When you think of the world’s best drummers, men like John Bonham (Led Zeppelin), Neil Peart (The Rush), and Keith Moon (The Who) come to mind. However, many female drummers are just as deserving of praise. — some of them having played since at least the 1920s. So, who are the best female drummers of all time?
Fifteen of the best female drummers include Viola Smith and Karen Carpenter. They paved the way for women who have chosen to go behind the kits like Anika Nilles and Nikki Glaspie.
Female drummers may not be as common as their male counterparts, but they are no less inspiring and talented. Read on to learn more about the fifteen best female drummers. Who knows: You might be inspired to follow in their footsteps (whether you’re a woman, a man, or somewhere in between).
1. Viola Smith
Viola Smith was — and arguably still is — the epitome of girl power in the percussion world. Born in 1912, her family introduced her to the music scene, and she very quickly developed a keen ear for music, particularly the drums. Her decades-long career included stints on Broadway, playing as one of the few professional female drummers of her time until 1975.
Dubbed the fastest girl drummer in the world, Smith began her musical journey with her sisters in the Schmitz Sisters Family Orchestra. Afterward, she moved into swing music, starting another band with her siblings called The Coquettes. In the 1970s, Smith retired from music and lived until the ripe old age of 107.
Smith was an ardent champion for female musicians, famously penning a manifesto with the tagline “Think it over, boys!” Considering her stellar resume as a percussionist, she was definitely the perfect person to carve out a feminist space in the drumming world during her time.
Here’s a YouTube video of Viola Smith working her magic behind the kits in 1966:
2. Dottie Dodgion
Dottie Dodgion is another noteworthy female drummer of the mid-1900s who overcame much adversity to make a name for herself in jazz music. Although she was a victim of kidnapping and sexual assault at a young age, she managed to rise from the ashes and make her mark in the music world.
Under the tutelage of her father and his bandmates, Dottie played for several famous jazz bands in the fifties and sixties. She only stopped drumming in 2020 when COVID-19 restrictions forced the closure of the hotel she performed at.
Dottie wrote a memoir about her experiences as a female drummer in the jazz scene titled The Lady Swings: Memoirs of a Jazz Drummer (available on Amazon.com). She died in 2021 at 91 years old. She spent the better portion of her life pursuing her passion and encouraging other women to do the same.
3. Meg White
Meg White was an influential drummer that formed half of the classic duo The Whitestripes before they broke up in 2011. To date, White is still alive, but she no longer makes music with the second half of The Whitestripes, Jack. For unknown reasons, Meg White stepped out of the spotlight and chose not to pursue music as a career.
Her drumming was characterized by its lack of fancy tricks and techniques. The simplicity of her playing wasn’t a handicap, though: During her stint with The Whitestripes, she was responsible for the creation of classic songs such as Seven Nation Army, Icky Thump, and You Don’t Know What Love Is. Consistency is part of what makes an epic drummer, and Meg White was as consistent as they came.
Her straightforward playing can be seen in the YouTube video below, where the Whitestripes performed Fell In Love With A Girl on the Letterman Show in 2007.
4. Karen Carpenter
Karen Carpenter is a well-known name, making up one half of the brother-sister duo The Carpenters, which formed in the late 1960s. Although Karen eventually took over vocals in the band, she started out on the drums in her high school years, developing quick hands and a lively persona that initially led her to the drum kit.
Carpenter died prematurely due to a long-term battle with anorexia at the young age of thirty-two. Reports suggest that Carpenter struggled immensely with self-esteem issues. Despite receiving treatment, she eventually succumbed to the eating disorder in 1983.
Nonetheless, Karen Carpenter left a lasting mark on the musical world, with various prominent artists (including Paul McCartney no less) praising her work.
Watch her perform a drum solo in 1976 in the YouTube video below:
5. Honey Lantree
Honey Lantree is yet another female drummer who is no longer with us — the only woman in a mostly male rock band called The Honeycombs. Her real name was Anne Margot Lantree, and she first started playing in England in 1963.
Unlike most of the drummers on the list so far, Honey wasn’t born into a world of music. Instead, she discovered the drums by chance: During her work at a hair salon, Lantree had a client who introduced her to percussion, and the rest is history. Since then, Lantree became one of a small handful of female drummers in the 1900s.
