When the Drummers Were Women? – Complete Review

When the drummers were women?
Throughout history, women have played the drums. In ancient times it was in church ceremonies of different faiths. Nowadays women play in modern bands.

More and more often, the beautiful half of humanity is trying its hand at male activities, and female drummers are no exception. At the beginning of the twentieth century, women who tried to earn money playing musical instruments were looked down upon.

Times have changed: now girls play jazz and metal, but still, drums are still the exception, as the uninitiated believe that to play them you need male strength. But it’s not – watch and be amazed.

Women Drummers in History


In many cultures around the world, drumming was once – and in some cases, still is – the domain of women. In some cultures, women drummers are thought to be imbued with special powers, and their drumming is used for both ceremonial and practical purposes. Here, we take a look at some of the ways in which women drummers have played – and continue to play – a vital role in their communities.

woman with drum machine

In those days, women used ancient drums, which were quite different from modern ones. They were heavier and more oversized, but girls played such drums as well as men.

In many cultures, drumming is seen as a way to connect with the spirit world. For example, in some parts of Africa, women are thought to be the custodians of the drum, and its rhythms are used to communicate with their ancestors. In other cultures, women use their drumming skills to heal the sick or to drive away evil spirits.

There have been repeated periods in history when women have been drummers in ritual ceremonies of different churches and denominations. The church lady played the drums and acted as a shepherd and influenced vast masses of people with her music, dance, and singing.

In some cultures, women are the only ones allowed to touch the drums. In others, drumming is seen as a way to celebrate femininity and women’s power. In many cultures, women use their drumming skills to welcome new life into the world or to mark the passage of a girl into womanhood.

And, of course, women have also used their drumming skills to create music that is simply for the joy of it. For centuries, women have gathered together to share their love of drumming, and to create rhythms that lift the spirit and make the body move.

The earliest mention of the drummer goes back to a text dating to the time of the reign of Pharaoh Cheops (27 c. B.C., 4th dynasty of the Old Kingdom), which speaks of a certain musician named Mari, who sang for her mistress, accompanying her singing with the playing of the drum.

women drummers egypt

One of the first drummers mentioned in history was also a priestess from Mesopotamia named Lipushiau. She lived in the polis (city-state) of Ur in 2380 B.C., which then conquered all the polis in the neighborhood. Lipushiau was the spiritual, financial, and administrative head of the temple of Ekishnugala, dedicated to the moon god Nanna-Suen, the most important temple in Ur. Her emblem was the balag-di, a small drum on a round rim for liturgical chants. More than 4,000 years ago Lipushiau lit!

Ancient Greece witnessed the birth of the cult of the goddess Cybele, from West Antolia. The timpanium, a Greek frame, was the main instrument of the menadas, women dedicated to the service of Cybele and Dionysus.

The priestesses of Adonis, Demeter, and Aphrodite also used this musical instrument. It follows that exclusively women played both one-sided and two-sided tambourines.

To learn more about the female drummers in our history, see Layne Redmond’s book “When the drummers were women”. This is a great book from an author who knows firsthand what drum music is all about. The author is a drummer herself and knows firsthand what it means to be a musician.

Popular Women Drummers

Here are the names of the most famous female drummers, who have found their own style of playing, which even men imitate. The list could go on: every year new drummers enter the scene.

Viola Smith

In the 1930s hundreds of orchestras toured America, including women’s orchestras like in the movie “Only Girls in Jazz”. Viola Smith began playing with her sisters and later performed with the most famous women’s orchestras in the country. Now 102 years old, she still plays the drums and gives lessons.

viola smith drummer

Cindy Blackman

Drummer Lenny Kravitz first sat behind the kit at age 6, and then it happened. After high school, she went to Berklee College of Music in New York but dropped out after a couple of semesters and played on the street, meeting famous drummers.

In 1993 she called Lenny and he asked her to play something on the phone. The next day Cindy was already getting ready to record in Los Angeles. The girl is constantly involved in jazz projects, and since 2013 she has been playing in Carlos Santana’s band.

Meg White

Meg plays simple and naive, but that’s the whole point of the White Stripes. There’s a reason why this project of Jack White’s is more popular than any other. The girl had never thought of a career as a drummer, one day Jack just asked her to play along, and it came out cool.

Sheila E

Sheila was surrounded by musicians growing up; her father and uncle played with Carlos Santana, another uncle became the founder of The Dragons, and her brothers were also involved in music.

The girl grew up in California and liked to spend her free time drinking lemonade and listening to local bands rehearse. During her career, she played with Prince, Ringo Starr, Herbie Hancock, and George Duke. Sheila now tours the world with her band and performs at festivals.

Terry Line Carrington

At age 7, Terry was given a drum kit by her grandfather, who played with Fats Waller and Chu Barry. Two years later, she had her first performance at a jazz festival. After graduating from Berklee College, the girl played with such jazz legends as Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Gets, Herbie Hancock, and others. Terry now teaches at Berklee and records albums with famous jazzmen.

terry line carrington drummer

Jen Langer

Jen was invited to play in Skillet when she was just 18 years old, and soon she won a competition for young drummers in Great Britain. In the band, she also sings in some compositions

Mo Tucker

Primitive rhythms without cymbals have become a trademark of the Velvet Underground. Mo says that she didn’t learn to play on purpose to keep this sound, complicated breaks and beats would completely change the band’s style.

The girl wanted her rhythms to resemble African music, but the guys couldn’t find ethno-drums in their town, so Mo played on an inverted barrel, using beats. The girl always helped unload the instruments and stood for the whole performance so no one would think she was a weak girl.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is the best female drummer?

The best female drummer is a highly subjective title that could go to any number of talented women. Some notable female drummers include Sheila E., Cindy Blackman, and Holly Knight.

What bands have a female drummer?

The Go-Go’s, Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, The Slits, The Donnas, Hole, The Gits, L7, The Bangles, The Pretenders, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Runaways, The Raincoats, Excuse 17, Team Dresch, Bratmobile, The Butchies, The Pipettes, The Shangri-Las, The Ronettes, The Marvelettes, The Shirelles, The Crystals, The Ronnettes.

What percentage of drummers are female?

There is no definitive answer to this question as it largely depends on the genre of music being played as well as the geographical location. However, some estimates suggest that around 5% of drummers are female.

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Despite what some people think, female drummers, play so musically and technically that many men can only envy. After seeing so many examples, girls start playing percussion instruments more often, which means that more and more bands with female drummers appear in the music world. Black Angels, Bikini Kills, Slits, The Go-Gos, Beastie Boys – the list is endless.

They play as virtuoso as their male counterparts and sometimes surpass them in virtuosity. The names of the great drummers that are listed in this article prove it.

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