Most Successful Female Drummers of All Time, Ranked
Throughout history, there have been remarkable women who have defied convention, pushed boundaries and achieved tremendous success in the male-dominated world of drumming.
From the electrifying beats of Sheila E. to the fast-paced rhythms of Viola Smith, these trailblazing female drummers have proven that gender is no obstacle to musical mastery. Their success can be measured not only in fame and records sold but in influence.
15. Kate Schellenbach
Year born: Jan. 5, 1966
From: New York, New York
Bands: Beastie Boys, Luscious Jackson
Bottom Line: Kate Schellenbach
Kate Schellenbach was a founding member of The Beastie Boys, which started out as a punk band. She appeared on the band's debut EP, "Polly Wog Stew," but left soon after. The remaining members of the Beastie Boys then transitioned to rap and hip-hop and had massive success.
Schellenbach went on to co-found Luscious Jackson in 1991. The band released several albums, most of which garnered critical acclaim and achieved moderate commercial success.
She later moved into TV and became an Emmy Award-winning segment producer on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and has also worked as a producer on "Chelsea Lately" and "The Late Late Show with James Corden." However, she's never stopped playing music — she was last seen accompanying Fred Armisen at his show in L.A. in May 2023.
14. Viola Smith
Year born: Nov. 29, 1912
From: Mount Calvary, Wisconsin
Bands: The Coquettes, The Ada Leonard Orchestra, The Frances Carroll Orchestra
Bottom Line: Viola Smith
Viola Smith rose to prominence in the 1930s and 1940s as the "fastest girl drummer in the world" due to her exceptional speed and precision. She was highly respected by musicians in the swing and big band genres for her sheer talent and lively performances.
Smith was a feminist decades before the feminist movement — she always advocated for the recognition and advancement of women in music.
In addition to her performing career, she was also an influential figure in music education. She taught drums and authored instructional books on drumming techniques. She died in 2020 at the age of 107.
13. Demetra Plakas
Year born: Nov. 9, 1960
From: Chicago, Illinois
Bottom Line: Demetra Plakas
L7 gained prominence in the 1990s for their raw and aggressive sound. A combo of punk and grunge, they released several albums during their career, including "Bricks Are Heavy" (with the 1990s classic, "Pretend We're Dead"), "Hungry for Stink" and "Slap-Happy." They ruled the '90s, driven by Demetra (Dee) Plakas' hard, energetic drumming style.
Plakas played on six of the seven albums the band released before L7's 2001 break up. They have since reunited and are playing dates in fall 2023.
12. Sandy West
Year born: July 10, 1959
From: Los Angeles, California
Bands: The Runaways
Bottom Line: Sandy West
Sandy West, teen drummer for the Runaways, was known for her raw energy, fierce playing style and unapologetic attitude. Her powerful drumming served as the backbone of the band's rebellious rock anthems, "Cherry Bomb" and "Queens of Noise" among them. (You can clearly see her influences on other female drummers, particularly L7's Demetra Plakas.)
After The Runways disbanded in 1979, West attempted a solo career but was unsuccessful. She took a variety of jobs to get by — she worked in construction, as a bartender and as a veterinary assistant.
Over the years, her drug issues began to catch up with her, and she was arrested and jailed repeatedly. She died from lung cancer at the age of 47 in 2006.
11. Sue Hadjopoulos
Year born: June 26, 1953
From: Flushing, New York
Bands: Joe Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Simple Minds, Enrique Iglesias, The B-52's, Ricky Martin (and many more)
Bottom Line: Sue Hadjopoulos
Sue Hadjopoulos is best known for her collaboration with Joe Jackson. She helped him create his 1982 album, "Night and Day" (featuring the hit single, "Steppin Out").
Hadjopoulos played with Jackson until about 2012. She continues to perform as a percussionist on Broadway and off-Broadway and has performed on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," "The Dave Letterman Show," Saturday Night Live," "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" and countless other shows and movies.
10. Patty Schemel
Year born: April 24, 1967
From: Marysville, Washington
Bands: Hole, Imperial Teen, Juliette and the Licks, Death Valley Girls
Bottom Line: Patty Schemel
Schemel joined Hole in 1992, replacing another drummer. She contributed to the band's critically acclaimed and most commercially successful album, "Live Through This," released in 1994. Her contributions to the band can be heard on songs like "Violet," "Doll Parts" and "Miss World."
Despite her significant role in the band, Schemel struggled with addiction, which ultimately led to her departure in 1998. She's now sober, lives in L.A. and has written a memoir, "Hits So Hard."
9. Janet Weiss
Year born: Sept. 24, 1965
From: Los Angeles, California
Bands: Sleater-Kinney, Quasi
Bottom Line: Janet Weiss
Janet Weiss joined Sleater-Kinney in 1996, replacing the band's previous drummer. When she joined, she played an essential role in shaping the band's distinctive sound, and her energetic playing style became a signature element of their music.
In addition to Sleater-Kinney, Weiss has been involved with several other notable bands, including Wild Flag (also featuring members of Sleater-Kinney), Helium and The Minders. She's also collaborated with Stephen Malkmus (formerly of Pavement) and The Jicks, Bright Eyes and Quasi, in which she plays alongside ex-husband Sam Coomes.
Bottom Line: Bobbye Hall
Bobbye Hall may be a name you've never heard before, but you've certainly heard her drumming. Her percussion work can be found on several iconic albums, such as Stevie Wonder's "Songs in the Key of Life" and Carole King's "Tapestry." She's also worked with Janis Joplin, Marvin Gaye, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Tracy Chapman and Neil Diamond, among countless others.
