The 15 Best Female Bassists Of All Time
Bass plays a crucial role in music, and some of the most memorable hits wouldn’t be the same without it. This list includes 15 female bassists that took the instrument by storm.
Of course, no list like this can be absolutely definitive, but rest assured that all the bassists here deserve to be considered among the best.
1. Carol Kaye
The list can’t start without mentioning the great Carol Kaye. One of the most prolific bass players in music history, with a career lasting over 50 years, Kaye is truly a pioneer when it comes to playing bass guitar.
Carol Kaye was born in Washington, in 1935. She was born into a musical family from the get-go – her father was a jazz musician. From an early age, she took to music, receiving her first guitar at the age of 13. She was first known to walk the path of a jazz guitarist before switching to bass in 1963.
She has been featured in over 10,000 recordings, is an author of bass tutoring books, revered as one of the best session bass players of all time, she could come up with a catchy bass line in just minutes. It’s no wonder that her name is so praised in the bass world, and for good reason.
2. Meshell Ndegeocello
Michelle Lynn Johnson or “Meshell Ndegeocello” is another great female bass player. The German-born musician dabbles in several genres, including jazz, reggae, soul, funk, and many more. Not only is she a great bass player, but she is also a singer-songwriter with many tunes under her belt.
Born in 1968 in Berlin, Germany, Michelle was also born into a somewhat musical family, her father was a saxophonist. She moved to the US to pursue her art career and, needless to say, she succeeded.
Her playing is funky, incorporating a lot of slap technique that just gives off that funk vibe. You can listen to her bass solo linked above and try not to bob your head too much to the catchy melody. Meshell Ndegeocello is certainly among the greats, being nominated for many Grammy awards and winning one as well.
3. Esperanza Spalding
Esperanza Emily Spalding is a youngblood on this list but is featured for a good reason. This 5 time Grammy award-winning bass player attended the Berklee College of Music where she honed her skills, while also being self-taught in the art of guitar and bass.
Esperanza was born in 1984 in Portland, Oregon, and started her musical journey at a VERY early age. She played violin at the age of 5 eventually learning and switching to guitar and bass. Being self-taught, she is proficient in not only bass and guitar but also double bass and is a vocalist as well.
Rocking the fretless bass, her groove is unparalleled which you can get a taste of from the above link. Apart from winning Grammy awards, she has also won a Boston Music Award and a Soul Train Music Award. Needless to say, Esperanza Spalding is a force in the female bass world.
4. Rhonda Smith
Rhonda Smith is another funky bass player, best known for working with Prince and Jeff Beck. This Canadian-born bassist had an early start with music, dabbling with instruments like guitar, keyboard, and even a baritone horn, before eventually settling on bass guitar.
She studied jazz music at McGill University in Montreal to hone her skills which eventually showed and bagged her a “Best Contemporary Jazz Album” award. Known for her 10-year collaboration with Prince, she also worked with Chaka Khan, Beyoncé, and many more artists.
Her bass skills involve a complex knowledge of everything jazz which shows in her display linked above. Her feel is perfect and her improv skills certainly shine when she is given the spotlight. Truly, she is one of the best to ever do it.
5. Tal Wilkenfeld
Another young but very accomplished female bassist on this list is Tal Wilkenfeld. Despite being young, her musical repertoire encompasses everything from rock to folk to even indie music. Not to mention her profound interest in jazz music.
Tal was born in 1986 in Sydney, Australia, and has already bagged a “The Year’s Most Exciting New Player” and a “Young Gun Award”. This all makes sense when you see her collaboration history. This includes Prince, Toto, Jeff Beck, Keith Urban, and many more great artists.
Despite only being in the game for 20 years, Tal Wilkenfeld is a prolific bassist and her calmness and knowledge of bass truly shine when you hear one of her solos. The link above is a true testament to how she plays the bass with ease and efficiency.
6. Tina Weymouth
If you’ve ever heard of the Talking Heads then you probably already know who Tina Weymouth is. She is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee with a career spanning almost 50 years. She is an American musician and a founding member of the highly popular band.
Martina Michèle Weymouth was born in 1950, in Coronado, California. Her musical career started at a very young age. Her minimalistic approach to playing bass came about when the band needed a bass player, at which point she started to learn the instrument just then.
Needless to say, with a stroke of destiny placing Tina behind a bass guitar, she has then-after been behind some memorable and danceable bass lines that are responsible for some of Talking Heads’ greatest hits.
7. Gail Ann Dorsey
Gail Ann Dorsey is probably most famous for her long career as David Bowie’s bass guitarist. Not only that, but she is associated with many famous names with who she has recorded like Lenny Kravitz, Charlie Watts, Boy George, and many more.
The Philadelphia, Pennsylvania native was born in 1962 and started her musical journey on the guitar at the young age of 9. At the age of 14, she got her first bass guitar but did not start her bass journey yet. She was, in fact, a vocalist when her career started, before going into full-bass mode with David Bowie.
