Since becoming popular in the 1920s, blues music has produced talented singers, including Mamie Smith, Muddy Waters, and Ray Charles.
While the “Three Kings of the Blues Guitar,” B.B. King, Albert King, and Freddie King have always made the headlines, other great blues singers deserve just as much attention.
Find below our countdown to the 30 best blues singers of all time who made a lasting impression on insatiable listeners.
1. Robert Johnson
Here’s a rock and roll Hall of Famer with a remarkable music career as a blues singer.
Much has been said about the legendary Robert Johnson, but the strangest is his secret pact with the devil.
Legend has it that Robert sold his soul to the devil for his immense guitar-playing ability.
While we will never know if that’s true, there’s no denying Johnson is one of the best blues singers of all time.
His guitar-playing skill was to die for.
And his mysterious life attracted attention years after his death.
He influenced everyone in the music scene, from The Rolling Stones to Muddy Waters and other rock and roll artists.
He also became one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with a brief but successful career that spanned several music genres.
An exceptional guitarist most of the time, and an even brilliant storyteller in his day, Robert Johnson will always be one of the most influential blues singers of the 20th century.
2. Howlin’ Wolf
Chester Arthur Burnett, commonly known as Howlin’ Wolf, was a talented harmonica player and one of the greatest blues singers of all time.
With his unique voice, he wowed rock and roll audiences, but like many early black singers, Wolf’s journey to the top wasn’t a walk in the park.
Born black and poor, Chester was banished from their home at a young age and grew up under the care of an abusive uncle.
He learned his craft under Charley Patton while sharecropping in Mississippi.
Wolf started entertaining small audiences in Mississippi before relocating to Memphis and Chicago, where he perfected his craft to become a blues legend.
The rasping power of the singer’s voice still gets many people excited.
And his imposing stage presence will always remain in many people’s minds.
3. Bessie Smith
Nicknamed the “Empress of Blues,” Bessie Smith was charming and confident.
She embodied the black American lifestyle, often releasing songs that highlighted the pain, suffering, and frustrations of minority groups.
Bessie quickly became the people’s darling with her distinctive contralto voice and a career beyond stage performances.
The blues singer’s story is one of resilience, hard work, and determination, rising from extreme poverty to become one of the best-paid female singers at the time.
Bessie’s most memorable blues songs include “Downhearted Blues,” “Gulf Coast Blues,” and “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home.”
4. B.B. King
B.B. King is a legendary blues singer who’s inspired millions of listeners across different races and ages.
He was an incredible entertainer who rose from humble beginnings in the local plantations to achieve international status as a blues legend.
B.B. King believed in dedication, which showed throughout a 60-year career of constant reinvention, passion, and hard work.
As a passionate guitarist, King always had something more for his audiences, distinguishing himself as a tireless philanthropist and a diabetes advocate.
Upon his death in 2015, he left an indelible mark on blues music as a prolific guitarist and one of the greatest blues singers in history, with passionate vocals that charmed audiences.
5. Eric Clapton
There are over 100 reasons why Eric Clapton is a musical icon.
He is a triple inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
He revolutionized popular music.
He distinguished himself with a unique soloing style that was easily recognizable.
Everybody admires Eric because he was among the best blues and rock guitarists.
His best songs include “Layla,” “Bell Bottom Blues,” and “Wonderful Tonight.”
6. Ray Charles
The “Father of Soul” often infused R&B, gospel, and blues elements in his songs, becoming one of the most influential artists from the 1930s.
Ray Charles’ journey began in 1930 in Albany, Georgia, born to a sharecropping mother and a loving father who worked as a handyman and railroad repair man.
He lost his vision at a young age and was enrolled in a special school for the visually impaired.
Dejected but never giving up, the completely blind Charles learned his musical skills at the same institution, quickly establishing himself as one of the most talented performers.
Charles is often credited with pioneering soul music.
And as the genius musician he was, he often grabbed attention with his distinctive raspy voice and incredibly emotional pull during his stage performances.
7. Mamie Smith
Mamie Smith was a multi-talented entertainer who made history as the first artist to record a blues song, a feat she achieved in 1920 with “Crazy Blues.”
She was a glamorous entertainer, paving the way for upcoming female singers such as Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, and Ma Rainey.
Mamie was already entertaining audiences at ten years old with Four Dancing Mitchells.
