33 Women Music Critics You Need to Read

Ideally, you wouldn’t need a list like this, which might sound as patronizing as a “women in rock” magazine issue, but like most other professions, music journalism is still mostly a sausage fest. Think of about it. Who’s the most revered saint in the biz? Lester Bangs. Who are the elder statesmen? Greil Marcus, Robert Christgau, Richard Meltzer. The recent “voice of a generation”? Chuck Klosterman. Sure, we admire ’em but do you notice a pattern here?

A sea change may be happening, though. This month saw the publication of Out of the Vinyl Deeps, an anthology of music writing the late New Yorker critic Ellen Willis. The book also contained tributes to Willis from other women music writers, and resulted in a conference celebrating Willis (and featuring some of the field’s brightest stars) at NYU. Also this year, the Village Voice finally named a woman to head up their music section, for the first time in years, NPR’s online music section now features a woman in a major post. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. So, this seems like a good time to toast some of the most noteworthy women in the field.

Though we salute a good number of writers here, this list is obviously incomplete. There are great writers who are no longer with us (Penny Valentine), who aren’t writing about music now (Barbara Flaska, Stacy McArdle), who write occasionally now (Carla DeSantis, Carola Dibbell, Deborah Frost, Amy Schroeder), who currently cover other parts of the pop spectrum (Kathy Fennessy, Joy Press, Tricia Romano) or whose current music scribing status is unclear (Gerri Hirshey, Mim Udovitch).

And in the end, there are actually hundreds of women music journalists that you should be reading. But this is a start.

Stacey Anderson

Though her background includes writing for NBC-New York and Spin, Anderson’s rightfully best known for her current going-on-three-years stint as Senior Associate Editor at the Village Voice, which also includes the sometimes-thankless-but-vital job as listings editor, not to mention brilliant pieces like her peek into Woody Allen’s music career, including a rare interview with the recluse himself. In addition, she helms the weekly “This Week In Rock History” column for Rolling Stone, and even her brief Voice previews for are informative and fun.

Daphne Brooks

Though she holds the prestigious post as a Princeton professor, specializing in African-American literature and teaching courses such as “Like a Rolling Stone: Race, Gender, Rock Music Criticism & Popular Music Culture,” Brooks also has an impressive scribing career — an article for The Nation on Beyoncé, a 33 1/3 series book on Jeff Buckley, an essay on the politics and comedy of legendary dancer/singer Josephine Baker, and an upcoming treatise on women in R&B. We just wanna know why our college profs couldn’t have been as cool as Brooks.

Daphne Carr

Former zine editor and current member of Columbia University’s ethnomusicology program, Carr made a splash in Gotham, becoming Da Capo’s Series Editor of the Best Music Writing books for the last several years as well as serving as editor for Columbia’s Current Musicology journal. In addition, she recently wrote a book on Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine for 33 1/3 and penned one of the afterwards for the Willis anthology. Carr also co-founded (along with the writer of this article) and administers “girlgroup,” a discussion forum for women music journalists (including many listed here). Also check out her website , which includes her blog, playlists, activities, and photography.

Kandia Crazy Horse

Take your pick of what’s more impressive: an editor at Creative Loafing and the Village Voice or the author of Rip It Up: The Black Experience in Rock & Roll or a writer who received a fellowship from Princeton University. How about someone who’s done all of that? Crazy Horse has an impressive bead not only on Southern Rock but also the racial politics of music, not to mention an unabashed, unapologetic, unique writing style to go along with it. On top of that, she’s known to style some pretty funky hats where ever she roams.

Adrienne Day

Another Columbia graduate who’s put her degree to good use, Day’s work encompasses many sides of media. She spent two years (’06 to ’08) as a senior editor at Entertainment Weekly where she also penned a number of impressive entries in their PopWatch column, covering everything from music to TV to cartoons with a unique personal flair. She then went on to work for Fuse TV for a year as their Director of Online programming. She now fills her time with freelance work, including pieces for the Village Voice (see her moving tribute to LCD Soundsystem) and The New York Times (see her interesting article on techno-tourism). Needless to say, dance music is a specialty of hers.

