest: Ian Zack, The first in-depth biography of the legendary singer and “Voice of the Civil Rights Movement,” who combatted racism and prejudice through her music.
Shout, Sister, Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-And-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe: Gayle Wald, Shout, Sister, Shout is the first biography of this trailblazing performer who influenced scores of popular musicians-from Elvis Presley and Little Richard to Eric Clapton and Etta James.
Still Here: The Madcap, Nervy, Singular Life of Elaine Stritch: Alexandra Jacobs, Rollicking but intimate, this book tracks one of Broadway’s great personalities from her upbringing in Detroit during the Great Depression to her fateful move to New York City, where she studied alongside Marlon Brando, Bea Arthur, and Harry Belafonte.
From This Moment On: Shania Twain, A poignant, heartfelt, and beautifully told account of her hard-scrabble childhood, rise to worldwide fame, and recent personal tragedies.
Lips Unsealed: A Memoir: Belinda Carlisle, A love letter to music, the lifelong friendships between the members of the Go-Go’s, the beloved husband and son who led Carlisle to sobriety, and a life which, though deeply flawed, was-and is still-fully lived.
And a Voice to Sing with: A Memoir: Joan Baez, Baez’s memoir is as honest, unpretentious, and courageous as she is.
Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage, a Chicana Punk Story: Alice Bag, Alicia Armendariz adopted the punk name Alice Bag, and became lead singer for The Bags, early punk visionaries who starred in Penelope Spheeris’ documentary The Decline of Western Civilization. Here is a life of many crossed boundaries.
An Outlaw and a Lady: A Memoir of Music, Life with Waylon, and the Faith That Brought Me Home: Jessi Colter and David Ritz, Renowned songwriter, singer, and wife of Waylon Jennings writes an intimate, enormously entertaining memoir of American music, of life with Waylon and the Outlaws, and of faith lost and found.
Angel on My Shoulder: An Autobiography: Natalie Cole and Digby Diehl, Born to legendary Nat King Cole in the halcyon days of the 1950s, Natalie Cole grew up to become a versatile singer with Grammy Award status.
Women in Music Books 31-40
My Lord, What a Morning: An Autobiography: Marian Anderson, A gentle and engrossing memoir, abounding with the tender and inspiring stories of Marian Anderson’s life in her own modest words. Anderson published My Lord, What a Morning in 1956 on the heels of her groundbreaking role as the first African American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera.
If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday: Farah Jasmine Griffin, An intimate meditation on Holiday’s place in American culture and history.
The Truth Is . . .: My Life in Love and Music: Melissa Etheridge and Laura Morton, shares Etheridge’s fascinating story with unprecedented candor and insight.
A Sick Life: TLC ‘n Me: Stories from on and Off the Stage, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and Emily Zelmer, In addition to the balancing act of juggling an all-consuming music career and her family, TLC’s Watkins has struggled with sickle-cell disease since she was a young girl. Through Watkins’s tell-it-like-it-is voice you’ll see how the singer and advocate found the inner strength, grit, and determination to live her dream, despite often unpredictable and demanding health issues.
Turn Your Pain Into Art: Ariel Bloomer, From growing up a passionate but troubled spiritual seeker to chasing her rock n’ roll dreams, Bloomer’s journey illustrates the importance of cultivating self-love and the transformational nature of creativity, and how to access the artist inside all of us.
Red Bird, Red Power, Volume 67: The Life and Legacy of Zitkala-Sa: Tadeusz Lewandowski, Tells the story of one of the most influential-and controversial-American Indian activists of the twentieth century. Zitkala-Sa (1876-1938), also known as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, was a highly gifted writer, editor, and musician who dedicated her life to achieving justice for Native peoples.
Boys in the Trees: A Memoir: Carly Simon, Simon’s memoir reveals her remarkable life, beginning with her storied childhood, her musical debut as half of The Simon Sisters performing folk songs with her sister Lucy in Greenwich Village, to a meteoric solo career that would result in 13 top 40 hits, including the #1 song You’re So Vain.
Unzipped: Suzi Quatro tells her story of life behind the scenes and in the thick of it as one of the first major break-out female rock bassists. Later, she went on to Hollywood to join the cast of Happy Days, juggling her acting and music career with a turbulent personal life and constant touring around the world. Through it all, she never lost her passion to perform or her sense of adventure.
Beat of My Own Drum: A Memoir: Sheila E and Wendy Holden, From the Grammy-nominated singer, drummer, and percussionist who is world renowned for her contributions throughout the music industry, a moving memoir about the healing power of music and spiritual growth inspired by five decades of life and love on the road.
Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) in Song: Sara Bareilles shares the joys and the struggles that come with creating great work, all while staying true to yourself.
Women in Music Books 41-50
My Life, as I See It: An Autobiography: Dionne Warwick and David Freeman Wooley, Warwick made her singing debut in church at the request of her grandfather, the Reverend Elzae Warrick, when she was six years old. No one knew then that she would become a music legend.
