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25 Greatest & Most Famous Female Jazz Singers

June 19, 2023
female jazz singers

Are you searching for the greatest female singers in the history of jazz?

Jazz music originated from Louisiana in the late nineteenth century, and quickly became a worldwide phenomenon when we entered the 1920s Jazz Age.

Taking elements from swing and blues, jazz brought liveliness to speakeasies during the prohibition.

Jazz music has changed a lot throughout the decades, and female jazz singers played a huge role in that.

When male singers were drafted during World War II, the women took over and brought us some of the best tunes in the history of Jazz.

We hope you enjoy learning about twenty-five of these trailblazing artists, who are some of the greatest and most famous female jazz singers.

Enjoy our list of the greatest & most famous female Jazz singers!

1. Billie Holiday

Eleanora Fagan, who is better known as Billie Holiday, was a jazz and swing singer who achieved her success from the thirties through to the late fifties.

She was affectionately nicknamed “Lady Day” by Lester Young, her musical partner, and revolutionized tempo.

She released twelve studio albums and thirty-eight singles in her time, including her 1937 number-one “Carelessly” and the 1942 number-one “Trav’lin’ Light”.

Holiday has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and the ASCAP Jazz Wall of Fame.

2. Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Jane Fitzgerald is referred to as the “Queen of Jazz”, the “First Lady of Song”, and “Lady Ella” for her incredible contributions to the genre and her distinctive tone and scat singing.

She embarked on her solo career in the early forties.

She won an impressive fourteen Grammy Awards, including the 1967 Lifetime Achievement Award.

She has numerous collaborations with huge names, including Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.

Her most notable hit is “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall” which she performed with the Ink Spots, and reached number one on two charts in the United States.

3. Peggy Lee

Norma Deloris Egstrom, better known around the world as Peggy Lee, was a jazz singer that inspired the genre for over seven decades.

She won the Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 1995 and was inducted into many notable Halls of Fame.

Her hit “Why Don’t You Do Right?” sold over one million copies and helped her to rise to fame before she was invited to sing with Benny Goodman’s orchestra.

She had numerous number-one hits in her career, including “Somebody Else is Taking My Place”.

4. Carmen McRae

Carmen Mercedes McRae has been coined one of the best jazz singers of the twentieth century and was influenced greatly by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and Teddy Wilson.

She received an NAACP Image Award in 1993 and an NEA Jazz Masters Award in 1994 from the National Endowment of the Arts organization, as well as seventeen Grammy Awards nominations.

5. Nina Simone

Eunice Kathleen Waymon, who went by the stage name Nina Simone, was a multi-genre musician and civil-rights activist who excelled in the jazz genre.

She is known for her expressive jazz voice and the influences she drew from classical music.

She is thought to be one of the most influential artists in the 20th-century jazz scene and has been described as an “improvisational genius”.

She was soon inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2000.

6. Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater is a three-time Grammy Award-winning jazz singer, and a member of the Memphis Music Hall of Fame since 2019.

She won two of her Grammy Awards for Best Jazz Vocal Performance (“Dear Ella”) and Best Jazz Vocal Album (Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie with Love from Dee Dee).

Her latest two studio albums are Dee Dee’s Feathers and Memphis…Yes I’m Ready, released in 2015 and 2017 respectively, reached number six on the United States Billboard Jazz charts.

7. Betty Carter

Betty Carter, known to her friends and family as Lillie Mae Jones, was an incredibly influential jazz singer who was known for her improvisational and scatting abilities.

In 1993 she began a program named Jazz Ahead that allowed twenty students to spend a week training and perfecting their musical skills with her as a teacher. 

Jazz singer Carmen McRae said of her talents “There’s really only one jazz singer—only one: Betty Carter.”

8. Madeleine Peyroux

Madeleine Peyroux began her jazz career in the mid-nineties when she joined the vintage jazz group The Lost Wandering Blues and Jazz Band after being discovered on the streets of Paris.

She went on to release her debut solo studio album Dreamland in 1996, which gave way to her gold-certified 2004 album Careless Love.

The studio album charted in Australia, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

9. Shirley Horn

Shirley Valerie Horn was a jazz musician known for her “seductive voice” and incredible skills as a pianist.

During her career she was nominated for nine Grammy Awards, winning one in 1999 for Best Jazz Vocal Performance for I Remember Miles.

The studio album was a tribute to her mentor and close confidant Miles Davis.

Horn also performed multiple times at the White House, singing her jazz tunes as entertainment for many presidents in the United States.

10. Cassandra Wilson

Cassandra Wilson is a talented jazz singer-songwriter and is one of the most successful female jazz musicians of all time.

In 2001, Time Magazine even named her “America’s Best Singer”.

She received two Grammy Awards during her career for Best Jazz Vocal Performance for her album New Moon Daughter and Best Jazz Vocal Album for Loverly in 1997 and 2009 respectively.

11. Norah Jones

Norah Jones, born Geethali Norah Jones Shankar in New York City, is a jazz singer who has sold over fifty thousand records as of this year.

She has received many accolades, the most prominent being that Billboard named her the best Jazz artist of the 2000s.

Her 2002 debut studio album Come Away With Me was certified twelve times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America after selling over twelve million copies in the United States and charted at number one in seven countries worldwide.

12. Diana Krall

Diana Jean Krall is a jazz singer from Canada with sales of over fifteen million records around the world, six million of which are in America.

