In the history of R&B music, there have been a lot of great female singers who have wowed audiences with their powerful voices and soulful lyrics.
From the early days of Motown to the present, these women have left an indelible mark on the music industry.
They have inspired generations of musicians and fans alike.
In this article, we will look at 35 of the best female R&B singers of all time who have defined the genre with their unique styles, innovative sounds, and timeless classics.
From legends like Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston to contemporary artists like Beyoncé and Adele, this list celebrates women’s diverse talents and achievements who have helped shape the R&B landscape.
Whether you’re a longtime fan or new to the music genre, there’s something here for everyone to discover and appreciate.
Table of Contents
- 1. Erykah Badu
- 2. Stevie Nicks
- 3. Chaka Khan
- 4. Faith Evans
- 5. Britney Spears
- 6. Dua Lipa
- 7. Sheryl Crow
- 8. Ariana Grande
- 9. Billie Eilish
- 10. Kelly Rowland
- 11. Mariah Carey
- 12. Whitney Houston
- 13. Alicia Keys
- 14. Beyoncé
- 15. Rihanna
- 16. Mary J. Blige
- 17. Janet Jackson
- 18. Lauryn Hill
- 19. Aretha Franklin
- 20. Gladys Knight
- 21. Tina Turner
- 22. Nina Simone
- 23. Toni Braxton
- 24. Brandy
- 25. Jennifer Hudson
- 26. Jill Scott
- 27. Mýa
- 28. Donna Summer
- 29. Keyshia Cole
- 30. Ciara
- 31. Ashanti
- 32. Patti LaBelle
- 33. Aaliyah
- 34. Dionne Warwick
- 35. Etta James
- Best Female R&B Singers of All Time – Final Thoughts
1. Erykah Badu
Erykah Badu burst onto the music scene in 1997 with her debut album, Baduizm, which won her two Grammy Awards for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Album.
Badu’s music is known for its fusion of R&B, hip-hop, jazz, and soul and her powerful and unique vocals.
She has been praised for her ability to incorporate social and political themes into her music and for her honest and raw lyrics that often explore personal and emotional struggles.
Throughout her career, Badu has released several critically acclaimed albums, including Mama’s Gun (2000), Worldwide Underground (2003), and New Amerykah Part One (2008).
2. Stevie Nicks
Born on May 26, 1948, in Phoenix, Arizona, Nicks began her music career in the early 1970s as a member of the band Buckingham Nicks, alongside her then-boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham.
Nicks has also done well with solo albums like “Bella Donna” and “The Wild Heart,” and she has worked with other musicians like “Tom Petty” and “Don Henley” during her career.
Her solo hits include “Edge of Seventeen” and “Stand Back,” both of which remain popular today.
As a member of Fleetwood Mac and as a solo artist, Stevie Nicks has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
She is known as one of the most influential female R&B musicians of all time.
3. Chaka Khan
Chaka Khan, born Yvette Marie Stevens, is known for her powerful voice and unique blend of funk, R&B, and soul music.
Khan quickly became one of the most popular and respected female singers of the time because of her unique voice and stage presence.
Throughout her career, Khan has won ten Grammy Awards and sold millions of albums worldwide.
Her music had a big impact on R&B and funk, and her unique style and strong vocals continue to inspire new generations of musicians.
In addition to her music career, Khan is also known for her activism, particularly in the areas of women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights.
4. Faith Evans
Evans is best known for her soulful R&B and gospel music.
She began her music career as a backup singer for Al B. Sure! and Christopher Williams.
She gained national attention when she signed with Bad Boy Records, founded by Sean “Diddy” Combs, in the mid-1990s.
Her debut album, Faith, was released in 1995 and included the hit single “Soon as I Get Home.”
She has since released seven studio albums, including Keep the Faith, Faithfully, and Incomparable.
She won a Grammy Award in 1998 for her duet with Puff Daddy and 112, “I’ll Be Missing You,” which was a tribute to the late rapper The Notorious B.I.G., who was also Evans’ husband.
5. Britney Spears
Britney Spears began her career as a child actor, appearing in television shows and stage productions.
She gained national attention when she signed with Jive Records in the late 1990s and released her debut album, …Baby One More Time, in 1999.
Throughout the 2000s, Spears kept putting out successful albums like Britney and In the Zone.
6. Dua Lipa
Dua Lipa released her debut single, “New Love,” in 2015, and her self-titled debut album was released in 2017.
The album included hit singles such as “Be the One,” “IDGAF,” and “New Rules,” which became viral sensations and helped establish Lipa as a major star.
She has won numerous awards, including three Grammy Awards, and has been named one of the most influential people in the world by Time magazine.
