NC Women Rockers Who Shook Up the Music World

North Carolina singer-songwriter Fantasia Barrino performs in 2018. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/WireImage)

By Emiene Wright

January 3, 2022

On Women Rock Day, discover or get reacquainted with the works of these North Carolina musicians.

In 1987, Aretha Franklin broke barriers as the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Every Jan. 3 since then, Women Rock Day celebrates pioneering and influential women in rock music.

Nina Simone might be the most famous of North Carolina’s musical muses, and rightly receives her flowers. But while the “High Priestess” from Tryon deserved every one of her 15 Grammy nominations and overdue win in 2000, there are other women performers from the Tarheel State whose music you should know.

North Carolina’s musical heritage features giants of every genre: gospel, blues, country, hip-hop, and soul. Here’s an abbreviated list of artists to give a listen. They may become part of your permanent playlist, if they’re not already.

Fantasia Barrino (High Point)

Barrino’s 2004 win on the third season of “American Idol” may have catapulted her to fame, but her titanium pipes have kept her at the top. The Grammy Award-winning RnB singer and Broadway star was inducted into the North Carolina Hall of Fame in 2014.

Shirley Caesar (Durham)

If you didn’t grow up listening to Shirley Caesar’s “Hold My Mule,” you know her from the gold star Thanksgiving meme “Beans, Greens, Potatoes, Tomates.” Over the span of her 5-decade career, the First Lady of Gospel has won 11 Grammy awards, 17 Dove awards, 12 Stellar Awards, and was inducted into the Gospel Hall of Fame in 2000. 

Rapsody (Snow Hill)

Marlanna Evans, who goes by the stage name Rapsody, was the first woman signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label in 2016. Her second album, 2017’s “Laila’s Wisdom,” garnered Grammy nominations for Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song. Her lyrical and emotional depth get as much attention as her associations: frequent production by legendary producer 9th Wonder, and landing the sole feature on Kendrick Lamar’s classic album “To Pimp a Butterfly.”  

Roberta Flack (Black Mountain)

There have been many renditions of “Killing Me Softly,” but Flack’s jazzy 1973 version that flowed from a gentle purr to a soaring soprano has stood the test of time. The singer-songwriter recorded numerous hits on her own, as well as with RnB legend Donny Hathaway. Three Grammy Awards and millions of fans later, she continues to inspire.

Donna Fargo (Mount Airy)

Fargo consistently charted Top 10 country hits in the 1970s, thanks to songs like “Happiest Girl in the Whole USA” and “Funny Face.” 

Samantha Biddix Bumgarner (Dillsboro)

In 1924, with the Columbia Phonograph Company of New York, Bumgarner blazed trails as the first female country singer to make a commercial record.

Etta Baker (Morganton)

With her rich and intricate folk picking style, Etta Baker helped put Piedmont blues on the map. She preferred “happy blues” to sad, and played more than sang, choosing to let her guitar speak for her. She first recorded in 1956, but was blocked from performing publicly by her husband Lee, and did not do so until after his death. “Railroad Bill” and “One Dime Blues” were among her biggest hits, and she influenced several generations of folk musicians.


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