Black singers pushed the limits, highlighted racial injustices, and entertained their fans around the world.
The cream of the crop redefined music genres, defying all odds to write their names in history books.
But the question remains; who are the best black singers of all time?
While many have attempted to answer this question, it’s still tricky, considering the diverse nature of the music industry and the subjective opinions from every corner.
We’ve done our best to create a list of the 30 best black singers of all time based on their influence, success, and cultural impact.
Check it out below.
1. Stevie Wonder
Nobody better to start this off than Stevie Wonder, a man who inspired a generation of artists across several music genres.
Stevie is an iconic figure in America’s history, with songs in the jazz, funk, R&B, and soul music genres.
Like the little wonder he was, he developed a strong interest in music from a young age, growing up as a blind boy with immense talent.
It wasn’t long before the blind prodigy rose to stardom, taking the world by storm with his “Fingertips” single.
Most of his songs have since become timeless classics, sung at the most befitting occasions and to honor the 25-time Grammy Award winner.
Wonder’s mastery of several musical instruments and smooth voice made him one of the best black singers of all time.
2. Michael Jackson
There are pop singers.
Then, there’s Michael Jackson, the undisputed King of Pop, a flawless dancer, and one of the greatest black singers of the 20th century.
Over a decade after his death, everybody remembers the iconic singer who left an indelible mark on pop music.
Michael Jackson was born in 1958 in Gary, Indiana, US, and started his career with the Jackson 5.
He quickly evolved from a little performer to a teen idol after the Jackson 5 found initial fame with “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” and “The Love You Save” hit singles.
Michael Jackson captivated everybody who came across his music with his creative persona, sometimes portraying him as superhuman.
He took it to a new level with choreographed dance moves, instantly making him a global sensation.
3. Lionel Richie
Lionel Richie is easily one of the best black singers of all time.
The 5-time Grammy winner has sold over 100 million album units worldwide, becoming one of the best-selling black singers ever.
Lionel got the perfect start as part of the Commodores funk and soul band, releasing three successful singles with the group, including “Easy,” “Sail On,” and “Three Times a Lady”.
The Alabama singer wrote his most iconic song, “Endless Love”, in 1981, becoming the most successful single of his career.
Richie’s 1983 studio album, Can’t Slow Down, topped the Billboard 200 chart, and ranked among the best-selling albums of all time.
4. Otis Redding
Otis Redding is one of the best black singers in history, with live performances that often placed him among the greatest artists of the 1960s.
He was a giant of soul music, with an emotional tone that was always impossible to ignore and a determination to succeed at all costs.
One of Redding’s best-ever songs, “(Sittin’ On the) Dock of the Bay,” placed him among the greatest soul singers of all time and one of the best black artists of his generation.
Unfortunately, the curtain closed abruptly for the Georgia native in 1967 when he died in a plane crash in a Wisconsin lake.
5. Bill Withers
The “Lean On Me” hitmaker is also one of the best black singers of all time.
Bill Withers embodied soul music at the height of his career.
He wrote his songs with the selflessness of an experienced soul singer, always including lyrics that connect deeply with his listeners.
Bill rose to fame in the early 1970s, when soul music was at its best, with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Curtis Mayfield battling for the crown.
But he still stood out with his distinctive voice, earning a place among the best black singers of all time.
6. Luther Vandross
Luther Vandross recognized the power of love from a young age and spent most of his career writing and singing about this intense feeling that has driven many crazy.
He knew his way with words and had a voice that defined his career path.
We could talk about Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, and Diana Ross the whole day, but here’s another black singer who defined the 80s and 90s music.
7. Ray Charles
Ray Charles’ story should be told to anyone who wants to give up on life.
He was a naturally talented American singer, songwriter, alto saxophonist, and pianist who captivated music lovers around the world.
Ray developed a rare eye condition in childhood, and his vision worsened as he grew up.
Going blind at 7 would have been detrimental to many people, but not Ray, who was determined to give life his best shot even in a difficult situation.
He went to Florida for a special school for the visually impaired, refining his musical skills to become one of the best performers in history.
Today, Ray is recognized as one of the best soul singers of all time.
He is among the greatest black singers ever to grace the American entertainment industry.
8. Nat King Cole
It wasn’t easy to succeed in an era dominated by Elvis Presley and Bing Crosby.
But Nat King Cole did it anyway, endearing himself to music lovers with an unmistakable voice that brought him monumental success.
Nat befriended three instruments at a young age; a bass, guitar, and piano.
And that laid the foundation for his successful career, starting as a jazz pianist.
With a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, and over 150 singles placed on the popular charts, Nat has kept his place among the best black singers of all time.
9. Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke was one of the first black singers to explore the commercial side of music.
He made a name for himself as a composer and singer before extending his commercial success with a publishing company and a record label.
He’s nicknamed the “King of Soul” and is best remembered for the iconic song “A Change Is Gonna Come,” popular with the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
10. Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry was a black American singer from St. Louis, Missouri, nicknamed the “Father of Rock and Roll.”
