The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has been inducting artists since 1986, with over 300 performers honored. Last year, NPR reported that only 8% of those inductees are women, and several prominent female acts have been overlooked for both nomination and induction. That changed with this year’s ballot, which includes several female nominees, including Carole King and Tina Turner, who are already in the Hall but haven’t been honored for their influential solo work. Even so, many influential female musical performers are on the outside looking in when it comes to the Hall, never getting as much as a nomination.
This piece highlights 20 of those eligible performers. It’s not an exhaustive list, and I’ve tried to spotlight artists from a variety of genres, styles, and scenes with a specific act. We’re also not including artists who have actually made their way onto the ballot, even if they weren’t inducted (That list includes Pat Benatar, Mary Wells, and Esther Phillips, along with 2020 nominees like King, Turner, Kate Bush, and Chaka Khan).
Big Mama Thornton
Eligible since: 1986 inaugural class
The original performer of “Hound Dog,” which was a bigger hit for Elvis Presley three years later, and the writer of the blues standard “Ball and Chain,” Big Mama Thornton is an important early figure in the history of rock and roll, particularly in the genre’s blues roots. Thornton has been eligible for the Hall since its establishment, but she’s never even appeared on a ballot in all that time. She would be a great choice for the Hall’s often neglected early influence category, and should have been honored with such an induction near the start of the Hall’s existence.
Eligible since: 1986 inaugural class
Odetta was a major performer in the early ‘60s folk scene known for her blues, gospel, and folk repertoire and unforgettable, versatile voice. Martin Luther King Jr. once called her the “Queen of American folk music,” and she was a regular presence at folk festivals over her 50+ years-long career. Other folk acts directly influenced by Odetta’s records, like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, are already in the Hall, and her being passed by because the Hall seems less interested in inducting pre-Beatles artists is a disappointment. However, it is one that can be remedied. She could get in as an early influence, but there’s an argument to put her in as a main performer like Baez.
Eligible since: 1989
The Hall is very picky when it comes to country acts, as it should be. The country acts that get in should have either recorded rock & roll, have substantially influenced rock music or have become part of the rock culture. While Johnny Cash fits all three criteria, there aren’t a lot of other pure country artists—as opposed to country rock acts—that are likely to make the Hall in the future. Dolly Parton, however, may be an exception. Parton may not have performed rock music but she’s definitely a direct inspiration for a lot of the country-rock and singer-songwriter performers of the 1980s. Like Cher, Parton is a multi-generational icon and roundly beloved, and is particularly praised as a songwriter with several highly popular songs to her name. Her name has come up in Hall-watcher discussions before, alongside Willie Nelson who has a similar case. However, Parton might be the one that gets the nomination, especially in the next few years.
Eligible since: 1989
Tammi Terrell’s hit making career lasted only two years before it tragically ended when she collapsed into Marvin Gaye’s arms during a concert in the fall of 1967 and was diagnosed with a brain tumor that would take her life three years later. In that brief span of time, Terrell and Gaye recorded some of the most loved R&B of the decade, including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “You’re All I Need to Get By.” Terrell may have been forgotten by the Hall because all of her hits were duets and she only released one collection of solo material. The Hall’s Award for Musical Excellence has been around for nearly a decade, and its criteria is a bit nebulous. However, it’s been useful to induct artists like Leon Russell who have either had long careers as a jack-of-all-trades or those who don’t really fit into the proper main artist category. Perhaps it could be used to induct Terrell, whose importance to late ‘60s Motown should not be overlooked any longer.
Eligible since: 1991
The Shangri-Las cultivated a “tough girl” persona that was atypical for female acts of their era and made them influential on later punk and hard rock groups. The group’s heavily orchestrated, dramatic singles like “Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand)” and “The Leader of the Pack” unfolded like show tunes for the radio, particularly those in the “teenage tragedy” sub-genre that was popular in the early ‘60s. Their moment in the spotlight wasn’t very long—the hits seemed to dry up for them as the British Invasion took hold, and they dissolved before the ‘60s were out, but a short career does not discount their induction, or at least nomination. The Hall seems to think they’ve got their bases covered for 1960s girl groups, but the Shangri-Las seem to have been overlooked despite their memorable hits.
