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The history of modern music dates back quite a few decades, ranging from ragtime, blues, and jazz to pop, swing, rock, and country genres. With so many styles of music, it is almost impossible to include all the best female singers in one list, but we would still give it a try.
There are, of course, legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Amy Winehouse, Adele, and Julie Andrews who need no introduction. Still, there are more talented female singers who turned into real music legends even outside the genre they performed. So, we present you with the greatest female singers that have ever existed.
25. Ella Fitzgerald
The name of Ella Fitzgerald is so closely associated with jazz that you simply can’t have one without the other. She’s a real legend! Jazz is all about improvisation and Lady Ella was one of those few singers who were real professionals at it.
She used her voice as a musical instrument and could convey even the slightest emotions while singing. Her collaborations with Lois Armstrong brought her immense fame and thousands of fans who couldn’t get enough of this charismatic duo.
“Cheek to Cheek” is probably one of the most recognized jazz songs ever! With such outstanding talent, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Ella Fitzgerald got 14 Emmy Awards during her career.
It’s hard to underestimate the role Cher played in the history of music. She was a truly spectacular singer with a beautiful contralto voice that stunned everyone with its depth, and she was also a solo female performer in an industry mostly dominated by men.
The music stage alone wasn’t enough for her overwhelming charisma, so Cher also tried acting, receiving an Oscar for Best Actress in the movie Moonstruck that aired in 1988. She also took part in The Witches of Eastwick, Silkwood, and Mask.
With her unique performing style and stunning voice, Cher managed to stay relevant for decades by shifting her style a little bit to match the trends of the music industry. Still, she never lost her own voice and you can recognize her songs from all the rest the minute you hear her sing. She's written an abundance of hits, but "If I Could Turn Back Time," "Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves," and “Believe” are among her most famous songs.
23. Etta James
With her six Grammy Awards, Etta James is one of the most distinctive voices of the 50s. She has performed in many genres, including pop, doo-wop, and R&B, but she’s most famous for being a jazz diva with beautiful soulful performances.
Being the ultimate blues mama of that time, Etta Jones produced “At Last” - a single that was ranked the #2 R&B hit in the 60s. The voice of Etta James was deep and impactful, but she could also sound incredibly subtle and sincere when performing pop songs and ballads.
Etta Jones had a tumultuous life, which brought her career as a singer on hold for almost a decade. Nevertheless, she gathered all her strength and came back in the ‘80s with a new album called Seven Year Itch that showcased her voice like never before. Etta James’ is a legend that has inspired thousands of women to become singers!
22. Whitney Houston
There isn’t a single singer on this list who could top Whitney Houston’s career. After all, she was called The Voice for a reason! Whitney Houston started singing when she was just a child, inspired by her gospel-loving family.
With none other than Aretha Franklin as her aunt, Whitney Houston embarked on the journey of becoming a pro singer at a very early age. Aretha was the one who took the girl to her very first recording studio!
At the age of 21 Whitney Houston was already the most recognized voice in the world, debuting with amazing hits "How Will I Know" and "Saving All My Love for You". Yet many people argue that her live performances far outshined everything that was recorded inside the studio. During her career she got awarded 415 times, breaking the Guinness record as the most awarded female singer ever.
21. Dusty Springfield
Dusty Springfield, often called the best pop singer that has ever existed, is mentioned in this list for a reason. Her husky voice and passionate performances inspired generations of musicians and kick-started a lively music style that later inspired the wave of Beatlemania.
Her spectacular career started with The Springfields in the 60s, after that she went solo and started creating her own hits when the band disbanded in 1963. Dusty Springfield quickly got famous after the release of her single “I Only Want to Be With You," and continued taking the charts by storm with hits like "Son of a Preacher Man" and "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me".
She continued actively performing and releasing new albums up till the ‘90s. After that health problems kept her away from the stage and music in general.
20. Nina Simone
Nina Simone, one of the greatest female voices of the century, was nothing short of incredible. Although she had always dreamt of becoming an artist, she actually started playing the piano and singing in clubs just to earn her living. Unfortunately, she wasn't accepted to the university and life prospects seemed pretty dreary at that time. Playing in clubs was a mere necessity for her!
Nina Simone chose to sing jazz songs although no one in her family would approve of that. She had to accompany herself playing the piano as there was no one in the club to do that job for her. Such a spectacular mix of various talents was soon noticed by producers and Nina Simone started her staggering career.
