Black culture has without doubt had a monumental influence on the world of pop music since as far back as the 1920s. And while the likes of Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Bob Marley and Michael Jackson have certainly played important roles, today we look at the sometimes overlooked black women who have really proved essential to musical progress.

Ella Fitzgerald (1946) / Photo Credit: William P. GottliebElla Fitzgerald (1946) / Photo Credit: William P. Gottlieb

1. Ma Rainey

Also remembered as Mother of the Blues, Gertrude "Ma" Rainey was one of the first blues recording artists from way back in the 1920s. She first started performing alongside her husband Will Rainey, and later recorded a number of popular standards including 'Bo-Weevil Blues', 'See See Rider Blues' and 'Black Bottom'. She even recorded with Louis Armstrong and was later portrayed by Mo'Nique in the 2015 Bessie Smith biopic Bessie.

2. Billie Holiday

A musical pioneer who had a profound influence on jazz and pop music, Billie Holiday saw peak success in the 30s and 40s. She yielded a number of popular recordings such as 'What a Little Moonlight Can Do', 'Summertime' and 'Strange Fruit', but the latter half of her career was plagued by drug abuse and abusive relationships. Her autobiography Lady Sings the Blues was famously transferred to screen in 1972 starring Diana Ross.

3. Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Widely credited (albeit also widely disputed) as the true founder of rock 'n' roll in the 40s, Sister Rosetta Tharpe came long before the likes of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. She is the Godmother of rock and roll who had hits with 'Down by the Riverside' and 'Strange Things Happening Every Day' among others and was famous for her electric guitar technique which had a huge impact on electric blues. 

4. Ella Fitzgerald

Being the first black woman to be nominated for a Grammy (at the 1st annual awards, no less), Ella Fitzgerald is probably the most iconic female jazz artist who ever lived. This Queen of Jazz became famous for the likes of 'Dream a Little Dream of Me', 'Cheek to Cheek' and 'It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)' and has one of the most recognisable voices in music history. She was even awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

5. Aretha Franklin

If ever there was a Queen of Soul, it's Aretha Franklin. The 60s brought her acclaim with songs like 'Respect' and '(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman', and she would also go on to be awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She was also the first female performer ever to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, having sold more than 75 million records worldwide.

6. Etta James

Another powerful black voice and the artist who first blended rhythm and blues with rock and roll. During her career, she was largely underrated, but hindsight has shown that she was remarkably influential on the world of pop music thanks to her distinctive earthy tones. Sadly, her life led her down the path of drugs, abuse and prison; the former of which continued as long as two years prior to her death in 2012. 

7. MC Sha-Rock

The much overlooked first female rap artist, MC Sha-Rock found fame as part of the hip hop group Funky 4 + 1. She was a founding member and crucial part of the group, though she was previously dismissed as the "+1" since she was the only woman. Known as the Mother of the Mic, Sha-Rock paved the way for women in rap. And unlike Nicki Minaj, she never had to show flesh to gain the notoriety she deserved.

8. Chaka Khan

A 10-time Grammy winning artist like Chaka Khan cannot be forgotten, especially being the undisputed Queen of Funk. She began her career in the 70s as part of the band Rufus, but found even more success in the 80s as a soloist. 'I'm Every Woman' is her most recognisable hit, though she was the first R&B artist to have a rap crossover hit with 'I Feel for You' featuring Melle Mel.

9. Whitney Houston

One of the most remarkable voices to have ever been heard in music history, Whitney Houston was a powerhouse of pop. She is the most awarded female artist of all time according to the Guinness World Records and has sold more than 200 million records worldwide. Like many artistic geniuses, she had a chaotic personal life plagued by drugs but the influence she has had on female artists will continue for many more decades.

10. Lauryn Hill

After a stellar performed alongside Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act 2, Lauryn Hill joined Pras Michel and Wyclef Jean in The Fugees. But it was her first and only solo album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill which really saw her become an icon. She's seen as a pioner of the neo-soul genre, with the album earning 10 nominations and five wins at the 1999 Grammys; the most nominations and wins any woman had received at the awards show until that point.