Eligible since: 1991
Alongside perhaps The Monkees, Cher is one of the last A-list rock acts of the 1960s that are on the outside looking in at the Hall. Her snub is a surprise, considering her ubiquity since her debut with former husband Sonny Bono in 1965. Everyone knows who Cher is, everyone knows at least a couple of her songs. And yet, no Rock Hall induction. Her music with Sonny hewed towards folk-pop, and her 1970s discography is firmly pop rock, but you can say the same things about Neil Diamond or Linda Ronstadt, both of whom are already in. Cher should have at least been nominated in 1999 after “Believe” became the biggest hit of her career, nearly eight years after she was eligible, but her name has never been on the ballot. After Tina Turner and Carole King get in (hopefully) this year, it might be time to fix the Hall’s Cher snub.
Eligible since: 1999
An American singer and bassist who became a star in the United Kingdom during the glam-rock boom, Quatro is a beloved rock icon across the pond but her success stateside was limited to one Top 40 duet and her recurring role on the sitcom Happy Days. Quatro’s UK hit streak is as strong as any of her glam rock peers like the Sweet, and she’s just as influential as the already inducted Roxy Music, and she’s been name-checked by female rock musicians as an influence and as a decision to become an instrumentalist. The Hall should start getting around to artists who were popular outside of the United States, and Quatro is a familiar enough name that could get the nod eventually.
The Pointer Sisters
Eligible since: 1999
The Pointer Sisters are one of the most egregious snubs in the Rock Hall’s history, particularly over the course of the last few years. The sisters recorded a ton of hits in several genres, including R&B, funk, country, rock, jazz and 1980s electro-dance, a style featured on some of their most memorable songs. Their versatility and deep catalog should get them in the Hall, as should their popularity, ranked only a few years ago by Billboard as one of the 100 most successful artists in the history of the Hot 100. Yet, for all of their worthiness, they’ve yet to even get a nomination. As it stands, the Pointer Sisters are one of the ten most worthy un-nominated artists, and hopefully their omission is corrected within the next few years.
Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine
Eligible since: 2003
Gloria Estefan and her band Miami Sound Machine weren’t the first Latin pop act to cross over to the Top 40, but they certainly were one of the most successful, particularly in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Estefan wrote or co-wrote much of the band’s and her own solo material, and her instantly recognizable voice helped them stand out on the radio as much as their percussion-driven sound did. As a solo act, Estefan occasionally focused on soft pop balladry that might not garner her a solo nomination, but her work with the Miami Sound Machine is certainly worth an induction and has been for years.
Eligible since: 2003
A unique performer whose music often veered into the experimental and electronic, Björk would be one of the most left-of-center acts to get a nod from the committee should she ever get one. She has the resume to back it up too: her music was very successful despite its style with several hits in the UK and on the American alternative chart. Björk also has considerable influence on the music landscape today, and her music can be seen as a forebear to some of the dark electronic pop artists who have become enormously successful over the past few years. Certainly, the path from Kate Bush to Billie Eilish goes through Björk’s groundbreaking ‘90s art-pop albums like Post and Homogenic. Björk also has a good case to become a double inductee, as her early band The Sugarcubes was a popular college band in the 1980s and was the first musical act from Iceland to become successful internationally. By the way, if you were wondering why such a quintessential 1990s and 2000s artist has been eligible since 2003, that’s because Björk released her debut self-titled album in 1977 when she was 11 years old. However, that album never left Iceland, and it is a bit of a curio for die-hard fans. Her actual solo career started with 1993’s Debut, and she would have probably been on the Hall’s radar starting in 2018.
Eligible since: 2007
With the Go-Go’s on this year’s ballot, could the other major all-female L.A. new wave band of the 1980s be far behind? It would certainly be a long time coming for The Bangles, a reliable hitmaking force for much of the decade with a ton of memorable songs, including two number one Hot 100 hits and two songs that reached number two. Lead singer Susanna Hoffs inducted The Zombies into the Hall a few years ago, which means the Bangles are somewhat on the Hall’s radar.