Nina Simone extensively used her classical music upbringing while creating her hit songs. Paired with jazz motifs and her beautiful contralto voice, she came up with hits that sounded like nothing anyone has ever heard before. "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free," "Mississippi Goddam," and "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black" are among her most famous songs.
Björk is one of those voices you never forget once you hear it at least once. She is the very proof that you don’t need to be a powerhouse to be a great singer and become a legend. The sound of her voice is very unusual, but that is exactly what makes her so special.
Some people can’t bear hearing her sing, while others can’t live without it. Björk compares her voice to the ragged cold country she was born in – Iceland. It is just as unique, beautiful, and sometimes weird - and it’s definitely not for everyone.
Björk is also a fantastic performer, who brings her many enchanting ideas to life both on-screen and in the earphones. She’s full of creativity that comes in various forms, each of them unique and outstanding. She’s famous for the hits like “Human Behaviour,” “Venus as a Boy,” “Army of Me,” and “Pagan Poetry.”
18. Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin is one of the most soulful rock singers that have ever graced the stage. She was inspired to sing blues for the first time when she was in high school – it was a mere hobby that soon grew into her biggest passion in life.
Janis Joplin sky-rocketed to fame as a frontwoman of the band called Big Brother and the Holding Company. Her emotional singing and rebellious nature immediately caught the eye and she gained thousands of fans during that time.
Janis Joplin went solo after that, building her own career and gaining huge success with her performance at the Woodstock festival. She was especially successful giving shows with her backing group called The Full Tilt Boogie Band. Having led quite a tumultuous and dramatic life, the singer died at the peak of her fame, joining the so-called "27 Club". Her very last album The Pearl was released after her death, becoming an instant hit.
17. Billie Holliday
Billie Holliday, one of the greatest jazz stars who have ever lived, rose to fame in the ‘30s, recording numerous hits, some of which became jazz standards. She started her career by singing in the nightclubs of Harlem but was quickly noticed by producer John Hammond.
Billie Holiday’s style of singing was nothing short of genius – she was a real pioneer of jazz in the ‘30s and ‘40s, bringing a completely new style of performing pop and jazz. Her improvisational skills were unmatched and her vocal delivery was absolutely unique!
Some of her biggest hits include “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” “Billie's Blues (I Love My Man),” “I'll Be Seeing You,” and “The Very Thought of You”.
16. Tina Turner
Dubbed as The Queen of Rock-n-Roll since the very beginning of her career, Tina Turner is one of those powerhouse voices you never forget after you hear it at least once. She started singing with Ike & Tina Turner Revue band along with her husband, but as soon as the relationship was over she moved on to perform as a solo artist.
Her fearlessness and power were palpable both on stage and in real life. During her outstanding career she got 12 Grammy Awards and then went on getting a Life Achievement Award as well. Her story of success is truly unprecedented.
You may know Tina Turner by hits like "What's Love Got to Do with It," "Proud Mary," and "Let's Stay Together". Famous for her unique style, Tina Turner didn’t want to be remembered as something less than gorgeous – that’s why she chose to self-retire and got off stage when she felt was the right time for her to leave. She believes you can’t be a rock-n-roll star forever!
15. Aretha Franklin
Many call Aretha Franklin the Queen of Soul, but she was so much more than that. It’s hard to imagine a female artist who has influenced generations of future singers as much as Aretha Franklin did with her whole career.
Her confidence was overwhelming and you could feel it in her singing “Respect,”"You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman," and “Chain of Fools”. Her voice was a powerful reflection of her outstanding character and a gospel background allowed her to fully express herself without holding anything back.
Aretha Franklin released 38 albums and more than 100 singles in her lifetime. She was also the first-ever woman who was included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She inspired dozens of legendary singers like Annie Lenox, Alicia Keys, and Whitney Houston, who all looked up to her.
14. Debbie Harry
There’s hardly a person in the world who doesn’t know of the band named Blondie. This new age band took the world by storm in the ‘70s and ‘80s with their fresh lyrics and a lively punk rock style that was only beginning to form.
Debbie Harry was the inspiration behind the group’s success. Before becoming a famous singer she took a bunch of jobs to earn her living, working in cafes as a waitress and even as a Playboy bunny. It all changed when she and Chris Stein, the guitarist of Blondie, created the band together.
The band’s biggest hits are “Rapture,” “Heart of Glass,” ”The Tide is High,” and “Call Me”. Blondie disbanded after a while but came back together in 1997 to make several tours all around the world. Debbie Harry is a real rock legend!