Queen of Bebop: The Musical Lives of Sarah Vaughan: Elaine M Hayes, Brilliantly chronicles the life of jazz singer Sarah Vaughan, one of the most influential and innovative musicians of the twentieth century and a pioneer of women’s and civil rights.
Love Brought Me Back: A Journey of Loss and Gain: Natalie Cole and David Ritz, Cole looks back on a two-year period that strengthened her faith, when she lost a beloved sister and gained years of life with a kidney transplant.
Mosaic: Pieces of My Life So Far: Amy Grant, Whether describing personal moments alone on a moonlit hillside or very public ones performing with the likes of Tony Bennett and James Taylor, Grant presents a captivating collection of beautiful reflections on life, love, and faith.
Women Drummers: A History from Rock and Jazz to Blues and Country: Angela Smith, Women Drummers takes a major step forward in undoing this misconception by acknowledging the talent, contribution, and growing power of women drummers in today’s music environment.
Rock She Wrote: Ann Powers and Evelyn McDonnell, Rock She Wrote collects the best of women’s writing on music from the 1960s to the present, from the days when women were only tolerated as screaming groupies behind the scenes to the day they took center stage as performers and critics in their own right.
Working Girl Blues: The Life and Music of Hazel Dickens: Hazel Dickens and Bill C. Malone, Dickens was an Appalachian singer and songwriter known for her superb musicianship, feminist country songs, union anthems, and blue-collar laments.
Me & Patsy Kickin’ Up Dust: My Friendship with Patsy Cline: Loretta Lynn, Full of laughter and tears, this eye-opening, heartwarming memoir paints a picture of two stubborn, spirited country gals who’d be damned if they’d let men or convention tell them how to be.
Women Icons of Popular Music [2 Volumes]: The Rebels, Rockers, and Renegades: Carrie Havranek, Women Icons of Popular Music puts the limelight on 24 legendary artists who challenged the status quo and dramatically expanded the possibilities of women in the highly competitive music world.
M Train: Patti Smith, From the National Book Award-winning author of Just Kids an unforgettable odyssey of a legendary artist, told through the cafés and haunts she has worked in around the world. It is a book Smith has described as “a roadmap to my life.”
Women in Music Books 51-60
The Baddest Bitch in the Room: A Memoir: Sophia Chang, Chang shares the inspiring story of her career in the music business, working with such acts as The Wu-Tang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest, her path to becoming an entrepreneur, and her candid accounts of marriage, motherhood, aging, desire, marginalization, and martial arts.
Open Book: Jessica Simpson, Simpson reveals for the first time her inner monologue and most intimate struggles. Guided by the journals she’s kept since age fifteen, and brimming with her unique humor and down-to-earth humanity, Open Book is as inspiring as it is entertaining.
Nobody Ever Asked Me about the Girls: Women, Music and Fame: Lisa Robinson, Based on conversations with more than forty female artists, Nobody Ever Asked Me about the Girls is a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the effects of success on some of music’s most famous women.
The Lost Women of Rock Music: Female Musicians of the Punk Era: Helen Reddington, In addition to a wealth of original interview material with key protagonists, including the late John Peel, Geoff Travis, The Raincoats and Poison Girls, this new edition has been updated to include interviews with members of Birmingham-based band The Au Pairs, Leeds-based band Delta 5 and Viv Albertine of The Slits.
There’s The Girl: Women in Music Rewind: Cate Meighan and Bridget Spitalik, The women found within these pages have not only chosen to share the nuggets of wisdom born only from a life fully lived, but they also want to contribute to a better future narrative.
Nothing Like a Dame: Conversations with the Great Women of Musical Theater: Eddie Shapiro, This fascinating collection reveals the artistic genius and human experience of the women who have made Broadway musicals more popular than ever-a must for anyone who loves the theater.
High School: Sara Quin and Tegan Quin, High School is the revelatory and unique coming-of-age story of Sara and Tegan Quin, identical twins from Calgary, Alberta, who grew up at the height of grunge and rave culture in the nineties, well before they became the celebrated musicians and global LGBTQ icons we know today.
Year of the Monkey: Patti Smith, As Smith heads toward a new decade in her own life, she offers this balm to the reader: her wisdom, wit, gimlet eye, and above all, a rugged hope for a better world.
Why Karen Carpenter Matters: Karen Tongson, In Why Karen Carpenter Matters, Tongson (whose Filipino musician parents named her after the pop icon) interweaves the story of the singer’s rise to fame with her own trans-Pacific journey between the Philippines-where imitations of American pop styles flourished-and Karen Carpenter’s home ground of Southern California.
The Meaning of Mariah Carey: Mariah Carey, The global icon, award-winning singer, songwriter, producer, actress, mother, daughter, sister, storyteller, and artist finally tells the unfiltered story of her life.
Background for top photo by Stas Knop from Pexels