Jeanne Fury

A former NY Rock regular/columnist, the well-named Fury (not her birth name, natch) has become a feisty chronicler of the punk and metal scenes. You can now find her no-holds-barred prose at New York magazine, Decibel, and Newsday, among other places. Her take on why Decibel did a 2010 year-end album list along with other magazines: “Because 99 percent of those chucklefucks have god-awful and/or banal taste in everything, and approximately zero dB staffers power-jizzed our collective denim diaper over the Kanye West album.” Yow!

Rebecca Franks

An online editor and staff writer for BBC Music Magazine, Franks’ work can be found all over the site, exploring all manner of the classical world through her reviews, including Beethoven’s fondness for the great outdoors, musician jokes, centuries-old love affairs, space travel, and the chanteuses who influenced Chopin, all adding fascinating context to her reviews.

Donna Gaines

How exactly should you address Gaines if you bump into her? Well, first off, you could call her “Doc,” since she has a sociology degree, or “Prof,” since she’s also taught at Barnard and The New School. Or maybe something more spiritual, since she’s also an Episcopal minister and holistic healer. For our purposes here, you could call her a quality scribe, since her byline’s appeared in Newsday, Spin, Rolling Stone, and the Village Voice. “Author” fits her, too, since she wrote the well-researched and well-regarded Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia’s Dead End Kids and A Misfit’s Manifesto: The Sociological Memoir of a Rock & Roll Heart. Finally, you might wanna yell “gabba gabba hey!” at her since she’s chronicled the Ramones enough to be their biographer. Learn more about Gaines’ multi-faceted life at her website.

Holly George-Warren

You’d have a pretty easy time filing up a bookshelf of work from the award-winning Warren, who’s covered rock, cowboys, the Grateful Dead, Woodstock, punk, stress relief, and children’s literature. She’s written or co-written 13 books and edited or co-edited ten, and then to top all of that off, she was also responsible for publishing 40 more books as an editor for Rolling Stone Press. But wait, there’s more: She’s also worked for Grammy Museum and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, been a lecturer and consultant for a bunch of country-related organizations and teaches (what else?) journalism at CUNY. In short, she makes Stephen King look like a freakin’ slacker. Plus, her liner notes for Rhino’s Gram Parsons collection deserved a Grammy and not just a nomination. Read more about her at her website.

Vivien Goldman

New York University hired her as an Adjunct Professor of Punk and Reggae, and it’s not hard to see why. In addition to chronicling the early punk movement for NME and Melody Maker, she was also a recording artist (working with Johnny Lydon, the Flying Lizards and Massive Attack), a biographer of Bob Marley (including 2006’s Book of Exodus), and the author of a book on Jamaican cooking. Did we mention that at a book store appearance for one of her Marley tomes, she brought some nyabinghi (ceremonial Rasta) drummers along to accompany her and told some hilarious and moving stories about Bob himself? That’s not even mentioning her on-going journalism career, with includes pieces for Village Voice (including this moving tribute to Poly Styrene) and The New York Times, and a column at BBC America, where she was rightfully known as “the punk professor.” You can find an extended version of her life and career at her website.

Leah Greenblatt

After her initial work in the post-grunge climate of the Northwest at The Stranger and Seattle Weekly (where she served as associate editor), Greenblatt made her way out east in the last decade, starting with Time Out New York and then settling into a staff writing post at Entertainment Weekly, where she has spent over three years as senior music critic and became the music editor in March. Part of her specialty there has included tributes to late musicians, including punks, singer-songwriters, and bluesmen, as well as interviews (including a recent sharp one with Jack White), overviews, reviews, and news — pretty much covering the whole scribe spectrum.

dream hampton

Noted as “your favorite rapper’s favorite writer,” hampton was the first female editor for The Source, with her byline also appearing in Vibe, Essence, Harper’s BazaarSpin, and the Village Voice, among other places. She was also good friends with one Christopher Wallace (aka Notorious B.I.G.), later producing an Emmy-Award winning documentary on him. More recently, she was the co-author/ghost writer for Jay-Z’s Decoded and director of hip-hop doc Black August. One of the articles that she’s most proud of is her recent Vibe cover story on J-Hova, and it’s easy to see why: Too few writers in any genre use the medium as effectively and wisely as she does. Also check her wonderfully designed website.