Her style is funky with a bit of rock influence with the added country and pop influence as well. With over 30 years in the music industry, it is easy to see why she made the list.
8. Ginger Pooley
Ginger Pooley is a name you probably recognize if you’ve ever been a fan of The Smashing Pumpkins. While mostly known for her years with the band, she is also a solo artist with the name Ginger Sling.
Ginger Reyes was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1977 and started her musical journey when she was still in high school. With a sense for writing and playing in different bands, she eventually found herself being the new bassist for The Smashing Pumpkins in 2007.
Although her collaboration with the band was short-lived, she has had her fair share of performing some memorable hits with her straightforward and minimalistic approach to playing the bass guitar.
9. Kim Gordon
Not only a bassist but also a guitarist and vocalist, Kim Gordon is probably most known as a member of the band Sonic Youth. An Otis College of Art and Design graduate, she pursued her career in New York before forming the famous band in 1981.
Kim was born in Rochester, New York in 1953 and has a whopping 40+ years of experience in the music industry. During her career, she has released over 10 albums with various groups (even solo ones).
With alternative rock, experimental, and punk-rock influences, she embodies the minimalistic and thumping approach to playing the bass guitar. Still going strong, it is natural that she is one of the best female bassists around.
10. Kira Roessler
All hardcore-punk fans will appreciate the next entry on this list – Kira Roessler. The bassist for Black Flag has had a very long career and is also an Emmy award-winning dialogue editor which is something you don’t see every day.
The New Haven native was born in 1961 and started learning the piano when she was only 6. Playing it for 5 years, she decided to quit. Afterward, just 3 years later, she picked up a bass guitar and found her passion. After hearing her play, the band Black Flag invited her to be a replacement for a founding member.
Her style of playing is a punk-rock-influenced jam of thumping basslines and alternative rock roots. You can hear her performance and get a whiff of her playing.
11. Laura Kennedy
The late bass player Laura Kennedy was probably most known for her role in the band Bush Tetras. The American post-punk band achieved moderate success and had a few member changes over the years.
Laura Kennedy played for many years with the band, being the foundation with a gripping bass sound until her tragic passing. The band was well-respected, even without achieving mainstream success. Laura had her fair share to play in that, without question.
12. Enid Williams
Enid Williams is a highly accomplished musician with her fingers dipped in many aspects of the music industry. The Girlschool bassist is known to have toured alongside Black Sabbath, Rush, and Uriah Heep.
Enid started gigging at the young age of 14 and after starting Girlschool, they even toured with Motorhead and released their debut album “Demolition”. After all those years, in 2015, Girlschool embarked on a tour, yet again with Motorhead.
Her playing style involves a lot of power-driven, thumping, and straightforward bass playing that just works very well with their music.
13. Wanda Oritz
Wanda Ortiz or Steph Harris, as she is known, is the bassist for the all-female tribute band – The Iron Maidens. Playing with a few bands when she was young, she later joined the tribute band and they are still going strong.
Wanda was born in Huntington Beach, California in 1968 and started playing the bass guitar when she was only 9. Her story is a school project gone right! Taking a shine to the instrument at a very young age, she embarked on her all-bass journey – learning the double bass and later on, the electric bass.
Her playing style, as you can imagine, involves a lot of shredding fingerwork for the fast-paced songs which she does effortlessly and builds a strong foundation to embellish all the other instruments.
14. Gail Greenwood
Gail Greenwood is a Rhode Island native, best known for playing bass in Belly and L7. Originally playing the baritone horn, she switched to guitar before later being employed to play the bass for the band Throwing Muses.
She took to music at an early age and has a substantial active career of over 40 years now, with no signs of slowing down. Her style is very playful and her technique is on point. She is known for her electrifying stage presence and the energy she projects.
15. Abby Travis
Finishing this list is the touring bass player Abby Travis. With almost 40 years in the music industry, Travis has made a name for herself as a successful touring bassist.
Born in West Hartford, Connecticut in 1969, Abby Travis has amassed quite the resume over the years, being the bass player and often the backup singer for many groups. Despite all this, she has released 4 solo albums of her own.
Her style is pretty simple but effective, she has effortless playing, and her singing chops are also quite good. It’s no wonder she is listed as a member of many touring and active music groups.
From Carol Kaye to Abby Travis, many female bassists have made a mark on music throughout the years. While the bass is still somewhat considered a male-dominated instrument, these women beg to differ when it comes to playing chops, influences, and success.
Carol Kaye Featured Image (Top-Left) by: Carol Kaye – https://www.carolkaye.com/www/library/photogallery/index.htm, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link
Carol Kaye Featured Image (Top-Right) by: Andrea Mancini, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Rhonda Smith Featured Image (Bottom-Left) by: Alex G from Puteaux, France, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Tal Wilkenfeld Featured Image (Bottom-Right) by: Mandy Hall, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons