10 Best Female Folk Singers

A list of the 10 best female folk singers includes a host of fine-singing ladies from several generations of singer/songwriters. Traditional folk singing involves covering a list of songs influenced by a culture or nationality, but these ladies rocked the music world singing a few songs that meet traditional standards and a host of others that addressed politics and the human condition, including love and love lost. 

  1. Joan Baez. Joanie is the grand lady of the folk singers. She started her career as a good friend of Bob Dylan and expanded her repertoire to include war protesting during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. From protest tunes to traditional English ballads, Ms. Baez is a classic of the genre. The soprano continues to record her renditions of folk tunes and modern standards. 
  2. Joni Mitchell. Although she has dabbled in the jazz genre for the last twenty years, Joni Mitchell started out in the 1960s as a folk singer. The fact that so many people, including Nena, Amy Grant, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Judy Collins all recorded her songs puts her on the ten best female folk singer list. The Alberta, Canada native continues to write and record. 
  3. Buffy Sainte-Marie. Buffy celebrated peace and Native American culture in her songs and performances. Her first performances in 1962 lead to tours across the U.S. and in Europe. Cher, Elvis and Barbra Streisand all recorded her tunes. The most famous "The Universal Solider" was a cover for many peace protesters, both male and female folk singers. 
  4. Nanci Griffith. Ms. Griffith began her songwriting career at the age of six and was discovered at age fourteen as she played the guitar and sang at a folk festival. Her claim to a slot on the top ten female folk singers comes with her catalog of tunes, including "Love at the Five and Dime" and "Gulf Coast Highway," and her classic recordings of interesting tunes, featuring her song stylings on "From a Distance." 
  5. Judy Collins. A singer that songster Stephen Still called "Sweet Judy Blue Eyes" hit the charts in 1968 with a Joni Mitchell penned song titled "Both Sides Now."  This song, along with "Amazing Grace," released in 1970, "Cook with Honey," out in 1973 and "Send in the Clowns," a song that hit the airwaves in 1975, made her name in folk music and made her a top contender for top female folk singer. 
  6. Sandy Denny. Ms. Denny died in 1978, but her legacy lives on. She gained fame as a member of Fairport Convention, a UK group, and from her own songwriting skills that produced such classics as "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" She was the only woman allowed to sing on a Led Zeppelin ditty and that for some means a bullet to the top of the best female folk singer list. 
  7. Miriam Makeba. Ms. Makeba was a civil rights activist and folk singer who died in 2008. She is also a member of the elite ladies of folk. She won recognition, and music awards, for her tune "The Click Song" and "Pata Pata." She toured with Paul Simon and won international peace awards. 
  8. Kate & Anna McGarrigle. The Canadian-born McGarrigle sisters released their first album in 1975 that took the "Melody Maker" award as "Best Record of the Year." The singer-songwriter duo's music was called some of the most memorable music to come from North America. Kate is the mom to singer Rufus and Martha Wainwright, who are folkies in their own right. Sadly, Kate died from cancer in January of 2010, but happily, Anna continues with a solo career. "Heart Like a Wheel" and "Work Song" are two of the team's classics. 
  9. Maria Maldaur. Ms. Maldaur made working as a waitress in a doughnut shop a popular career and the oasis the spot at midnight in her songs, but she also recorded many a folk classic, including the "Work Song" written by the McGarrigles. 
  10. Mary Travers. The late Ms. Travers was part of the team of Peter, Paul and Mary and started her singing career in her teens in Greenwich Village in NYC. Mary sang with folk great Pete Seeger and also recorded four solo albums.