Maura Johnston

Even before she recently took the well-deserved post as music editor at the Village Voice, it would be unthinkable to make a list like this without including Johnston. It’s not just her bylines in classy pubs like Esquire, Vanity Fair, and The Daily Beast that make her work so special. It was also the breathtakingly insightful and extensive coverage of the pop world that she did for Idolator, which made her a major force in the scribing world. (Idolator, meanwhile, has been awful since her departure.) We also enjoy her hilarious Tumblr.

Frannie Kelley

Although you might have seen her writing for New York Magazine or heard her on WNYC’s Soundcheck, Kelley’s staple work is for NPR. Along with being an editor there for about four years now, she’s done a number of absorbing pieces, including eulogies for the boombox and Notorious B.I.G. and a defense of Odd Future. As you can tell, rap is a specialty and interest for her. Oh, and did we mention the piece where she unveiled the hilarious scheme behind a fake press release?

Sara Marcus

No relation to Greil, Sara Marcus has nonetheless had an enviable background that served her well. In DC, she immersed herself not just in the punk culture but also the then-burgeoning ’90s riot grrrl scene, where she published a zine and played in a band. She followed her writing muse to snag bylines in Slate and Time Out, among other places, as well as placing poetry in several lit journals. But her early years really came to fruition with the publication of Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution last year. Few people could have provided such a comprehensive, insider’s view of the movement as she did.

Anne Midgette

As impressive as her background was (covering classical music for the Wall Street Journal for a decade and a seven-year stint at The New York Times), Midgette’s work reached a peak in 2008, when she became a music critic for The Washington Post. Her Classical Beat column is the best kind of blog, where she provides musings that are thought-provoking and open-ended enough to start conversations (and arguments). At her best, she explores angles of the music world that we take for granted, including the problem of categorizing music, writers’ own biases, why we need holiday music, pandering to audiences, and putting artists on pedestals. Midgette knows that we need to think more deeply about these things and keeps challenging her readers to do so.

Evelyn McDonnell

How could we not include here the co-editor of Rock She Wrote: Women Write About Rock, Pop and Rap? Among the other notable achievements, McDonnell was the first woman to be music editor of the Village Voice, the author of Mamarama: A Memoir of Sex, Kids and Rock’n’roll (great title), and co-author of an award-winning expose for the Miami Herald, “Police Secretly Watching Hip-Hop Artists.” After six distinguished years at the Herald, she’s moved on to other sunnier climes out west, writing mostly for the Los Angeles Times and shaping young minds as an Assistant Professor of Journalism and New Media at Loyola. You can find out more about her at her website.

Nekesa Mumbi Moody

A self-described “music writer on the go” (which is also cool, especially since she fills her Celeb Clutter blog with her own photos), Moody is not only the music editor for the Associated Press but also one of its foremost reporters, securing interviews with assorted A-list single-name artists as well as industry stories, news, and topical pieces. When award shows like the Grammys and MTV need a lead writer, they speed dial her. Her expertise is also called on by writers’ haven Poytner Institute (where she’s taught), cable TV (including VH1), and the National Association of Black Journalists, where she’s organized several panel conventions.