Eligible since: 2008
10,000 Maniacs seem to have been written out of the alt-rock narrative even though they were one of the first acts from the genre to garner commercial success and pop crossover. Their melodic folk rock style earned them a following through college radio before they broke into the mainstream in the late 1980s. At the center of the band was singer Natalie Merchant, who became one of the early female stars of alternative music. The band’s lighter sound was at odds with the heavier alt-rock that gained popularity in the ‘90s, but they were pivotal in the development of the adult alternative radio format, which has grown in popularity in recent years. While the band’s only two Top 40 hits were covers, their original material was highly influential on later folky or acoustically driven indie rock bands. After Merchant left the group in 1994, she embarked on her own successful solo career, while 10,000 Maniacs continued to be a popular touring band. There’s a lot of backlog to go through with early alternative rock—not one of the groups profiled in Michael Azzerad’s landmark book Our Band Could Be Your Life is in the Hall yet. But once some major snubs are rectified, 10,000 Maniacs should be a group that gets a nod down the line.
Eligible since: 2009
A gifted singer-songwriter with an indelible image and a unique voice, Cyndi Lauper burst onto the music scene with 1983’s She’s So Unusual, which contained five excellent singles and one of the best Prince covers of the ‘80s. That album alone should have sealed the deal for Lauper’s induction, and it’s a bit of a surprise her name hasn’t come up on the nomination list now that the entire ‘80s are eligible. Her albums after her debut sold less and weren’t as successful on the charts, but they spun off memorable, well-crafted singles that still endure on the radio. Even as she faded from the charts, Lauper continued to be a significant pop culture presence with her work on the Broadway show Kinky Boots, netting her a Tony, and her Emmy-award winning recurring role on the sitcom Mad About You, bringing her only an Oscar away from the EGOT. Lauper is still a much loved 1980s icon, and if the Hall wants to properly represent the decade, she has to be inducted sooner rather than later.
Eligible since: 2010
There are a few female-fronted bands in this list with otherwise male personnel (10,000 Maniacs and Miami Sound Machine are the others), and Sade is technically one of them. Sade is a quartet led by Nigerian-born singer Sade Adu, who is clearly the star of the band. Sade and her band were at the forefront of the smooth jazz and sophisti-pop genres, the latter of which was a crucial piece of the late 1980s new wave scene that has garnered a lot of attention in critical appraisal in the last few years. Sade was the marquee group of that scene, known for their lush jazzy sound with Adu’s vocals at the forefront. Even as Sade began to take several years between albums, each was a critically acclaimed best-seller up through 2010’s Soldier of Love. Their longevity and popularity should bring the Hall around to them soon, as 1980s R&B, British pop-rock from the same decade and jazz-adjacent music in general has long been ignored by the institution. They’d be a great inductee to represent all three.
Eligible since: 2012
Since the induction of Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five in 2007, the Hall has been very stingy when it comes to inducting rap acts and have only put in a handful, none of them women. Salt-N-Pepa would be a great choice for the first female rappers to get in, particularly for their role in bringing the genre into the mainstream. The trio were one of the best-selling female rap acts from before the turn of the millennium, and they helped bridge the ‘80s and ‘90s with hit singles that captured the evolution hip-hop went through in those few years. Their early single “Push It” was a huge radio hit, an even bigger sales success, and is one of the hallmark records of the electro-trend in the Golden Age of Hip Hop. Their 1993 album, Very Necessary, for a time the best-selling album by a female rap artist, brought a harder and funkier edge to their sound and provided some of the biggest hits of their career. Although the Hall seems to be skipping over rap artists from Salt-N-Pepa’s era in order to induct other ‘90s rappers when they come up, it would be a shame to ignore the trio and their importance to the genre.
