The best black male singers have voices that define soul, pop, and R&B music.
This article will highlight the most talented and influential black male vocalists whose iconic songs and musical artistry have left a lasting cultural impact.
From Motown legends to contemporary hitmakers, these are the greatest black male singers of all time.
1. Stevie Wonder
Once thought of as a child genius, Stevie Wonder grew up to become one of the most creative musicians of the 20th century.
He was born with retinopathy as a result of premature birth, which caused blindness due to an excess of oxygen in the incubator.
Despite being blind, he still managed to achieve amazing success; only a few musicians have had as significant an impact on popular music as Stevie Wonder.
He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has won 25 Grammy Awards, among many other honors and awards.
Prince was best known for his music that crossed genres, his flamboyant stage presence, and the way he broke gender and sexual boundaries.
He was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and his 1978 debut album, For You, reached number 40 on the Billboard 200 chart.
He later went on to become a household name with a string of chart-topping albums like 1999, Purple Rain, and Sign o’ the Times.
Prince had numerous #1 singles throughout his career, including “When Doves Cry,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” and “Kiss.”
He also won an Academy Award and seven Grammy Awards.
Sadly, he passed away in April 2016 from an accidental drug overdose.
3. James Brown
James Brown, also known as the “Godfather of Soul,” rose to the top of the funk and soul music worlds with his unique vocal and musical style.
His career began in the early 1950s when he recorded a series of hit singles for the R&B market.
His electrifying live performances made him one of the most well-known entertainers in the world, and he contributed to the development of the new musical genre known as “funk.”
4. Marvin Gaye
The 1960s Motown sound was greatly influenced by singer-songwriter Marvin Gaye.
He is commonly referred to as the Prince of Soul and the Prince of Motown.
Some of his best-known songs are “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” and “Ain’t That Peculiar.”
He went on to have a successful solo career as a singer-songwriter, releasing his protest album What’s Going On in 1971.
Due to his success, he wanted to experiment more musically and politically.
He broke away from the Motown style, making it possible for other musicians to try to make their music sound different.
5. Lionel Richie
The 1970s saw the rise of singer, songwriter, and musician Lionel Richie.
He started with the Commodores as their co-lead singer.
He collaborated with other musicians like Michael Jackson, with whom he co-wrote the 1985 famine relief song “We Are the World,” and Dianna Ross, with whom he sang the duet “Endless Love.”
In addition to these, some of his biggest hits include “Hello,” “All Night Long,” and “Say You, Say Me,” which was featured in the movie White Nights.
Richie is still active in music today and was appointed a judge for the 2018 season of American Idol.
6. Ray Charles
Ray Charles was born in Georgia in 1930, and at the age of seven, he started to lose his sight.
Despite this setback, he continued to develop his musical skills and became a proficient player of the piano and other instruments.
He became well-known in the 1950s thanks to a string of popular songs, and he went on to enjoy success throughout his career with songs like “Unchain My Heart,” “Georgia on My Mind,” and “Hit the Road Jack”.
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and won multiple Grammy Awards.
7. Smokey Robinson
With 4,000 songs to his name, Smokey Robinson ranks second only to Berry Gordy in the history of the Motown sound.
He started humbly, singing in local bands while growing up in a rough area of Michigan.
Smokey founded the Matadors in the 1950s, which later evolved into the Miracles, a well-known band.
They had a large following after “Shop Around,” which was their first big hit in 1960.
Robinson became a solo artist in 1972, and since then, he has had 37 top 40 hits, including “Tears of a Clown,” “Love Machine,” and “Tracks of My Tears.”
8. Snoop Dogg
Snoop Dogg, who was first discovered by Dr. Dre in the early 1990s, has evolved into a West Coast rapper with millions in record sales as well as a career in movies and television acting.
He had a musical disposition as a young child, and he sang and played the piano at his Baptist church.
In the sixth grade, he began rapping and later attained global fame.
He released his first solo album in 1993, and it quickly rose to the top of the hip-hop and Hot 200 charts on Billboard.
The Canadian soap opera “Degrassi: The Next Generation” is where Drake made his acting debut as Jimmy Brooks, a wheelchair-bound character.
He left the show after seven seasons and rose to fame as one of the most popular rappers in the world.
His second mixtape, Comeback Season, was released in 2007, and its lead single, “Replacement Girl,” became a hit.
Thank Me Later, his debut studio album was released in 2010.
It debuted at the top of the album charts in both Canada and America.