The Honeycombs broke up only a few short years after the band began playing together. Still, Lantree kept on playing the drums for years to come, returning to the kit from 1980 to 2005 to make music not unlike what The Honeycombs produced.
In 2005, one of her bandmates passed away, which is what ultimately forced Lantree to stop playing. Thirteen years later, in December of 2018, Lantree followed her bandmate — but not without leaving a legacy of her own in the drumming world.
You can see a sample of Honey Lantree’s playing in the YouTube video below:
6. Anika Nilles
Drummers like Viola Smith and Karen Carpenter took to the stage so that the women who came after them could work their magic behind the kit without discrimination or gender stereotypes hindering their success.
One of the most noteworthy female drummers post-2010 is the vivid, high-energy percussionist Anika Nilles. Anika is a German-born musician who didn’t sit behind the kit until later in life but has since blown up in popularity with her hit songs Alter Ego and Wild Boy.
Nilles’ songs are a delicious mix of pop and rock, with fast, unique beats on the kit. There are few vocals in this drummer’s music, and watching her rock out on the percussion is a genuine treat.
Check out her drumming for the song “Alter Ego” below:
7. Taylor ‘The Pocket Queen’ Gordon
Taylor Gordon, also known as the Pocket Queen, started playing the drums for her New Orleans church choir at the age of seven and has yet to stop. She is also the first black female drummer featured on this list.
The Pocket Queen has performed with prominent pop musicians like Fifth Harmony, Beyonce, and even Stevie Wonder. She has an eclectic style and certainly gives off the impression that she has the most fun behind the drums, grinning from ear-to-ear as she jams to funky tracks like Din Da Da.
Gordon is nicknamed ‘The Pocket Queen’ after the drumming phrase “in the pocket,” which basically refers to how a song is played in its very best version — that is, perfectly in sync with the other instruments. Gordon plays all of her music so groovily, so she’s always “in the pocket.”
Watch her perform “This Is America” in the YouTube video below:
8. Nikki Glaspie
Nikki Glaspie is another pop-rock drummer who has performed with Beyonce for five years in Suga Mama, as well as other big names like Jay-Z and Kanye West. Like Taylor Gordon, Nikki Glaspie attended Berklee College of Music and graduated in 2005 — six years before the Pocket Queen.
Glaspie’s three-person R&B band, The Nth Power, was formed in 2012, one year after she stopped playing for Beyonce. She also plays in various other bands in New Orleans and looks wicked cool doing it.
Picking up the drum sticks at two years old, Glaspie was influenced by Sheila E. The latter was a percussionist who lived in the same era as Viola Smith and learned how to play the drums by listening to her church band. Considering Sheila E’s influence, plus the impact of her pianist mother, Glaspie is unsurprisingly a natural behind the drum kit.
Here’s Nikki Glaspie performing live at the UK Drum Show 2019:
9. Mercedes Lander
Mercedes Lander is a Canadian metal drummer who formed her first band in 6th grade, calling it “Kittie.” Mercedes and Kittie created and released various albums, with the last one released in 2011. Since then, Kittie hasn’t put out anything new, but the band hasn’t formally dissolved, so there’s always a possibility of hearing Lander lay it down on the drums again.
Also, Lander started a second band in 2016 (White Swan), which is still active to this day. Lander brings a hardcore style of drumming in both Kittie and White Swan. Through her music, she provides the explosive energy necessary for playing the best heavy metal music.
Here’s Mercedes Lander rocking out behind the kit in 40 seconds:
10. Sarah Thawer
Like Mercedes Lander, Sarah Thawer is a Canadian-born musician who learned to play the drums at a young age. Coming from a musical family, Thawer was inspired to go behind the kit by the Indian music her parents would play at home. She would go on to create countless Indian and Latin-inspired drum beats as she grew up and transformed into a musician.
Also nicknamed the Drum Guru, Thawer’s identity is a massive part of her career as a drummer. In fact, it’s what differentiates Thawer from all the rest, showing how music can transcend time and space to reach people all over the world.