She is named by Billboard as the second-best jazz artist of the 2000s decade, after Norah Jones above.

She has established herself as the only jazz artist to have a whopping eight studio albums debuting at number one on the US Billboard Jazz Albums chart, earning her three Grammy Awards. 

13. Bessie Smith

Bessie Smith was a renowned jazz and classic blues singer during the Jazz Age.

She has largely influenced the jazz singers that have followed her, and first honed her skills by performing on the streets to help her siblings to survive.

Her 1923 hit single “Down Hearted Blues” reached the number one spot in the United States Billboard Hot 100, her only number-one single in her career.

Three of her recordings have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for ‘qualitative or historical significance’: “Down Hearted Blues”, “St. Louis Blues”, and “Empty Bed Blues”.

14. Nancy Wilson

Nancy Sue Wilson was a renowned jazz singer who has recorded more than seventy albums, with a career spanning five decades.

She was affectionately nicknamed “The Girl with the Honey-Coated Voice”.

She won three Grammy Awards with two in the category of Best Jazz Vocal Album for Turned to BLue and R.S.V.P. (Rare Songs, Very Personal).

Nearly all of her songs and albums charted around the world, but surprisingly none of them hit the top spot.

15. Cécile McLorin Salvant

Cécile McLorin Salvant is a jazz vocalist whose career took off when she won first place in the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition.

She won her first of three Grammy Awards in 2015 for her hit studio album For One to Love.

She states her inspirations to be heavily centered around Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, and Betty Carter, and describes her jazz sound as ‘bluesy with elements of folk and musical theatre’.

16. June Christy

June Christy, who was born Shirley Luster in Illinois, was a highly popular cool jazz singer who first found her success with The Stan Kenton Orchestra.

She passed away in 1990, and was coined “one of the finest and most neglected singers of her time.”

Her debut studio album Something Cool helped her rise to fame and lead to a multitude of other successful albums.

17. Eartha Kitt

Eartha Kitt was a world-renowned jazz singer known for her distinctive vocals and cabaret-style performances.

Her career came with controversy, though.

She was invited to sing at Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration and made anti-war comments that caused the first lady to break down in tears.

After this, her career abruptly ended, but she can still be found on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

18. Aretha Franklin

While Aretha Franklin is largely known for soul and R&B, she has also made some amazing jazz contributions during her decades-long career.

In 1969 she unanimously won the Académie du Jazz for Lady in Soul, Aretha Now, and Aretha in Paris.

In 1986 her voice was declared a Michigan “national resource” and was the first ever woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

She paved the way for artists after her in many genres, and largely influenced jazz music.

19. Diane Schuur

Diane Joan Schuur, who was nicknamed “Deedles”, is a jazz singer and pianist who made her breakthrough in 1982 when Stan Gentz invited her to perform a musical showcase with him at the White House during Ronald Reagan’s administration.

This led to two Grammy Award wins, both for Best Jazz Vocal Performance – Female, for Timeless and Diane Schuur and the Count Basie Orchestra in 1986 and 1987 respectively.

20. Ruth Brown

Ruth Alston Brown was a singer who helped to build up jazz as we know it today. In 1989 she won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Female for her album Blues on Broadway.

She was then inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 1992, followed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 for her outstanding contributions to jazz and R&B.

Over twenty years later, in 2016, she was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

21. Astrud Gilberto

Astrud Gilberto was a jazz singer who specialized in Brazilian jazz, When she recorded “The Girl from Ipanema” in the mid-1960s, she rose to prominence around the world.

She has released sixteen studio albums during her career, each of which has helped her to earn her spot on this list.

22. Jane Monheit

Jane Monheit is a jazz singer who was raised in Long Island.

Her debut studio album Never Never Land, released in the year 2000, reached number three on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart and number two on the Traditional Jazz Albums chart.

Her following album Come Dream With Me, released a year later, hit number one on both charts and became the first of three other albums to hit the top spot.

23. Kandace Springs

Kandace Springs is a jazz singer and pianist who was born in Nashville to Scat Springs, a session singer.

She grew up listening to Nina Simone, who she now states to be one of her biggest inspirations.

Her most popular album is The Women Who Raised Me, a cover album that was released in 2020.

It features renditions of the biggest hits from the genre’s main artists, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Diana Krall, Carmen McRae, and Nina Simone.

24. Karen Souza

Karen Souza is an Argentinian jazz singer who is known for combining jazz elements with versions of hit songs.

Some of her mash-ups included “Creep” by Radiohead, and “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” by Culture Club.

Velvet Vault was the third studio album that she released in 2017, and it proved a great success for the jazz singer.

She has since been coined the “velvet vixen” for her smooth vocals.

25. Gretchen Parlato

Gretchen Parlato is a jazz singer who has collaborated with many big names, including Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Esperanza Spalding, Terrence Blanchard, Kenny Barron, Marcus Miller, and Lionel Loueke.

She has received two Grammy Award nominations for Live in NYC and Flor, both in the category of Best Jazz Vocal Album.

She has also won many critics’ polls and is known for being one of the top jazz singers in the world today.

Greatest & Most Famous Female Jazz Singers – Final Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed reading our article, which includes the greatest and most famous female jazz singers in the history of the genre.

These artists are the singers who popularized jazz around the world and developed it into what it is today.

You may also like: Best Jazz Songs of All Time

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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