Drake won his first Grammy for best rap album in 2013 with the release of Take Care, his second full-length studio album.
10. Bill Withers
Bill Withers moved to Los Angeles, California, to pursue a music career after being discharged from the Navy.
Before signing with the Susses Records label in 1970, he recorded demos.
His debut album, Just As I Am, was released in 1971 and included the hit single “Ain’t No Sunshine,” which debuted at #3 on R&B radio.
He later won a Grammy Award for “Best Rhythm and Blues Song” with this song.
Usher began his musical career at the age of just 15.
He was given a recording deal by LaFace Records, where he released his debut album.
With albums like Confessions in 2004 and Looking 4 Myself in 2012, he dominated the airwaves for years.
Usher is not just a musician but also a stage and film actor.
He has contributed his skills as a judge and coach on the well-known singing competition series “The Voice.”
12. Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong rose to fame in the 1920s as a jazz trumpeter, singer, and bandleader.
His hits include “Hello, Dolly,” “What a Wonderful World,” “Star Dust,” and “La Vie en Rose.”
In 1968, heart and kidney issues finally caught up with him. He was forced to stop performing.
However, he was allowed to perform publicly once more in 1970 in Las Vegas.
13. Otis Redding
Redding made his musical debut in 1962 with the song “These Arms of Mine,” and his debut studio album, Pain in My Heart, was released in 1964.
Redding’s first #1 hit, “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” was released two years later.
After these releases, Redding’s musical career began to soar.
He died in 1967 when he was on his way to a concert in a plane that crashed not long after taking off.
14. Luther Vandross
Luther Vandross dominated the romantic ballad charts thanks to his smooth style and voice.
He began as a backup singer for several artists before taking the lead role in the post-disco band Change.
After his split from Change, Vandross released his debut solo album, Never Too Much, in 1981, which went on to sell over a million copies.
He received his first Grammy for “Here and Now” in 1991, and he received two more for “Power of Love” in 1992.
He then won his fourth Grammy for “Your Secret Love” in 1997.
Later in his career, Vandross won four more Grammys, bringing his total to eight
15. Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson, known as the King of Pop, was one of the most famous artists to have ever lived.
He was well known for his extraordinary work ethic, great vocal skills, and unique dance moves among both fans and his fellow musicians.
As a child, he was the lead vocalist in his family’s Motown group, the Jackson 5.
He went on to enjoy a very successful solo career, and in 1982, he released Thriller, one of the best-selling albums in music history.
16. Jackie Wilson
Jackie Wilson joined Billy Ward and His Dominoes in 1953.
At the time, he was better known by his stage name, “Mr. Excitement.”
After four years, he left the group and became a solo artist.
His first big hit, “Lonely Teardrops,” was released in 1958.
His later releases included more popular songs like “Night,” “Baby Workout,” and “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.”
17. Curtis Mayfield
Curtis Mayfield was a member of the Impressions, a Chicago soul and R&B group that released its first recordings in 1958.
He only performed as the group’s backup singer.
He began his solo career in the 1960s after leaving the band, and his third studio album, Super Fly, which served as the soundtrack to the movie of the same name, was both critically and commercially successful.
18. Chris Brown
Chris Brown, a Grammy Award winner, made his music debut in 2004 with his album, Chris Brown.
His subsequent nine studio albums all debuted in the top 10, and his fourth, fifth, and ninth albums, F.A.M.E., Fortune, and Indigo, all peaked at number one.
19. Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke started singing at a young age in Chicago and became the lead singer of the Soul Stirrers in the 1950s.
In his brief eight-year career, 29 singles reached the Billboard Pop Singles Top 40, and 20 reached the Billboard Black Singles Top 10 chart.
He died in 1964 when a Los Angeles motel manager shot and killed him.
20. Nat King Cole
Nat King Cole was a jazz pianist, singer, songwriter, actor, and recording artist who recorded more than 100 top hits.
These abilities took him beyond the recording studio and into the worlds of film, television, and even Broadway.
The Nat King Cole Show was the first American TV series to be hosted by a black man.
The show aired in the United States from 1956 to 1957.
His best-known songs are “Unforgettable,” “L-O-V-E,” and “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons.”
21. Barry White
Barry White was a singer and songwriter who won two Grammy awards.
His romantic aesthetic and bass-baritone singing style made him famous.
He achieved his greatest success in the 1970s, both as a solo performer and as a member of the Love Unlimited Orchestra.