13. Dolly Parton
There aren’t many country singers on this list, but Dolly Parton is definitely a voice one shouldn’t miss. Whether you’re a fan of country or not, her singing will definitely impress you. Dolly Parton was most popular in the ‘60s but continues to be in the spotlight even now.
She’s a humanitarian, a businesswoman, an actress, a writer, and the author of her very own songs. Did you know that she is behind Whitney Houston’s song “I Will Always Love You” - a hit that became so overwhelmingly popular in the 90s?
This amazing singer has written more than 3,000 songs in her lifetime, dozens of which reached #1 in the Billboard chart. Her talent continues to shine even now!
12. Carole King
Carole King is a real music legend with more than 100 songs that became pop standards and got into Billboard’s Top 100 Best Songs numerous times. She rose to fame when she was just a teenager, writing songs for the band Shirelles.
She was the co-author of the song “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” which quickly hit #1 on the charts, becoming the first-ever #1 song performed by an all-girl band. But that was just the beginning! She won four Grammy Awards during her outstanding career – and now her name is in the Grammy Hall of Fame!
You might be surprised that she and her husband are the minds behind "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" that was sung by Aretha Franklin. The duo divorced in 1968 and Carole King became a solo artist. In 1971, she recorded and released the album Tapestry, which instantly got famous with its numerous hit singles.
11. Lady Gaga
This list wouldn’t be complete without Lady Gaga, a singer, songwriter, and performer who has already become legendary. She may not have the strongest voice we’ve ever heard, but her presence on stage is truly amazing, especially when paired with her unprecedented creativity.
She began singing and acting when she was a teenager and started her music career as a songwriter working for Sony Music Publishing. Still, she wanted to build a name for herself, which she did with her debut album Fame that included hits “Poker Face” and “Just Dance”. Her career sky-rocketed after that!
Not only did Lady Gaga win 12 Grammy Awards, but she also got an Oscar for the single “Shallow” performed alongside Bradley Cooper in the movie A Star is Born. She’s definitely a force to be reckoned with!
10. Ariana Grande
Ariana Grande is probably the youngest singer and songwriter on the list, but she is a real powerhouse when it comes to singing. She started as an actress and got famous while starring in Victorious, a great Nickelodeon show that sky-rocketed her fame.
With a Broadway background, Ariana Grande went on performing as a solo artist, becoming one of the most prominent R&B voices in the modern music industry.
The singer rocks an incredible four-octave soprano, which makes her stand out from all the modern-day singers and songwriters. She also composes her own songs, taking part in the sound engineering of her hits and singles. Ariana Grande debuted with an album called Yours Truly, which showcased a classy R&B vibe of the 90s. She went on experimenting with various styles of music like hip-hop, trap, and EDM, creating music that is both fresh and trendy.
Long before any of the female artists on the list became known in the pop world, there was Madonna – the one and only Queen of Pop. For many fans, she will forever hold this title and no upcoming stars, however big, will ever be able to take it from her!
Madonna is huge both as a singer, an artist and as an influence that formed music history as we know it. There’s a reason her name is mentioned alongside music legends like The Beatles, Michael Jackson, and Prince. Because she is just as huge! It was never about only pop for her as she dabbled in many different styles to support her theatrical performances.
You’ll find her doing gospels (“Like a Prayer”), house (“Vogue”), hip-hop (“MDNA”, “Rebel Heart,'' "Erotica”), jazz (pretty much all songs from the album I’m Breathless), musicals (“Don’t Cry for me Argentina”) and many more! Madonna’s style is versatile but always recognizable and her live shows are truly legendary.
8. Julie Andrews
If you’re into musicals then you’ve probably seen Julie Andrews numerous times. She’s a spectacular singer, but she’s also much more than that! Julie Andrews is the embodiment of versatility and you will find her to be an amazing actress as well.
She is also a writer and quite a successful singer known for her pure-sounding soprano. It’s not really surprising, but she’s also a famous Broadway actress! It seems there is nothing Julie Andrews can’t do. Maybe that’s why she was called the youngest Prima Donna of Great Britain?
Her most famous appearances are in Camelot as gorgeous Queen Guinevere and in My Fair Lady, where she portrayed young and a little bit naïve Eliza Doolittle. She also won an Oscar for playing Marry Poppins in the movie with the same name.
7. Christina Aguilera
Whether you are a fan of pop music or not, you’ve probably heard Christina Aguilera at least a few times. She’s a real superstar of the 2000s and everyone who was born in the 90s was raised while listening to her hit songs.