Evie Nagy

With a background of studies at Princeton, NYU, and Harvard, you’d expect someone like Nagy to go far, and that she did. Alongside numerous freelance gigs, Nagy (who’s got a nice website) took on the task of Associate Editor for Billboard‘s Special Features section in 2007, as well as writing up reviews, interviews, and important how-to guides aimed at artists. Last fall, she took an even bigger leap, becoming the editor of the newly-formed subscription based Billboard Pro site, which provides specialized data, tracking information, and aggregators for up-and-coming artists. Nagy also runs a comics-obsessed blog/podcast to feed her “adult-onset superhero comic book habit.” And in a late breaking update, Navy is just about to become managing editor of RollingStone.com. Small wonder that she was one of the scribes who was tapped to do an afterward for the recent Ellen Willis anthology.

Anne Hilde Neset

Though its tagline is “Adventures in Modern Music,” everyone who has any interest in avant garde music knows that The Wire is the bible for that genre. Now going on her tenth year as a contributor, Neset now serves as the deputy editor, handling (among other things) the online and live review sections. She’s also been the genial and knowledgeable host of the magazine’s online music show “The Wire On Air” and interrogated assorted musicians about music she selects secretly beforehand in the ongoing series “Invisible Jukebox.”

Lara Pellegrinelli

Armed with a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from Harvard, Pellegrinelli’s been well-equipped to take on the academic and writing worlds. Along with her teaching work at Princeton’s Jazz Department (where she covers “the evolution of jazz styles”), her work’s been included in the Village Voice, Wall Street Journal, and Time Out New York. Especially notable is her series for Jazz Times on lesser known women in the field and her ongoing stint for NPR’s A Blog Supreme, which started last year and has included a moving tribute to Abbey Lincoln.

Heather Phares

As strong a supporter of the Wolverine State as Eminem, Michigan native Phares not only attended University of Michigan and wrote for the Michigan Daily but also calls Ann Arbor her home. The reason you should know about her is the impressive writing that she’s done since 1995 for All Music Guide, where she’s an editor. Just about any of her reviews will give you perspective on the history of a band, useful historical comparisons, good descriptive language that captures the music and info about where the album falls in the overall picture of a band’s work — in short, everything you should be getting from a review. She’s also responsible for AMG’s News Roundup, culling stories from numerous online sources to give readers a well-rounded overview of the music world.

Amy Phillips

Though she started out writing in her native Philly, it was as a freelancer for the Village Voice (2001-2006) that Phillips made her mark, specifically with her plea to Sonic Youth to disband, which earned her piles of hate mail. That recognition helped put her name on the map, and in 2005 she migrated to Pitchfork, where she became the news editor. Though they’re mostly known for their single-digit-integer-with-decimal grades, Phillips helped to change that — she was one who was responsible for beefing up Pitchfork’s news department into a respectable reporting contingent.

Ann Powers

Anyone who thought that Powers (co-editor of Rock She Wrote: Women Write About Rock, Pop, and Rap and author of Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America) wouldn’t be able to top her post as music critic for The New York Times and editor for the Village Voice should’ve been pleasantly surprised when she upped the ante with her insightful work at The Los Angeles Times, which she joined five years ago. Her specialty’s been to dissect meaning in the pop world with uncommon flair. She can even explain why music she doesn’t care for still has significance. If that wasn’t enough, she spent five years organizing the annual music conference at Experience Music Project in her native Seattle and is now set to conquer yet another medium as the main voice of NPR’s music blog.

Lisa Robinson

Me Decade music fans should remember Robinson interviewing any rock star you could name as a long-time columnist for the New York Post (before it was a right-wing stink-fest) and as such a pioneer in the field. Gimme Decade (’80s) music fans should know her as the host of Nightflight, the exemplary and sadly missed cable music program which showed MTV how it should be done. For the last decade-plus, though, Robinson has been a contributing editor and writer for Vanity Fair, where she’s chronicled all manner of rock, pop, and soul artists, along with her useful and extensive “Hot Tracks” column of upcoming and current releases. Note to VH1: she deserves to be back on cable regularly again, with her own show.

A.C. Rhodes

Her roots were in Boston Rock and a Milwaukee punk zine, but Rhodes did an invaluable public service when she came on board with rockcritics.com in 2007 as its main editor. Thanks to her input in the last several years, this important online resource was revitalized not only by her interviews of notable writers but also her weekly surveys to draw in and involve readers in the wonderfully insane world of music scribing.