7. Sheryl Crow
Sheryl Crow released her debut album, Tuesday Night Music Club, in 1993, which included hit singles such as “All I Wanna Do” and “Strong Enough.”
During her career, she has made several successful albums, such as Sheryl Crow (1996), The Globe Sessions (1998), and Detours (2008).
She has also collaborated with many other artists, including Kid Rock, Stevie Nicks, and Keith Richards.
Sheryl Crow has won numerous awards throughout her career, including nine Grammy Awards and an Academy Award for Best Original Song for “If It Makes You Happy.”
8. Ariana Grande
Ariana Grande first gained fame in 2010 when she starred as Cat Valentine in the Nickelodeon television series “Victorious” and later in its spin-off “Sam & Cat.”
Grande’s music career began in 2011 with the release of her debut single “Put Your Hearts Up,” which was followed by her debut studio album Yours Truly in 2013.
She has since released several successful albums, including My Everything (2014), Dangerous Woman (2016), Sweetener (2018), Thank U, Next (2019), and Positions (2020).
9. Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish first gained public attention in 2015 with her debut single, “Ocean Eyes,” which went viral and quickly became a hit.
She is known for her distinctive style, often wearing oversized clothing and dyed hair.
Her music has been described as a blend of genres, including pop, R&B, electronica, and alternative.
In 2017, Eilish released her debut EP, Don’t Smile at Me.
Her debut studio album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? was released in 2019.
10. Kelly Rowland
Kelly Rowland’s work with Destiny’s Child alone has solidified her place in R&B history.
The group was one of the best-selling girl groups of all time, and Rowland’s contributions to their music were crucial to their success.
The group released hit singles such as “Say My Name,” “Survivor,” and “Bootylicious,” among others.
Rowland also released solo music during her time with Destiny’s Child, including her debut solo album Simply Deep in 2002.
After Destiny’s Child disbanded in 2006, Rowland continued her solo career, releasing several more albums, including Ms. Kelly, Here I Am, and Talk a Good Game.
11. Mariah Carey
Mariah Carey’s powerful voice and impressive vocal range, combined with her ability to infuse emotion into her songs, have set her apart as a unique and talented artist in the R&B genre.
Carey rose to fame in the early 1990s with her powerful vocal range and chart-topping hits such as “Vision of Love,” “Emotions,” “Dreamlover,” and “Hero.”
Carey’s influence on the R&B genre has also been recognized by her peers, as she has won several BET Awards and Soul Train Music Awards, among other awards.
12. Whitney Houston
Throughout her career, Houston’s music influenced countless artists, and her impact can still be felt today.
The fact that she could mix gospel, R&B, and pop music into her songs and sing them so well made her a force to be reckoned with.
Her debut album, Whitney Houston, was released in 1985 and included hits such as “Saving All My Love for You” and “Greatest Love of All.”
She went on to release several more successful albums, including Whitney and The Bodyguard, which featured the hit single “I Will Always Love You.”
13. Alicia Keys
Keys first rose to fame in the early 2000s with her debut album, Songs in A Minor.
The album featured hit singles such as “Fallin'” and “A Woman’s Worth” and earned Keys several Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist.
She went on to release several more successful albums, including The Diary of Alicia Keys and As I Am.
Keys has won a lot of awards throughout her career, including 15 Grammy Awards and 17 Billboard Music Awards.
She has also acted in films such as “Smokin’ Aces” and “The Secret Life of Bees.”
Born in Houston, Texas, in 1981, Beyoncé first rose to fame as a member of the girl group Destiny’s Child.
In 2003, she launched her solo career with the release of her debut album, Dangerously in Love.
Beyoncé has had a lot of success with her albums, which include B’Day, I Am… Sasha Fierce, and Lemonade.
She is known for her powerful voice, commanding stage presence, and ability to blend R&B, hip-hop, and pop music into her songs.
Rihanna began her music career in the early 2000s and quickly rose to fame with the release of her debut album, Music of the Sun, in 2005.
Throughout her career, Rihanna has released several successful albums, including Good Girl Gone Bad, Rated R, and ANTI.
She has also collaborated with numerous other artists, including Drake, Eminem, and Jay-Z.
Rihanna has won numerous awards, including nine Grammy Awards and thirteen Billboard Music Awards.
She is also known for her philanthropic work, particularly her support of education and healthcare initiatives in her home country of Barbados.
16. Mary J. Blige
Mary Blige is known for her soulful and powerful voice and has been referred to as the “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.”
Blige started her music career in the late 1980s and rose to fame in the early 1990s with her debut album, What’s the 411?