In 1918, she had her first acting role in Made in Harlem.
While Mamie’s early years are poorly documented, her emergence in the 1920s marked a significant milestone for black female singers.
Her influence has continued throughout the century, cementing her name among the most successful female blues singers ever.
8. Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Sister Rosetta Tharpe is among the most successful gospel singers from the 1930s.
Her blend of spiritual songs with secular music and sensational collaborations influenced generations, becoming one of the most popular female blues singers in the 1930s and 1940s.
Rosetta became one of the first female singers to captivate rock and roll and rhythm and blues audiences, ultimately nicknamed the “Godmother of rock and roll.”
She inspired many upcoming singers, from Johnny Cash to Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Tharpe also stood out with her unique guitar playing technique, propelling electric blues to global audiences.
Her iconic 1964 European tour alongside Muddy Waters became one of the most significant moments in her illustrious career.
Rosetta is best remembered for the “Didn’t It Rain,” “Down by the Riverside,” and “My Journey to the Sky” singles.
9. Ma Rainey
Ma Rainey’s blues legacy is unmatched throughout the Midwest, South, and Mexico.
The Columbus-born American singer started her career in the 1910s, making history as one of the first female singers to infuse blues, country blues, and jazz musical elements into their songs.
The American singer might not be one of the pioneers of blues music, but her bold, unapologetic approach to sensitive topics and defiant personality made her a feminist icon.
Ma Rainey’s most recognizable songs include “Prove It on Me Blues,” “Deep Moaning Blues,” and “Booze and Blues.”
10. Muddy Waters
Muddy Waters personified blues music in his prime.
He was an electric performer and a brilliant guitarist with an enormous influence transcending races.
Muddy Waters became one of the most influential figures in the post-war blues era, nicknamed the “father of modern Chicago blues.”
The American singer enjoyed massive success in the 1950s, placing several singles on the Rhythm & Blues charts, including “Trouble No More,” “Forty Days and Forty Nights,” and “Sugar Sweet.”
Muddy has won 6 Grammy Awards and 5 Blues Foundation Awards and got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
11. Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday’s unique voice is timeless.
She’s often linked to jazz music, but her vocal ability made her one of the best blues singers in history.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Lady Day started entertaining her fans at Harlem nightclubs before signing with Brunswick record label in 1935.
Her unique vocal style quickly endeared her to jazz music lovers, drawing larger audiences with her matchless improvisation skills.
Billy’s best songs include “Strange Fruit,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and “Solitude.”
12. T-Bone Walker
T-Bone Walker was another popular blues singer, composer, and bandleader from Texas.
He found fame with west coast blues, jump blues, Texas blues, and electric blues, getting into Rolling Stone Magazine’s 2018 list of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” at number 67.
Walker’s most unfortunate moment came in 1974, when he suffered a stroke, ending his inspiring 4-decade career.
He died of bronchial pneumonia a year later at his Los Angeles home, influencing many Detroit guitarists.
Walker was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 7 years later.
13. Albert King
Few guitarists can boast of leaving a bigger legacy on blues music than Albert King.
He was one of the most influential singers from the post-war blues era, drawing audiences with his soulful voice and unusual yet admirable guitar technique.
Albert was born in Mississippi and moved to Memphis in the 1950s, quickly establishing himself in the region’s blues scene.
Among his most recognizable songs include “Crosscut Saw,” “The Hunter,” and “Born Under a Bad Sign.”
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame for influencing many artists, including Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Jimi Hendrix.
14. Etta James
Here’s a soulful crooner whose music everyone should listen to at least once.
Etta James is a pioneer of modern music, bridging the existing gaps between several genres, including R&B, rock and roll, blues, soul, and jazz.
There are countless reasons to admire Etta, be it her limitless influence on upcoming singers, the powerful messages in her songs, or her achievements throughout a glittering 5-decade career.
The Grammy award winner and iconic blues singer is best remembered for her “At Last” single, which peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
15. Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix is considered one of the most innovative guitarists of all time, with an unparalleled contribution to rock music.
Like many early singers, Jimi was obsessed with music from a young age, choosing the guitar as his preferred instrument for self-expression.
As a self-taught artist, his passion only increased his willingness to learn, joining and quitting several groups before he formed his band.
