By Chelsy Ranard
Drummers exude a certain type of energy. They feel their music in a different place than other musicians. Percussion is a whole other animal, and these female drummers exemplify the energy that drummers tend to have while also exuding their own brand of something unique. Drummers are their own species, but female drummers break boundaries, based on the rarity of their gender, sitting on their throne behind the drum set.
Each of these women are amazing just for being rad musicians. Not only that, they have broken the mold within an instrumental choice that tends to be saturated with men. They are all very different, and each of them has broken the mold in their own way.
The White Stripes is a band that needs no introduction. The rock duo, consisting of Jack White and Meg White, started in Detroit in 1997 and has since toured the globe and won two Grammys. Meg White is something special. She doesn’t fit the bill for what you’d normally picture in the personality of a drummer. She’s not the animalistic wild child that many drummers tend to be, but still exudes an energy that is authentic and genuine. She’s shy, quiet, and prefers a life away from the spotlight.
She started playing the drums the same year the band started, when she started messing around on Jack’s drums. Her drumming style isn’t based in a history of music education, it’s primal and raw. Though her simplistic style has been a reason for her to receive criticism, make no mistake that White’s status as a drummer has broken the mold in its own way.
Karen Carpenter was one member of the sibling duo known as The Carpenters. She and her brother, Richard, started the band as a duo in 1969 and had amazing success. Karen started off as a drummer and slowly began singing and playing other instruments, like the bass guitar, as well. Despite moving away from the drum kit and in front of a mic stand, she always considered herself “a drummer who sang,” and her brother marveled that it seemed as though she was “born in a drum factory.”
She released 10 albums with The Carpenters as well as some solo music. Her voice and drumming abilities have been praised, and her popularity playing such a male-dominated instrument is made even more amazing by the timeframe in which she played.
In Karen’s time, there wasn’t a big focus on women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields. Women in male-dominated industries were incredibly limited, and there weren’t any programs pushing women to learn the STEM fields. However, the A in STEAM is just as important. Adding arts in with the other categories like science and technology is important in promoting learning an many different facets of education.
As we’ve seen, women making a career out of something like their musical ability isn’t something as prominent for women. Karen’s parents were excited to see where their son’s musical ability would take him but didn’t anticipate it for Karen Carpenter. She broke that mold.
You might recognize names like Meg White and Karen Carpenter, but you probably don’t recognize the name Bobbye Hall. However, if you’ve heard “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” by Pink Floyd, “Let’s Get it On” by Marvin Gaye, or “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers, you’ve heard Bobbye Hall. She’s recorded percussion with Janis Joplin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jefferson Starship, Diana Ross, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Doors, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, Dolly Parton, and Rod Stewart, to name a few.
When she was playing in LA in the 1970s, she was one of the few female session musicians of her time. She’s recorded in Carnegie Hall and plays a wide variety of instruments in percussion. You may not know her name, but you know her work. Ms. Bobbye Hall is an innovator who broke the mold in female percussion.
If you think “drummer” and you think “rocker,” Samantha Maloney fits the image. She has played drums for bands like Hole, Mötley Crüe, and Eagles of Death Metal. She received her first drum kit at the age of 5 and went to school in New York to study percussion. She beats up her drum kit in every session with the aggression of a wild animal. She plays with wind in her hair, exudes energy, and has spoken about how important it is for young girls to see other women playing instruments. She’s played with the boys; she’s played with the girls; and she’s broken the mold as a metal rocker behind smashing cymbals and hardcore rhythm.
Sandy West was one part of the amazing all-female band known as The Runaways. Around the age of 15, she met Joan Jett and started the band. She liked to surf, listened to a lot of Zeppelin, and was the epitome of a cool California rocker girl. She and her Runaways bandmates rocked their own instruments as teenagers and broke the mold for what rock music was for women at the time.
In situations like performing, parties, and experiencing the music scene where the social atmosphere can affect things like drinking and drug use, some of the girls experienced their own struggles with one substance or another. For Sandy West, her heavy smoking caused the cancer that lead to her death at age 47. However, her musical ability was a pioneering force in rock and roll, and her wild blond hair flying around her drum kit will never be forgotten.
Sheila Cecelia Escovedo, or Sheila E., has been referred to as The Queen Of Percussion. She’s also a singer, author, and actress and has been famously linked to Prince during the recording of Purple Rain and then the Purple Rain tour. They were later briefly engaged. She was born in Oakland to a family of musicians and started her career in the 1970’s as the singer and percussionist for The George Duke Band. After leaving the band, she became a successful solo artist in the 80’s with songs like, “A Glamorous Life,” and “A Love Bizarre.” She’s played percussion for Marvin Gaye, Lionel Richie, Diana Ross, Phil Collins, Ringo Starr, Michael Jackson, Santana, and Cyndi Lauper, among others.
Sheila E. is an amazing percussionist and overall well-rounded musician. She’s glamorous, regal, funky, and fun. Her aura exudes energy and it’s clear that she loves her music. She was partially paralyzed for a few weeks as a result of the physical toll that playing drums had on her body. She’s not only been vocal about young women getting started in percussion, but also older women who were never given the opportunity to play when they were younger. Sheila E., The Queen of Percussion, has broken the mold of what a female percussionist can achieve.
As the years go by and more female musicians become passionate about music and percussion, the list of female drummers breaking through boundaries grows immensely. Though this list highlights a few of the amazing females breaking the mold, there are many others to list — which is a great thing. The reason for that list continuing to grow can be attributed to these women. Drumming is such a physical and energetic instrument to play and many drummers exude something special. Each of these women has something in their drumming that breaks the mold. The more females we see beating up their drum sets, the more little girls will see that playing drums is a possibility for them too.
Chelsy is a writer from Montana who is now living in Boise, Idaho. She graduated with her journalism degree from the University of Montana in 2012. She is passionate about feminism, is a shark enthusiast, and can be found playing Frisbee with her dog, Titan. Follow her on Twitter.