Hear Them: Kerry Clarke’s 20 women artists you need to listen to right now

This is my attempt to narrow down a huge list of compelling, creative and important female artists worth your attention, with examples of their excellence in links after each entry.

Alison Russell from her beginnings in Po’ Girl to her current Birds of Chicago and the new super group Our Native Daughters, her gorgeous voice and instrumental ease makes her a compelling, lovely superstar.


Amelia Curran sings your hopes, fears and life with unmatched lyricism and turns of phrase. No hyperbole – she’s in the top 10 of North American songwriters, with so many stick-in-your-head lines.

I Am the Night 

Basia Bulat Natural and ever-creative indie-folk multi-instrumentalist with a signature vibrato and major-key melodicism who makes the auto harp cool. 

Tall Tall Shadow video

Betty Davis Heavy funk from the Miles Davis wife credited with planting seeds for his Bitches Brew era jazz fusion was featured on an episode of “Mike Judge Presents: Tales from the Tour Bus.” 

They say I’m different 

Buffy Sainte-Marie What more can be said about this iconic and dynamic artist, activist and mentor who just turned 80? Her songs are stellar and her indefatigable spirit, vibrato voice and energy are that of someone half her age. She can’t stop creating and we can’t stop paying attention to her. 

You Got to Run video (with Tanya Tagaq) 

Diamanda Galás Fiercely confrontational avant-garde performer known for her intense four-octave range isn’t for the faint of heart. Her litany against AIDS, The Masque of the Red Death trilogy, was performed live with her covered in red paint in a church. Start with her almost pop collaboration with John Paul Jones, 1994’s The Sporting Life. 

 ‘My World is Empty Without You.’

Evelyn Glennie – the world’s foremost solo, eclectic, innovative and musical boundary-crossing percussionist and composer who has commissioned over 200 works — and she happens to be deaf. 


Frazey Ford former Be Good Tanya has soul: her molasses vocals and intimate, defiant lyrics are euphoric, self-affirming and healing. 

Video ‘done’

Grace Jones Pull up to the bumper of this style icon, disco queen, avant-garde rocker, Bond girl, provocateur and sphinx that doesn’t look anywhere near her 72 years.

Libertango video

Haley Heynderickx  It’s only been 3 years since her debut albumI Need To Start A Garden; beautiful and unguarded electric folk music featuring little compelling stories.

Tiny Desk concert

Memphis Minnie Country blues guitar legend recorded over 200 albums in 3 decades, beat Big Bill Bronzy in a guitar contest, had a powerful voice and a glamorous, bawdy and tough stage presence.

Ma Rainey video

Mercedes Peon A Spanish one-woman tour-de-force who modernizes Galician traditions as she sings, plays bagpipes and percussion simultaneously.  

Live video

Nubya Garcia Lauded 20 something UK tenor saxophonist brings an exploratory, energized spirit to new jazz that melds dub, cumbia and classic sounds.

Lost Kingdom video

Rhiannon Giddens Founding Carolina Chocolate Drops and Our Native Daughters member is a peerless, powerful twenty-first-century folksinger, fiddler and banjo player and mentor. 

Black is the Colour video

Saint Sister ‘Atmosfolk’ created by two women with haunting, spare arrangements, perfect harmonies and subtle-but-observant insights.

Castles live

Sarah Neufeld The solo violin of long time Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre member is 

virtuosic, mesmerizing, innovative and sublime.

‘Dirt’ – live in Paris

Patti Smith The seminal NYC punk poet laureate, American singer-songwriter, musician, author is still so relevant. 

Because the Night

Totó La Momposina Now legendaryAfro-Colombian singer, dancer, interpreter and innovator was one of the early artists signed to the Real World Record label.

La Candela Viva

Valerie June Rambling-yet-precise, regal-yet-downhome, earthy-yet-mystical, June’s musical imagination and multi-instrumental prowess weaves funk, soul and Appalachian music.

Call Me a Fool or Shakedown video

Yissy Garcia Part of Cuba’s sonic revolution, she leads her funky Cuban jazz band from the drum kit with pure joy and precision plus is a go-to percussionist.

Universo – live

Kerry Clarke is the artistic director of the Calgary Folk Music Festival and hosts CJSW Radio’s Alternative to What? and CKUA’s Catch & Release programs. The musical tastes expressed here are hers alone and don’t necessarily reflect those of the organizations she’s proud to be part of.