Hall not only works with drums, but she's a multi-talented percussionist who has mastered congas, bongos, tambourines, shakers and other instruments. Despite her significant contributions as a session player, she has maintained a relatively low profile. Her talent and skill has made her a highly respected figure among musicians.
7. Cindy Blackman
Year born: Nov. 18, 1959
From: Yellow Springs, Ohio
Bands: Lenny Kravitz, Santana
Bottom Line: Cindy Blackman
Cindy Blackman comes from a jazz background, and she's been praised for her technical proficiency and improvisational abilities. She has performed and recorded with numerous jazz legends, including Jackie McLean, Joe Henderson, Pharoah Sanders, Ron Carter and many others.
Blackman gained widespread public attention when she joined Lenny Kravitz's band in the 1990s. She toured with Kravitz for 18 years and later became Carlos Santana's touring drummer. In 2010, Santana proposed to her onstage during a Tinley Park, Illinois, concert. The couple currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada.
6. Moe Tucker
Year born: Aug. 26, 1944
From: New York, New York
Bands: The Velvet Underground
Bottom Line: Moe Tucker
While The Velvet Underground weren't successful in their 1960s heyday, they are one of the most influential bands of all time. They've influenced scores of musicians over the decades, if not whole genres of music.
During her time with the Velvets, Moe Tucker's drumming style was characterized by its stripped-down primal approach. People either love or hate how she played, but her sound will be forever linked to the band's personality. One person who loved Tucker's playing was Velvets frontman Lou Reed, who was notoriously hard to please. He stated, "Her style of drumming that she invented is amazing. I’ve tried to get a drummer to do what she did, and it’s impossible.”
After The Velvet Underground disbanded in 1970, Tucker devoted most of her time to her family; however, she released several albums throughout the 1980s and 1990s. She's also collaborated with other musicians and has occasionally reunited with former bandmates for special performances.
5. Debbi Peterson
Year born: Aug. 22, 1961
From: Los Angeles, California
Bands: The Bangles
Bottom Line: Debbi Peterson
In 1981, Debbi Peterson co-founded the power pop band The Bangs — later renamed The Bangles — with her sister, Vicki Peterson (guitar/vocals), and Susanna Hoffs (guitar/lead vocals). In addition to her drumming duties, Debbi Peterson is a songwriter who co-wrote some of the band's biggest hits, including "Going Down to Liverpool" and "Be With You." She also contributes vocals to most of the band's songs.
After The Bangles disbanded in 1989, Peterson released a solo album, "No Souvenirs," in 1996. The Bangles later reunited and continues to perform intermittently.
4. Gina Schock
Year born: Aug. 31, 1957
From: Baltimore, Maryland
Bands: The Go-Go's, House of Schock, The Delphines
Bottom Line: Gina Schock
Gina Schock played a vital role in the Go-Go's as the driving force behind their danceable and catchy pop-rock songs. She also contributed to the band's songwriting and co-wrote "Head Over Heels" and "Yes or No."
After The Go-Go's disbanded in 1985, Schock continued to work on various music projects, including collaborations with other artists and writing for TV and film. The band regrouped over the years but finally called it quits in 2022.
3. Meg White
Year born: Dec. 10, 1974
From: Grosse Point Farms, Michigan
Bands: The White Stripes
Bottom Line: Meg White
Like Moe Tucker, the elusive Meg White (bandmate Jack White's ex-wife) is known for her stripped-down drumming style, which has been hotly debated for years. Love it or hate it, her contribution to the band was crucial in creating their blues-infused, garage-rock sound.
White — who suffers from acute anxiety — never liked being in the public eye. The band's last performance was in 2007, but they came together one more time in 2009 to perform for Conan O'Brien's farewell episode of "Late Night." Their break up wasn't officially announced until two years later.
Meg White has since left the music business and leads a life out of the spotlight. In 2014, Jack told Rolling Stone, "I don’t think anyone talks to Meg. She’s always been a hermit. When we lived in Detroit, I’d have to drive over to her house if I wanted to talk to her, so now it’s almost never.”
2. Shelia E.
Year born: Dec. 12, 1957
From: Oakland, California
Bands: Prince, Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band
Bottom Line: Shelia E.
You know you're no slouch as a drummer and percussionist if you get asked to play in Prince's band. Sheila E.'s infectious energy and virtuosic drumming skills added an undeniable flair to the Purple One's performances.
The daughter of percussionist Pete Escovedo (formerly of Santana), Sheila E. still performs with her dad and has a successful solo career — her first solo LP, "The Glamorous Life," was a top 10 hit in the 1980s. She's also played with Herbie Hancock, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, Gloria Estefan, Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez.
1. Karen Carpenter
Year born: March 2, 1950
From: Downey, California
Bands: The Carpenters
Bottom Line: Karen Carpenter
We all know Karen Carpenter as a gifted vocalist and one of the most recognizable voices of her era, but she was also a talented drummer whose rhythmic prowess left an indelible mark on music. With her gentle touch, precise timing and innate musicality, she brought a unique and distinctive style to her playing.
Carpenter started playing in high school and was a proficient drummer early on. Eventually, she focused on vocals and left the drumming to others on the Carpenters' studio albums, but that wasn't by choice — her brother and label pressured her into stopping as the band ascended the ladder to fame. She said, "I didn’t start playing just to be a gimmick. I took pride knowing how to play my instrument. It hurt me that I had to be upfront."
Occasionally, however, she would show the world how skilled of a drummer she actually was. In fact, Playboy magazine readers voted her best drummer in the world in 1975 — she beat John Bonham of Led Zeppelin out of the coveted spot.