Jimi has experimented with several techniques and instruments while working with some of the best artists in history, including Wilson Pickett, Little Richard, and Sam Cooke,
While many called him the “King of Rock,” Jimi’s repertoire extended beyond a single music genre, excelling with heavy metal, psychedelic rock, hard rock, hip-hop, and grunge.
16. Janis Joplin
Memorable mezzo-soprano vocals.
An electric stage presence.
And a unique singing style.
That was Janis Joplin at the height of her career.
Born in Port Arthur, Texas, the American singer became one of her generation’s most successful rock performers.
She broke onto the scene in 1967 through the Monterrey Pop Festival as the lead singer for the Big Brother and the Holding Company psychedelic rock band.
She released 2 albums as part of the musical group before quitting to pursue a solo career.
Joplin’s best-ever songs include the renditions of “Cry Baby,” “Piece of My Heart,” and “Summertime.”
Almost 4 decades after her death from a heroin overdose, the Texas-born singer is unforgettable when mentioning the best blues singers with a real impact on upcoming generations.
17. Willie Dixon
Willie James Dixon was a black American blues singer, songwriter, arranger, vocalist, and record producer from Vicksburg, Mississippi.
He was one of the most influential blues singers of the post-World War II era, alongside Muddy Waters.
While his guitar-playing skills often gained attention, Willie is best known for his prolific songwriting skills, which always put him above his peers.
His best songs have become classics, recorded and performed by several artists.
18. Buddy Guy
Buddy Guy is one of the finest guitarists of his generation, with passionate vocals and unmatched showmanship.
Buddy has influenced some of the best rock guitarists, from Eric Clapton to Gary Clark and Jimmy Page.
He won 8 Grammy Awards, the Kennedy Center Honors, and a Lifetime Achievement Award, besides entering Rolling Stone’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” in the top 30.
19. Memphis Slim
Memphis Slim is a legend of blues music who distinguished himself as a prolific pianist, singer, and composer.
He led several bands in his prime, releasing a widely acclaimed version of the blues classic “Every Day I Have the Blues.”
Memphis relocated to Chicago in the late 1930s, where he partnered with Big Bill Broonzy to make several records up to the mid-1940s.
One of his most beloved songs, “Nobody Loves Me,” was released in 1947 and has had a massive influence on the blues audience, just like his other hits.
Several artists have covered the song, including Jimi Hendrix, Ella Fitzgerald, Carlos Santana, and Sarah Vaughan.
20. Freddie King
Freddie King was a Texas-born blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter recognized among the “Three Kings of the Blues Guitar” alongside B.B. King and Albert King.
He is best remembered for his soulful voice and remarkable guitar playing that influenced many blues singers.
King started playing guitar at six years old, perfecting his craft over the years before founding the Every Hour Blues Boys band after moving to Chicago.
The American blues singer got his breakthrough in 1960 with the “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” single.
King showed his versatility in his first album, Freddy King Sings (1961), featuring the successful singles “I’m Tore Down” and “You’ve Got to Love Her with a Feeling.”
He’s been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, confirming him as one of the best blues singers of all time.
21. Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Kenny Wayne Shepherd has released multiple studio albums as one of the most successful blues singers in recent years.
He’s one of the youngest blues singers on this list with a career that began in the 1990s as a self-taught musician.
He started playing guitar at 7 years old, after meeting the blues legend, Stevie Ray Vaughan, before announcing his arrival to the music scene in 1995 with 7 Top 10 singles on the Billboard Blues Charts.
Kenny has won 2 Blues Music Awards, 2 Billboard Music Awards, and 5 Grammy Award nominations, ranking among the most influential blues singers of the 2010s and beyond.
22. Elmore James
Elmore James, or the “King of the Slide Guitar,” was a Mississippi-born guitarist, singer, bandleader, and songwriter.
James rose to prominence in the 1950s and 1960s with his soulful vocals and a unique guitar-playing style that often left a lasting impression on the listeners.
He released several classics throughout his career, showcasing innovation, incredible emotion, and technical skill.
Some of James’ most recognizable songs include “Dust My Broom,” “It Hurts Me Too,” and “The Sky is Crying.”
23. Paul Butterfield
Paul Butterfield stepped up when the world needed a white harmonica player to join the covetable list of true blues legends.
He completed formal training as a flutist before branching out to playing the harmonica.