He refined rhythm and blues music to bring out the major elements that made him one of the most accomplished entertainers of the 1950s.
Chuck’s best songs, including “Rock and Roll Music,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” and “Maybelline,” still get many people’s attention today.
11. Aaron Neville
Aaron Neville is a famous R&B and soul singer from New Orleans, Louisiana.
He topped the Soul chart with his “Tell It Like It Is” hit single.
Aaron has also worked with his brothers, Charles, Cyril, and Art, as part of The Neville Brothers, releasing several albums and hit singles from 1976 to the 2000s.
The American singer has also had a successful acting career, featuring in Zandalee (1991), The Fan (1996), and Sandy Wexler (2017).
12. Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin’s incredible vocal range always put her among the best female performers of the 1960s.
She was a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and fought for women’s rights with powerful compositions and feminist anthems such as “Respect.”
Aretha inspired many upcoming singers throughout her 6-decade career, becoming one of the best black singers ever.
13. Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye was nicknamed “Prince of Soul” for his contributions to the soul music genre.
He grew into a powerful force in the 1970s, becoming the face of soul music for the better part of the decade with songs such as “What’s Going On,” “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler),” and “Let’s Get It On.”
Marvin lived soul music.
He breathed it.
And he knew that was his only way to leave a legacy.
And he surely did it, releasing songs that have since become timeless classics.
His authenticity was incomparable.
That’s why he’s always regarded as one of the best black singers of all time.
14. Whitney Houston
The “I Will Always Love You” hitmaker is also one of the best black female singers of all time.
Whitney Houston became one of the best-selling artists of all time when she sold over 200 million records worldwide.
The New Jersey native became even more popular after branching out to the movie industry, featuring in The Bodyguard (1992), Waiting to Exhale (1995), and The Preacher’s Wife (1996), among other films.
As a committed philanthropist, Whitney supported several charities across the globe, establishing the Whitney Houston Foundation in 1989 to support her projects.
The American singer’s discography includes 7 studio albums, 6 compilation albums, and 7 EPs, among other contributions to the entertainment industry.
15. Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong is remembered as one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time.
He was a master trumpeter who battled a tough childhood to become one of the best black singers in history.
Armstrong appealed to his audiences with a distinctive voice, influencing upcoming singers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Frank Sinatra.
His enduring legacy continues in songs such as “What a Wonderful World,” “Hello, Dolly,” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
16. Diana Ross
Diana Ross has been charming, inspiring, and enduring since she debuted in 1959 with the Primettes pop-soul vocal group, later renamed The Supremes.
Her seamless blend of style and soul drew large audiences, growing into one of the finest female performers from the 1970s.
Diana had a successful solo career after quitting The Supremes, entering the filming sector to cement her name as an all-round performer.
Ross is one of the few artists to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, making her one of the most influential female entertainers of all time.
17. Bob Marley
Where would Jamaican music be without Bob Marley?
Marley’s influence on the popular culture is unmatched.
He impacted many individuals, challenging the masses with honest confessions in songs packed with message, rhythm, and eloquence.
Marley’s songs were just as electrifying as they were educating, turning him into one of the most influential reggae singers of all time.
At the height of his career, he was more than just an entertainer, leaving a lasting legacy despite the short career ending in 1981 when he was only 36.
Bob Marley will always be remembered as one of the most influential figures of all time and one of the best black singers in history.
Prince became one of his generation’s most influential black singers thanks to his androgynous persona.
His unmistakable vocal range endeared him to many fans, spreading powerful messages in his songs that often incorporated several styles.
Prince was one of a kind, selling over 120 million records worldwide to become one of the best-selling artists of all time.
Some called him a one-man band as the talented multi-instrumentalist who could play the guitar, acoustic guitar, electric piano, and bass.
19. Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald was one of the best female jazz singers of all time, nicknamed “Lady Ella,” “Queen of Jazz,” and “the First Lady of Song.”
Her storied career began in the 1930s, laying a solid foundation with the Chick Webb Orchestra before embarking on high-profile collaborations with Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.
Ella’s accolades include the Presidential Medal of Freedom award, NAACP’s President’s Award, the National Medal of Arts, and 14 Grammy Awards.
Decades later, no female jazz singer has matched Ella’s incredible diction, intonation, phrasing, and improvisation.
20. Tina Turner
Tina Turner is an American-born Swiss singer and actress nicknamed the “Queen of Rock n’ Roll.”
She began her musical journey with the Ike & Tina Turner duo in the 1950s before launching a solo career.
Tina found initial success with “Proud Mary,” “Nutbush City Limits,” and “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” before the group disbanded in 1976.
She returned in the 1980s as a solo performer, releasing her widely acclaimed Private Dancer album in 1984 with the Grammy-winning hit single, “What’s Love Got to Do with It.”
She continued her successes with more hit singles, including “Typical Male,” “The Best,” and “Better Be Good to Me.”
21. James Brown
James Brown pioneered the funk music genre and was one of the most influential musicians in the 20th century.