She is known for her powerful voice and her ability to infuse R&B, soul, and hip-hop into her music.
Blige has won many awards throughout her career, including nine Grammy Awards, four American Music Awards, twelve Billboard Music Awards, and a nomination for a Golden Globe Award for her role in the 2017 movie “Mudbound.”
17. Janet Jackson
Jackson began her career in entertainment as a child actress on the television series “Good Times” and “Fame.”
She then signed a recording contract with A&M Records in 1982 and released her self-titled debut album in 1986.
Throughout her career, Jackson has released a total of 12 studio albums, with hits including “Rhythm Nation,” “That’s the Way Love Goes,” and “All for You.”
She has won numerous awards, including five Grammy Awards, eleven Billboard Music Awards, and nine MTV Video Music Awards.
18. Lauryn Hill
Lauryn Hill first gained fame as a member of the hip-hop group The Fugees in the 1990s.
In 1998, Lauryn Hill released her solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which became a critical and commercial success, selling over 19 million copies worldwide.
The album featured a blend of hip-hop, soul, and R&B music and received numerous accolades, including five Grammy Awards.
Lauryn Hill’s musical style often addresses social and political issues, and her lyrics often touch on themes of love, spirituality, and personal growth.
19. Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and raised in Detroit, Michigan, where she began her music career singing gospel in her father’s church.
Franklin signed with Columbia Records in 1960 and recorded several albums of jazz, pop, and soul music.
She moved to Atlantic Records in 1967, where she achieved major commercial success with hits such as “Respect,” “Chain of Fools,” and “Think.”
She became a symbol of black empowerment and feminism in the late 1960s and 1970s and continued to record and tour throughout her career.
20. Gladys Knight
Gladys Knight is best known as the lead vocalist of the group Gladys Knight & the Pips, which produced several hit songs from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Gladys Knight & the Pips recorded hits such as “Midnight Train to Georgia,” “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye),” and “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.”
The group signed with Motown Records in 1966 and recorded several successful albums before moving to Buddah Records in 1973.
21. Tina Turner
Tina Turner is best known for her powerful voice, electrifying stage presence, and hits such as “Proud Mary,” “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” and “Simply the Best.”
Turner began her career in the late 1950s as part of the musical duo Ike & Tina Turner, which was known for its high-energy performances and soulful R&B sound.
After her tumultuous marriage to Ike Turner ended in 1978, Tina Turner launched a successful solo career, releasing several albums and hits.
In 1984, she released the album Private Dancer, which included the hits “What’s Love Got to Do with It” and “Better Be Good to Me.”
The album won several Grammy Awards and cemented Turner’s status as a superstar.
22. Nina Simone
Simone’s career began in the 1950s, and she quickly gained a following with her unique style and powerful performances.
Her hits included “I Love You, Porgy,” “Feeling Good,” and “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black.”
She was also known for her politically charged music, including songs such as “Mississippi Goddam” and “Young, Gifted, and Black.”
Simone’s music often showed how politically active she was, and she took part in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
23. Toni Braxton
Born on October 7, 1967, in Severn, Maryland, Braxton rose to fame in the early 1990s with hits such as “Breathe Again,” “Un-Break My Heart,” and “You’re Makin’ Me High.”
Braxton’s soulful voice and emotive ballads quickly established her as a powerful force in R&B music.
Throughout her career, she has won many awards, including seven Grammys and nine Billboard Music Awards.
Braxton has released several successful albums throughout her career, including her self-titled debut album in 1993 and Secrets in 1996.
Brandy rose to fame in the 1990s with hits such as “I Wanna Be Down,” “Sittin’ Up in My Room,” and “The Boy Is Mine.”
Brandy’s unique voice and innovative R&B sound helped establish her as one of the most successful and influential artists of the decade.
She has won a Grammy Award, an American Music Award, and seven Billboard Music Awards throughout her career.
25. Jennifer Hudson
Hudson rose to fame as a finalist on the third season of the reality television show “American Idol” in 2004.
She later won an Academy Award for her role in the 2006 film “Dreamgirls.”
She has released several successful albums, including her self-titled debut album in 2008 and JHUD in 2014.
She has also won numerous awards throughout her career, including a Grammy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and two BET Awards.
26. Jill Scott
Scott’s music career began in the late 1990s when she collaborated with The Roots, a hip-hop band from Philadelphia.
She released her debut album, Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol. 1, 2000.
Her unique blend of neo-soul, jazz, and R&B music quickly gained her a dedicated following.
Over the years, Scott has released several more albums, including Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Vol. 2 (2004), The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. 3 (2007), The Light of the Sun (2011), and Woman (2015).