Eligible since: 2014
The singer-songwriters of the late 80s and early 90s also seemed to be passed the Hall by at the moment, and there’s a lot of female artists that could be included here too, like Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morrissette, Tracy Chapman, and Liz Phair. Ethridge had a long career full of rock and pop hits, including those on her block-buster 1993 album Yes I Am. That record broke her through to the mainstream, bringing her blues-rock style to Top 40 radio and establishing her as one of the biggest female rockers of the early ‘90s after releasing a series of critically acclaimed albums in the late ‘80s. The Hall seems to be ignoring ‘90s guitar-rock styles outside of alternative rock, and Etheridge would be a great inductee to remedy that blind spot.
Eligible since: 2016
Another genre that the Hall doesn’t really know what to do with its mainstream pop music at the edges of rock from the ‘80s and ‘90s. This is some of the most commercially successful music recorded of the last 100 years, but because it’s not firmly guitar rock, the Hall hardly picks artists from the style, resulting in the weird sight of some of best known musicians in the world being left out. However, they have inducted a few names too big to ignore like Madonna, and they seem interested in at least honoring the big R&B stars like Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston. Following Whitney’s induction last year and Mary J. Blige’s appearance on the ballot this year, the name that should come up in discussion next is Mariah Carey. Carey, of course, needs no introduction for her musical achievements, chart success, vocal prowess and songwriting skills that have built up to one of the biggest musical careers of the last 30 years. Everyone knows several Mariah Carey songs, and she’s remained consistently relevant and popular since her debut aside from a brief period in the early 2000s. Carey has been eligible for a few years and has surprisingly never made the ballot, but hopefully she doesn’t have to wait much longer because her absence is more questionable every year she isn’t on.
Eligible since: 2018
Along with Carey, TLC were one of the most successful female artists of the ‘90s in any genre, Their music bridged R&B, hip-hop and pop, and they wrote and recorded several huge hit singles, including four number ones (Two of which were from their 16 million-selling 1994 album CrazySexyCool). R&B recorded after 1980 is yet another style that the Hall has generally avoided apart from Janet and Whitney, and there’s a ton of stars that are eligible that have shockingly never made the ballot (Where’s Luther Vandross or Boyz II Men, for instance?). TLC’s enormous success should have made them first ballot nominees in a more R&B or ‘90s friendly list of inductees, but they seem like another big name that has been unjustly snubbed or been on hold because of the Hall’s unwieldy backlog of deserving artists that they cannot manage. However, like Carey, their path to induction has become much clearer due to Mary J. Blige’s nomination this year. Once the Hall does start honoring ‘90s acts at a better clip, expect TLC to be one of the first R&B stars from the decade to get the nod after Blige.
Eligible since: 2018
Led by singer Gwen Stefani, No Doubt were one of the stars of the ‘90s third wave ska scene before becoming one of the biggest pop rock groups of their era. Their Tragic Kingdom album was one of the best-selling alternative rock albums of the 1990s, spinning off the mega-hit “Don’t Speak,” a radio smash that would have reached #1 if not for a chart quirk that kept it off the Hot 100. Their Return of Saturn and Rock Steady albums saw them experiment with new wave and dancehall to successful results, and Stefani eventually launched a successful solo career after the band went on hiatus. Stefani and No Doubt still have a high profile to this day, and their songs have endured on various radio formats. Given that, they might actually show up on the ballot in the next few years, and it will be interesting to see who goes in before they get their shot.
Eligible since: 2020
Indie guitar rock hasn’t really been on the Hall’s mind of late even though it is one of the most popular styles of the last 20 years. Most of the big names in the genre who were active in the ‘90s are now eligible: Pavement, Yo La Tengo, Modest Mouse, and Built to Spill among them. While Pavement is likely to be the first band from the scene to receive a nomination, whenever that happens, an argument can absolutely be made for Sleater-Kinney garnering that distinction. S-K is both one of the biggest bands from the era and continues to be a major indie act to this day. The seven albums they made before their hiatus in 2005 account for one of the genre’s most acclaimed discographies, topped off by two well-received albums following their reunion. The band’s continued high profile and noticeable influence on current indie rock artists would make them a welcome nomination once the Hall gets around to honoring the genre and ‘90s rock outside of Seattle.