Christina Aguilera possesses a voice that is both deep and powerful. She is often compared to Mariah Carey, but she rocks her very own style of singing and performing. The artist confessed on many occasions that her biggest musical influence was none other than Etta James! This music legend inspired thousands of upcoming singers and Christina was one of them.
She rose to fame when she was just a teenager with a hit single “Genie in a Bottle”. She continued gaining more fans with her album Stripped which offered more controversial topics. As she was growing more mature as a musician, Christina Aguilera started experimenting with different styles of music, adding blues and jazz motifs to her music.
It’s hard to imagine modern pop music without Adele – she is such a strong influence! While it is a bit early to say whether she’ll become as legendary as some of the names on this list, but we can all agree that her singing is truly outstanding.
Adele started singing as a teenager playing with her friends in different places. Naturally, this passion of hers grew into an actual occupation and she got immensely popular right after her debut album called 19.
Her next album, 21, became a national best-seller and received a Diamond status for holding top charts for a long period. Adele’s most famous songs include "Someone like You," "Rolling in the Deep," "Hometown Glory," and "Set Fire to the Rain".
Whether you like R&B music or not, you’ve probably heard about Beyoncé, also known as Queen B. She is among the most influential female artists of the century and not only because of her powerful vocals.
Beyoncé has been an inspiration to thousands of women due to her powerful approach to life, groundedness, and successful career as an entrepreneur and solo artist. Queen B started singing early in life and never stopped. She gained huge success being a part of the Destiny’s Child band and went on building a solo career after the band stopped performing.
Being a songwriter herself, Beyoncé produced such hit singles as “Crazy in Love,” “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” “Drunk in Love,” and “Love on Top.” She’s famous for collaborations with various artists, including her husband Jay-Z.
4. Céline Dion
When we say “pop song” Céline Dion is one of the few names that immediately come to our minds. She’s the queen of pop ballads with a singing style that is both romantic and powerful. Her voice is melodic, pleasant to the ear, and has a very distinctive tone that makes it recognizable.
Céline Dion didn’t get world-popular in a fortnight – she was building her career slowly, winning her home country, Canada, first and then expanding to new countries and ventures. Winning the Eurovision contest in 1988 definitely helped her gain recognition all over the world.
After her hit single “My Heart Will Go On” written for Titanic in the 90s there was literally not a person on Earth who didn’t know about Céline Dion. She continues to sing and produce beautiful hits like "The Power of Love," "Think Twice," "Because You Loved Me," and many more.
3. Édith Piaf
Although Édith Piaf was mostly famous in her home country, France, during her lifetime, her unique voice and style of singing made her one of the biggest music legends in the world. She re-invented French chanson, a type of dramatic ballad, and introduced her very own rendition of popular songs.
Édith Piaf had a tough childhood growing up without a mother. For most of her teen years she was singing in the streets trying to earn a living until she was noticed by Louis Leplée, who invited her to sing in his cabaret. This was a turning point in Édith Piaf’s life that opened many doors, making her one of the most memorable singers of the ‘30s and ‘40s.
Her most famous songs include “La Vie en rose”, “Padam Padam,” ” Mon Manège à Moi,” and “Non, je ne regrette rien”. She inspired quite a few films dedicated to her dramatic life and singing career.
2. Mariah Carey
Mariah Carey is one of the most recognized artists in the history of pop. Many consider her the mother of modern pop as she was at the roots of this genre when it was just forming in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
Mariah Carey comes from a family of musicians, so it wasn’t a surprise to anyone when she decided to follow the same path. And she had good reason to do it! Her five-octave voice covers a spectacular range, offering a one-of-a-kind singing style that is both beautiful and very powerful.
She took the world by storm with hit singles like “Emotions,” “Visions of Love,” “Fantasy,” “Hero,” “All I Want for Christmas is You,” and “Without You.”
1. Janet Jackson
We owe Janet Jackson so much! Not only is she one of the most best-selling female artists in the world, but she’s also one of the few bold musicians who shaped and transformed the music industry into something we all enjoy so much today.
Janet Jackson was innovative in everything she did from blockbuster-inspired action-packed stage shows to sleek ear headsets with microphones that allowed more movement and freedom while singing.
She wasn’t afraid of anything whether it was a bare midriff, showing off her toned muscles while dancing and singing her heart out with a dance troupe, or carefully choreographing complicated music videos. She did it all! Her biggest hits include “Rhythm Nation,” “Together Again,” “Nasty,” “All of You”, and “That’s the Way Love Goes.”