He was a man with many names, including “Mr. Dynamite,” “Godfather of Soul,” “Soul Brother No. 1,” and “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.”
James was one of the first artists to get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a rare feat for a black singer at the time.
He’s best remembered for the 1960s singles “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” “I Got You (I Feel Good),” and “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.”
Usher Raymond IV, commonly known as Usher, is a Dallas-born singer who grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
He rose to prominence in the 1990s with an eponymous debut album featuring the #1 hit single “Nice & Slow” and other successful songs, “My Way” and “You Make Me Wanna…”
Nicknamed the “King of R&B,” Usher has become one of the most successful male R&B singers of all time.
23. Smokey Robinson
The next black singer on the list was the founder of The Miracles vocal group of 1965-1972.
Robinson left the group in 1972 before returning to the music industry a year later to pursue a solo career.
He’s one of the most prolific songwriters of his time, remembered with the hit singles “Being With You,” “Tears of a Clown,” and “The Tracks of My Tears.”
24. Janet Jackson
Janet Jackson is Michael Jackson’s sister who has released slow jams, classic R&B, and pop songs.
She’s had a long and eventful journey in the music industry, writing songs that often highlight social issues and her personal experiences.
Her elaborate stage performances and sexually provocative releases have made her many people’s darling.
And just like her late brother, she’s slowly but steadily leaving her mark in the music industry.
25. Nina Simone
“The High Priestess of Soul,” that is, Nina Simone was the master of her craft and an exceptional composer from the 1950s.
She was a singer, civil rights activist, pianist, and songwriter who blended classical, pop, folk, blues, and gospel music to give her fans something to look forward to.
Nina came from a musical background, with her mother playing a pivotal role in perfecting her singing skills.
But there was a catch.
Nina would not engage in any secular music like blues and jazz.
The American singer started playing piano at a young age, crafting her skills through formal training before completing her high school education in Asheville.
Nina started performing at the local bars in Atlantic City with her mother’s stern warning (no nonreligious music) lingering in her mind.
She adopted the Nina Simone stage name after entering secular music for fear of upsetting her mother.
And with fame and money slowly streaming in thanks to her Little Girl Blue (1958) debut album, Nina relocated to New York in 1959 to pursue her musical aspirations.
26. Darius Rucker
Darius Rucker is a black American singer from Charleston, South Carolina.
He made history as the second black singer to top the Hot Country Songs chart thanks to his “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” single, released in 2008.
He released two more singles to the same hype, topping the charts for the second and third time with “Alright” and “It Won’t Be Like This for Long.”
Darius also excelled as a Hootie & the Blowfish soft rock band member alongside Mark Bryan, Jim Sonefield, and Dean Felber.
27. John Legend
John Legend became an R&B legend when he hit the scene in 2004 with his Get Lifted debut album.
The story hasn’t changed over the years, with the American singer building a legion of followers with his classic love songs.
John has that smooth voice.
A silky voice that made everyone fall in love with his “All Of Me” smash hit.
In many people’s eyes, John’s a legend of the game and deserves his place among the best black singers of all time.
Today, the American singer is a music coach, using his talent to prepare the upcoming generation of artists who will doubtless benefit from his immense talent and admirable personality.
See also: Best John Legend Songs
28. Chaka Khan
Chaka Khan has entertained fans across multiple genres throughout an enviable 5-decade career.
The American singer has sold over 70 million records, won 10 Grammy Awards, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, effectively becoming one of the best black singers of her generation.
29. Alicia Keys
Here’s a committed philanthropist whose success goes beyond the stage.
Alicia Keys is a reserved American singer who uses her status to make the world a better place.
With a career spanning over 2 decades, she’s written her name in history books as one of the greatest black singers of all time.
Keys has evolved over the years to release excellent compositions with modern influences, even though she takes much of her inspiration from earlier musical icons Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.
Alicia’s widely acclaimed studio albums and hit singles have earned her 5 American Music Awards, 15 Grammy Awards, 7 BET Awards, 17 NAACP Awards, and 9 Billboard Awards, among other accolades.
30. Donna Summer
Donna Summer came to the spotlight with her “Love to Love You Baby” hit single and never left the circles of the music scene.
She only got better, leading the world to a new place where erotic moaning and groaning weren’t a big deal.
Donna’s explicit lyrics and sexy crooning challenged the social norms, pushing beyond what was considered morally acceptable in the mainstream market.
But in the middle of her controversies and drama lay pure talent, pushing her to superstardom in the 1970s.
Her profound impact as a black female singer was felt far and wide, ranked among the greatest entertainers of her generation.
Best Black Singers – Final Thoughts
A musical icon is just as good as their influence.
That’s what defined many black singers.
Despite their elaborate stage performances, the best black singers knew their role in society, using their status to highlight social issues when the world was battling racial discrimination.
Some artists redefined music genres.
And a few are read in many publications for their everlasting impact on global audiences, leaving a legacy proudly embraced by new faces.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our list of the 30 best black singers of all time and will dig deeper to learn more about their music, history, and cultural impact.
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