The Recording Academy has been rewarding the most brilliant, female minds in the music industry since the first Grammy Awards ceremony in 1958. In fact, a total of twenty-eight awards were distributed that night, and Ella Fitzgerald walked away with two of them. During a period in which racism still plagued Hollywood, Fitzgerald became the first African American woman to win a Grammy, and the first woman in history to win multiple of these awards. Arooj Aftab, LeAnn Rimes, Whoopi Goldberg and Beyoncé are among the long list of women who have made a historical impact on the Grammys. As the entertainment industry is dominated by men, it is important to highlight the women who have paved the way for others.
1. Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald, also known as “The First Lady of Song”, began her career as a singer in 1934 when she was chosen to perform for Amateur Night at the Apollo Theatre. Fitzgerald, who initially felt too reserved and self-conscious to be thrusted into the spotlight, later became the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for decades. During her prolific career, Fitzgerald hosted sold-out shows at the top venues throughout the world and gained the support of an impressively diverse fanbase. No matter their economic background, ethnicity or religion, music admirers around the globe appreciated Fitzgerald’s work. It’s no surprise that the internationally renowned queen of jazz made history at the very first GRAMMY award ceremony when she became the first African-American award-winning artist. That night, the singer walked away with the awards for Best Jazz Performance, Individual and Best Vocal Performance, Female. Fitzgerald was not only the first African-American woman to win a GRAMMY, but the first woman to win multiple GRAMMYs. Apart from multiple other awards of recognition, Fitzgerald received a total of thirteen GRAMMYs during her career. Fitzgerald, who strongly abided by her motto, “Just don’t give up doing what you love to do”, has served as an iconic role model for women in the music industry for many years.
2. Arooj Aftab
Aftab’s career began in 2010 when she pursued the help of one the most renowned singers in South Asian history, Abida Parveen. At twenty five years old, Aftab made the fearless decision to knock on Parveen’s door and beg for help with finding her way in the music industry. Parveen immediately became infatuated with the singer and took her under her wing. Aftab is known for being unapologetically herself. She publicly talks about identifying as queer, her rebellious attitude that she adopted since she was a teenager, and her disregard for the strict expectations of Pakistani women. It was only in 2021 that Aftab decided to leave her day job as audio engineer and pursue music full-time. Despite not being well-known by American music-lovers, Aftab’s excellence gained her two GRAMMY nominations in 2022. She was nominated for Best New Artist and received the award for Best Global Music Performance. The album that attracted her international audience, Vulture Prince, is dedicated to her late brother.
3. LeAnn Rimes
Rimes started singing when she was two years old, and became a champion on the television talent show, Star Search, when she was only eight years old. Three years later, the young singer recorded her first full length album and was signed to Curb Records, which signed other renowned artists like Tim McGraw and Sammy Davis Jr. With this record label, Rimes was given the opportunity to produce her first country music hit, Blue. Rimes was initially hesitant about releasing the single, stating that, "I was very skeptical when 'Blue' was released as a single because it was very traditional, and I knew radio was gonna be hesitant to play it”. However, the single peaked at number ten on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart and gained her two GRAMMYs. In 1997, Rimes became the youngest person ever to win a GRAMMY. She walked away with the awards for Best New Artist and Best Female Country Vocal Performance. Rimes has sold over thirty seven million records worldwide and remains a country music legend to this day. Her story reminds us that you’re never too young to go after what you want.
4. Whoopi Goldberg
Whoopi Goldberg may come as a surprise on this list. However, despite the fact that she isn’t known for being a vocalist like everyone else on this list, Goldberg can still boast of making GRAMMY history. Goldberg is an American actress, producer and comedian who started her career in theatre when she was only eight years old. As a young adult, Goldberg performed in multiple Broadway shows and then moved to California where she pursued stand-up comedy. In 1985, Goldberg received a GRAMMY for her one-woman Broadway show, which was appropriately titled Whoopi Goldberg. However, it was in 1994 that Goldberg made GRAMMYs history. When Billy Crystal declined the opportunity to host the Academy Awards, Goldberg was chosen as the replacement. Consequently, Goldberg became the first female solo host of the ceremony, as well as the first solo African American host. Thanks to her excellent performance, Goldberg was chosen to host the ceremony four times between the period of 1992 to 2002.
Beyoncé Knowles formed the popular girl group, Destiny’s Child, with her childhood friends when she was only nine years old. For many years, the group was down on their luck. They lost on the Star Search television talent show and were dropped from their record label right before their album was released. In 1997, the group’s luck changed when they were signed to Columbia and started producing global hits. The group received two GRAMMYs during their time together, but Beyoncé's GRAMMY success didn’t stop there. Knowles took home five GRAMMY awards at the 2004 ceremony, thanks to the success of her first solo album. In 2021, she made history by becoming the most decorated female artist in GRAMMY history. At only forty years old, Knowles has received a total of twenty-eight GRAMMY awards. Without a doubt, her extraordinary talent will earn her many more in the years to come.
If it’s one lesson that these women have taught us, it’s that everyone is allowed to pursue the success they deserve. No matter your sexuality, economic background, age, or ethnicity, you should chase after what you want.