She has won several awards throughout her career, including three Grammy Awards and several Soul Train Awards.
Mýa gained prominence in the late 1990s and early 2000s with her debut single, “It’s All About Me,” and her self-titled debut album.
She has since released several successful albums, including Fear of Flying and Moodring, and has collaborated with a variety of artists in the music industry.
Some of her most popular songs include “Case of the Ex,” “Lady Marmalade,” and “Ghetto Superstar.”
28. Donna Summer
Donna Summer gained fame in the 1970s with hits such as “Love to Love You Baby,” “I Feel Love,” and “Last Dance.”
Summer’s music is known for its disco beats and sensual lyrics, which helped to define the sound of the era.
Her powerful vocals and dynamic stage presence also made her a beloved performer, and she won multiple Grammy Awards throughout her career.
Summer’s impact on R&B and pop music can still be felt today, and she has been recognized for her contributions to the industry with inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Dance Music Hall of Fame.
29. Keyshia Cole
Keyshia Cole was born on October 15, 1981, in Oakland, California, and began her career in the music industry as a teenager.
Her debut album, The Way It Is, was released in 2005 and spawned hit singles such as “I Should Have Cheated” and “Love.”
Cole has released several successful albums since then, including Just Like You, A Different Me, and Calling All Hearts.
She is known for her soulful voice and her honest lyrics, which often explore themes of love, heartbreak, and resilience.
Ciara was born on October 25, 1985, in Austin, Texas, and began her career in the music industry in the early 2000s.
She has released several successful albums throughout her career, including Goodies, Ciara: The Evolution, and Beauty Marks.
Her music is known for its catchy hooks, sultry vocals, and innovative sound, which draws from a variety of musical genres, including R&B, pop, and hip-hop.
Her hits such as “Goodies,” “1, 2 Step,” “Like a Boy,” and “Level Up” continues to be popular among fans and have earned her several Grammy nominations.
Ashanti began her career as a teenager, singing background vocals for other artists before releasing her debut album, self-titled Ashanti, in 2002.
The album was a commercial success, selling over 500,000 copies in its first week and earning Ashanti three Grammy nominations.
In addition to her music career, Ashanti has also acted in several films and television shows, including the movie “Coach Carter” and the TV series “Army Wives” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
She has won many awards, including a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary R&B Album, and has sold more than 27 million records around the world.
32. Patti LaBelle
LaBelle began her career in the early 1960s as the lead singer of the group Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles.
The group had several hits, including “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman” and “Lady Marmalade.”
In the 1970s, LaBelle pursued a solo career, releasing albums such as Patti LaBelle and Released.
She continued to have hits throughout the 1980s and 1990s, including “On My Own” (a duet with Michael McDonald), “New Attitude,” and “Stir It Up.”
LaBelle has won several awards, including Grammys, AMAs, and BET Awards.
She has also been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Apollo Theater Hall of Fame.
Aaliyah’s career began in 1994 when she released her debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number.
The album was a commercial success, reaching number 18 on the Billboard 200 chart and selling over three million copies in the United States.
Aaliyah continued to release successful albums throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, including One in a Million and Aaliyah.
Despite her brief career, she left a lasting impact on the R&B genre and is remembered as a talented and innovative artist.
She was posthumously honored with several awards, including a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for her song “More Than a Woman.”
34. Dionne Warwick
Warwick’s career began in the 1960s when she signed with Scepter Records and released a series of hit songs like “Walk On By,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” and “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”
These songs helped Warwick become one of the best female singers and won her a few Grammy Awards.
Warwick has put out more than 50 studio albums and sold more than 75 million records all over the world.
35. Etta James
Etta James began her career singing in a gospel choir at the age of five.
In the 1950s and 1960s, James released a string of hits that helped define the R&B genre, including “At Last,” “Tell Mama,” and “I’d Rather Go Blind.”
Her music combined elements of blues, gospel, and rock and roll, and her emotive style made her a popular performer with audiences around the world.
Throughout her career, James released more than 25 albums and won numerous awards, including six Grammys and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Her powerful voice and soulful style have made her one of the best female R&B singers of all time.
Best Female R&B Singers of All Time – Final Thoughts
The R&B music genre has been blessed with a diverse and talented group of female singers who have made their mark on the industry with their exceptional vocal abilities and soulful performances.
The 35 best female R&B singers of all time have had an immense impact on the music world, inspiring new generations of artists to follow in their footsteps.
These female R&B singers have used their music to break down barriers, question social norms, and bring attention to important issues.
They have used their platform to raise awareness about topics such as love, heartbreak, social justice, and equality, making them not just talented musicians but also influential role models.
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