Nothing could possibly go wrong with blues legend Muddy Waters as his mentor, and that reflected throughout his 15-year career.
Paul founded the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in the early 1960s, recording several albums as one of the most popular acts of the decade.
24. Lightnin’ Hopkins
Lightnin’ Hopkins’s untarnished legacy in the entertainment industry was born from years of selfless contributions to blues music.
He played a unique country blues style, earning a massive following in Europe and the US.
His long and successful career was the highlight of a man who spent his entire life crafting his skills, building an impressive catalog incomparable to most of his peers.
As a live performer, he stood head and shoulders above the rest, reminiscent of a man on top of his game.
Hopkins’ legacy continues in “Mojo Hand,” “Short Haired Woman,” and “Baby Please Don’t Go.”
25. Big Mama Thornton
Willie Mae Thornton, commonly known as Big Mama Thornton, was a blues and female R&B singer and songwriter from Ariton, Alabama.
Her rendition of “Hound Dog” in 1952 became one of her best-ever projects, topping the Billboard R&B chart for seven weeks.
Thornton started her music career in a Baptist church, influenced by her parents, who held key roles at the same institution.
She did menial jobs for a living after her mother died before leaving home in 1940 to focus on music.
The decision almost paid off immediately as she was nicknamed the “New Bessie Smith” by a few people who listened to her songs.
As a Blues Hall of Famer, the Alabama native deserves her place as one of the greatest blues singers of her generation.
26. Stevie Ray Vaughan
Stevie Ray Vaughan is most notable from his time with the Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble blues-rock trio, where he served as the guitarist and frontman.
While his life was cut short by a helicopter crash in 1990, Stevie is considered one of the best blues singers of all time.
He was also one of the best guitarists of his time, massively inspired by his equally talented brother, Jimmie Vaughan.
Stevie shot to fame in the early 1970s after quitting school and moving to Austin, where he entertained small audiences at the local clubs.
His meteoric rise to fame was fuelled by his partnership with Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon as Double Trouble blues rock band, earning instant recognition among Texas’ best acts.
27. John Lee Hooker
John Lee Hooker is a famous American guitarist, blues singer, and songwriter from Tutwiler, Mississippi.
He rose to fame as a Delta blues singer, often experimenting with hill country blues and talking blues, among other elements.
Hooker’s best songs include “Boogie Chillen,” “Crawling King Snake,” and “Boom Boom,” which have pushed him to the top of the blues charts.
He’s also known for his successful studio albums, including The Healer (1989), Mr. Lucky (1991), and Chill Out (1995).
28. Charley Patton
Charley Patton is regarded as the “Father of the Delta Blues” and one of the best singers from Mississippi.
He influenced many Delta blues musicians, with countless Paramount and Vocalion recordings that have secured his place among the greatest blues singers in history.
One of his best songs, “Pony Blues” is considered a culturally and historically significant piece for tracing the roots of Delta blues.
29. Nina Simone
The High Priestess of Soul.
A tireless civil rights activist.
And a talented singer with a diverse musical style.
You can never lack something positive to say about Eunice Kathleen Waymon.
Nina Simone wore many hats as one of the best black female singers from the 1950s.
She was a talented pianist, singer, and songwriter who incorporated blues, folk, classical, pop, and gospel styles into her compositions, rising from her humble beginnings in North Carolina to top the global music charts.
She tasted the pain of racism at a young age when she was denied admission to the Curtis Institute of Music despite a successful audition.
That prompted her to become a fierce activist when she finally launched her career.
With 19 studio albums, 14 live albums, and several hit singles throughout an inspiring 4-decade career, Nina effectively secured her place among the best black female singers of all time.
30. Otis Redding
Let’s finish with a blues singer who probably deserved a longer career.
Otis Redding’s journey began in the early 1960s.
Unfortunately, it ended only a few years later when the black American singer passed on in a plane crash when he was building his legacy with the “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay” hit single.
No matter what you think about him, Otis Redding will always be a blues legend, with the never-ending question of “what would have been.”
Best Blues Singers – Final Thoughts
Our list of the 30 best blues singers of all time comes to an end.
Of course, many other artists deserve a place on the list, but that was only our top 30 countdown.
We hope you found a favorite singer on the list and some new names to add to your blues playlist.
You may also like: Best Blues Songs of All Time