Kim Ruehl

When No Depression went belly-up in 2008, alt-country fans were weeping at the loss of their religious text. Luckily, it was resurrected the following year as an online destination. Ruehl has been the one to take the reins on this, creating a lively community of articles, discussions, and arguments. If that wasn’t impressive enough, consider that her background is in classical music and that she’s been working on a book on an accordionist/labor organizer.

Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

If you’ve read Pitchfork, The Fader (where she was executive editor), or AlterNet (where she serves as culture editor), you’ve probably come across Shepherd’s work, and you were probably glad that you did. Although she thoroughly covers music, she lists her other obsessions as “politics, pop culture, fashion, art, dance, film, feminism, Latina issues, the Mayan apocalypse and, occasionally, rants,” all of which you can see in her hilarious, fearless blog. Even after all of that, some of her brainiest, most insight work can be found in her writing for Thirteen/WNET’s website, where she dissects rap regionalism, Euro pop, Radiohead, horror movies, and ’90s nostalgia.

Sylvie Simmons

You’d expect that a writer who’s been with Mojo magazine since its inception would know just about any classic rock star you could think of, and it’s pretty safe to say that Simmons did. With a career stretching back to the ’70s, she’s done a long-standing Americana column for Mojo, along with several cover stories there and bylines in Q, the Guardian, San Francisco Chronicle, Rolling Stone, and Creem where she’s interrogated everyone from AC/DC to Michael Jackson. In addition, she has a few tomes under her belt, including brief but insightful takes on Neil Young, Kiss, and especially Serge Gainsbourg (A Fistful of Gitanes) as well as the funny, semi-fictional Too Weird for Ziggy.

Molly Sheridan

Sheridan is the best kind of overachiever — a polymath whose interests can’t be collected in one single place or area. Along with earning Deems-Taylor Award, she’s the managing editor at classical haven New Music Box, director of an online radio site, blogger for Artsjournal, and co-editor of a site that reviews cookbooks alongside delicious photos and recipes. She manages to do all of this as she bounces back and forth between New York and Baltimore.

Courtney Smith

Up until recently, Smith spent nearly a decade as the MTV’s manager of label relations and one of their music programmers, deciding which videos to broadcast. As much of a power player as she had been, she earns a place here not just for her freelance work here at Flavorpill and The Daily Swarm but also for her upcoming book, Record Collecting For Girls, where she provides a femme take on music debates and what guys’ own collections have to say about them, as well as her own advice on creating playlists and building a music library. Long overdue, we’d say.

Jaan Uhelszki

You should know her as a recurring talking head on VH1’s Behind the Music, but Uhelszki’s career has also included such notable highlights as being a Creem magazine co-founder and an editor during its ’70s heyday — as such, she was one of the first women to make her mark in the world of rock journalism. Nowadays you’ll find her as an editor at Relix. She’s also had bylines in Rolling Stone, Mojo, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Oh, and how could we neglect to mention that she holds the distinction of being “the only journalist to have ever performed in full makeup with Kiss”? Admit it — you’re jealous (we are).

Deena Weinstein

Proving that academia and heavy metal aren’t necessarily exclusive worlds, Weinstein (who also uses the alias “Deena Dasein”) has been writing since the early ’70s, as well as working as a professor at DePaul University. Along with books on sociology and Nietzsche, she’s written about Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen, and Rush, as well as her specialty, head-banging music: See her 1991 tome Heavy Metal: A Cultural Sociology and her 2000 book Heavy Metal: The Music And Its Culture for proof. Along with the tons of chapters she’s written for anthologies and academic journals, she also has piles of clippings from newspapers and magazines across the country. On the scholarly tip, her classes cover rock, celebrity, and popular culture, including studies of Foucault, Shakespeare, Harry Potter, and drinking. If that doesn’t that make you wanna go back to school again, nothing will.