He wrote numerous classic funk, soul, and disco songs, such as “Babe,” “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love,” and “You’re the First, Last, My Everything.”
White released 20 studio albums and a lot of compilations, and many of them were certified gold or platinum.
22. Ronald Isley
Ronald Isley is best known as the lead singer of The Isley Brothers, but he also writes songs, acts, and makes records.
He and his brothers frequently performed for church tours when he was still a teenager.
His first TV performance was for Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour.
To further their musical careers, he and his two older brothers moved to New York in 1957.
They began by making doo-wop records for local labels before signing a major deal with RCA in 1959.
Their first song, “Shout,” was a huge hit.
23. Ben E. King
Ben E. King was a soul and R&B artist best known for the song he co-wrote and sang, “Stand By Me.“
The song was a Top 10 hit in the United States in 1961 before returning to the charts in the United States and the United Kingdom in the late 1980s.
King is also well-known for being the lead singer for the R&B group The Drifters, whose song “Save the Last Dance for Me” reached number one on the charts.
His other notable works include “There Goes My Baby” and “Spanish Harlem.”
24. Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry was a singer, lyricist, and guitarist who was the pioneer of early rock and roll.
He is referred to as the “Father of Rock and Roll” for his numerous contributions to the genre.
Some of his most popular songs are “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Johnny B. Goode,” “Rock and Roll Music,” and “Maybellene.”
25. Aaron Neville
Singer Aaron Neville is well-known for R&B and soul music.
He has four platinum albums and four top 10 U.S. hits, including three No. 1s on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart, and he topped the Soul chart for five weeks.
He recorded with his brothers as the Neville Brothers and his son Ivan Neville plays the piano and sings.
Neville’s debut single, “Tell It Like It Is,” was released under the Par-Lo record label in New Orleans.
This song was awarded a gold disc for selling more than a million copies.
26. Al Green
Al Green is an American soul and gospel singer, songwriter, and record producer.
He rose to fame in the 1970s with hit songs such as “Let’s Stay Together,” “Love and Happiness,” and “I’m Still in Love With You.”
He has been referred to as one of the greatest soul singers of all time and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Added to his list of honors are his inductions into the Songwriters Hall of Fame as well as the Grammy and BET Lifetime Achievement Awards.
27. Isaac Hayes
Isaac Hayes was an American soul and funk musician, songwriter, and producer.
Hayes was best known for his work as the music composer for the 1971 film “Shaft,” for which he won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
He was also a successful recording artist, with hits like “Theme from Shaft” and “Soul Man” from his albums and singles.
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 and remains a revered figure in the history of soul and funk music.
Babyface is a nickname for the American singer, songwriter, and record producer Kenneth Brian Edmonds.
Babyface has written hit songs and albums for Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton, and Mariah Carey, among others.
He has won 10 Grammy Awards and has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Babyface has worked as a producer, but he has also made several successful solo albums.
His smooth, soulful voice and emotional ballads have won him praise.
29. George Benson
George Benson is known for his smooth, soulful voice and his sophisticated style of playing.
During his career, he has won 10 Grammy Awards and has released more than 30 albums, some of which have been certified platinum.
Benson is also a skilled songwriter and has written many hit songs, including “This Masquerade” and “Give Me the Night.”
He won Grammys for Best Male Jazz Vocal Performance for “Moody’s Mood,” Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for “Give Me the Night,” and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for “On Broadway.”
30. Charlie Wilson
Charlie was the lead vocalist of the R&B/funk band The Gap Band, which he co-founded with his brothers Robert and Ronnie.
The Gap Band was active from the 1970s to the 1990s and had several hits, including “Outstanding,” “You Dropped a Bomb on Me,” and “Early in the Morning.”
Charlie Wilson was known for his soulful voice, his flamboyant stage presence, and his role in making R&B and funk music what it is today.
After the Gap Band disbanded, he continued his solo career and released several successful albums.
He has received many awards, including the BET Lifetime Achievement Award, the Trumpet Lifetime Achievement Award, the Soul Train Icon Award, the BMI Icon Award, and the NAACP Image Award.
Wrapping Up Our List of the Best Black Male Singers
Many talented black male singers have left a lasting mark on the music industry.
From the soulful sounds of Sam Cooke to the smooth croons of Marvin Gaye, these 30 artists represent some of the best of all time.
These artists continue to inspire and captivate people all over the world, whether it’s through their songs that top the charts or their powerful performances.