Sarah has played with various incredible artists, including Jon Batiste (the creator of the Disney/Pixar movie ‘Soul’ soundtrack) and sister duo Tegan and Sara. She also creates video lessons for Indian percussion and posts them on Drumeo.
Here’s a YouTube video of Sarah Thawer making a big bang (pun intended):
11. Nandi Bushell
An up-and-coming drummer, Nandi Bushell has already performed in front of thousands alongside The Foo Fighters as a guest drummer. Before that, she made incredible drum covers and posted them on her YouTube channel, which her parents manage.
Nandi’s friendship with The Foo Fighters lead guitarist Dave Grohl has blossomed over the years, with the two purportedly planning on writing a song together. Grohl isn’t this young drummer’s only fan, though: Stars like Lenny Kravitz and Roger Taylor have also jammed with her and loved every second of it.
Watch her jam live with The Foo Fighters in the YouTube video below:
12. Meytal Cohen
Meytal Cohen is another up-and-coming drummer who co-founded the heavy metal band Meytal. Before that, she played and toured in a band called Metaphor.
Born in Israel from a family of nine, Meytal Cohen first gained recognition through the drum covers she posted on YouTube. In 2015, the band released their first album titled “Alchemy.” Interestingly, Alchemy was funded on Kickstarter before Cohen released the album herself.
When she was younger, Cohen’s father was killed in a drunk driving accident, and she was raised (along with her seven siblings) by her mother. When Cohen graduated high school, she had to join the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) for a mandatory two-year service before moving to Los Angeles to pursue music.
Cohen’s school career was abruptly interrupted when she got into a car accident that broke her back, but not even this stopped her. Once she was back on her feet, she returned to school, graduated, and continued her drumming career.
Here’s a YouTube video of Cohen covering Rush’s “Tom Sawyer”:
13. Anastasia Sereda
Anastasia Sereda was born in Kyiv, Ukraine in 2001. Like many other up-and-coming artists, she rose to fame via YouTube and TikTok for her wicked drum covers. She later joined a Ukrainian band called O. Torvald.
In 2016, she took on the lead drummer position in the Russian heavy metal band Invertor and continues to play and tour with them to date. She also regularly updates her YouTube channel and other social media accounts with colorful videos of herself banging on the drums.
She looks totally seamless behind the kit as if jamming on the drums was an easy skill to master. Sereda’s band Invertor released an album in 2020 that’s currently available on Spotify and Apple Music. You can also find Invertor’s music here.
Also, check out a sample of Sereda’s drum playthrough below:
14. Domino Santantonio
Domino Santantonio is an energetic female drummer born and raised in Montreal, Canada. Her father played the drums when she was younger, inspiring her to pick up her own set of drumsticks in her teen years.
Santantonio toured with several French bands and worked in recording studios before her Hips Don’t Lie drum cover went viral in 2020. (Yes, the song by Shakira!). Most of her covers are of the pop-rock variety and are undoubtedly catchy.
Still, Santantonio claims her most considerable influence is Travis Barker. The drummer also toured with Roxane Bruneau in 2017. (Bruneau is a French Canadian singer).
To date, Domino Santantonio works as a drum instructor on Drumeo and continues to make content for her social media accounts.
If you thought you’ve heard every possible cover of Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life,” wait until you hear Santantonio’s take on it:
15. Valerie Franco
Last but not least, there’s Valerie Franco, an independent, non-binary musician specializing in drums. (I’m only including them here because they were assigned female at birth, but I will refer to them with they/their/them pronouns from here on out. Also, I believe they are worth recognizing regardless of the gender they choose to identify with.)
Born in California, Franco studied at the Los Angeles College of Music. Their taste in music was heavily influenced by their father, who often listened to Rush when Franco was young. (As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, Neil Peart is the drummer for Rush).
Franco first played with an electronic band called Halo Circus in 2012 and 2013. Now, they play with Hayley Kiyoko, an artist-slash-actress. Additionally, they work as a session drummer, meaning when a band’s original drummer can’t play for whatever reason, Franco is sometimes called to step in.
As a result, Franco has played with various different bands, like the 8G Band. They have made several appearances on the Late Night Show with Seth Meyers.
Listen to their cover of “Blood Pressure” by Mutemath below: