Gospel music goes beyond stage performances.
It falls under Christian music and is sacred, powerful, and inspirational.
For years, gospel music has stretched into many genres, from blues to rock n’ roll and soul.
That’s why Aretha Franklin could easily transition from gospel to soul music without losing her audience.
It’s the same reason Johnny Cash distinguished himself as a celebrated rock and roll singer despite his deep Christian roots.
Below are the 30 best gospel singers of all time.
The names on this list include legendary artists who started their careers purely as gospel singers and a few who began as secular artists before switching to gospel music and vice versa.
Oh! We also have a few gospel music groups you should listen to their songs!
So, let’s get right into it.
1. Thomas A. Dorsey
Let’s start with the Father of Gospel Music.
Thomas Andrew Dorsey is a singer from the 1900s who popularized the gospel music genre.
He’s a legend amongst gospel artists who built an unparalleled legacy as a singer, composer, and Christian evangelist and a pioneer of early blues and gospel music.
He wrote 3000 songs throughout his career, including “Peace in the Valley” and “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” which have become classics.
Born in Georgia, Thomas came from a religious family and started his career playing blues music at local parties.
He relocated to Chicago as a young boy, quickly making a name for himself as a prolific composer before getting to work with the famous blues singer Ma Rainey.
He switched to gospel music after allegedly getting a spiritual calling.
Today, Thomas is recognized as one of the most imposing figures in gospel music, with an indelible impact on global audiences.
2. Sallie Martin
Only one artist can be the “Mother of Gospel” music if Thomas A. Dorsey is the “Father of Gospel” music.
And that has to be Sallie Martin.
Sallie was a famous American gospel singer from Georgia.
She began her Christian journey with the Pentecostal movement, crafting her singing skills after moving to Chicago in the 1920s.
Sallie popularized Thomas Dorsey’s songs, making a lasting impact on upcoming singers.
As a solo artist, she founded the Sallie Martin Singers, pushing gospel music until the 1950s when she could no longer handle the demands of constant touring.
The American gospel singer was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in the early 1990s, a few years after her death in 1988.
3. Mahalia Jackson
Mahalia Jackson is one of the greatest gospel singers of all time, widely considered one of the best female vocalists of the 1930s.
She was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and became one of the pioneers of gospel blues.
Mahalia stood out when the country was battling racial segregation, becoming the voice of the voiceless with songs that gave hope to the hopeless.
Her efforts attracted unprecedented success in the music industry, selling over 22 million records to become one of the best-selling female gospel singers of the 20th century.
Jackson’s most recognizable songs include “Move On Up a Little Higher,” “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” and “I Believe.”
4. Reverend Gary Davis
Reverend Gary Davis was a prolific banjo, guitar, and harmonica player born in Laurens, South Carolina.
He was born blind, subjected to harsh treatment by his mother, and forced to live with his grandmother at a young age.
But the tough upbringing didn’t stop Davis from pursuing his musical aspirations, catching the people’s attention as a blues singer for the first time when he performed in Durham, North Carolina.
David distinguished himself with the distinctive fingerpicking guitar-playing style that many upcoming artists always tried to copy, including Rory Block, Nick Katzman, Woody Man, and Bob Dylan.
5. Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a popular gospel singer from the 1930s who blended electric guitars with spiritual lyrics to massive acclaim.
She was one of the earliest gospel artists to draw the attention of rock and roll and rhythm blues lovers, nicknamed “the Godmother of rock and roll” and “the original soul sister.”
Sister Rosetta’s influence went beyond the corridors of gospel music, making a lasting impression on Eric Clapton, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins, among other early singers.
For some reason, Rosetta’s songs often found their way into concert halls and nightclubs, becoming one of the pioneers of pop-gospel.
The American gospel singer’s expansive discography includes 12 studio albums, with several music awards to top off a highly successful and inspiring career.
6. Tasha Cobbs Leonard
Tasha Cobbs Leonard is a female gospel singer from Georgia who won a Grammy Award for Best Gospel/Contemporary Christian Music Performance in 2014.
She also received 9 Dove Awards, 3 Billboard Music Awards, and 15 Stellar Awards.
One of Tasha’s best-ever songs, “Break Every Chain,” has garnered over 100 million YouTube views.
She’s also remembered for other successful singles, including “For Your Glory,” “I’m Getting Ready,” and “You Know My Name.”
7. James Cleveland
James Cleveland is easily one of the best gospel singers of all time.
He often drew audiences with his unique voice.
James combined soul, jazz, and pop music elements with traditional gospel music and was nicknamed “the King of Gospel.”
He started singing as part of the Pilgrim Baptist Church, quickly establishing himself as a trusted soprano boy.
He later joined the Soul Winners for Christ, a local gospel group founded by one of his teenage buddies Jessie Jimerson-Philips.
Cleveland earned 4 Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Gospel Hall of Fame in 1984 for pushing gospel music to global audiences.
For his matchless legacy and commitment to gospel music, James is recognized among the best gospel singers of all time, best remembered for the hit songs “The Love of God,” “Peace Be Still,” and “Where Is Your Faith.”
8. Hank Williams
A widely celebrated country singer, and rightly so.
Hank Williams is also one of the greatest gospel singers of all time, often releasing songs about torment, redemption, and sin, as was evident in “I Saw The Light” in 1948.
While everybody will remember him as one of the most influential country singers, Hank’s contributions to gospel music should never go under the radar.
He inspired many upcoming singers, including Johnny Cash, who blended country music elements into gospel music after launching his career.
9. Yolanda Adams
Yolanda Adams is one of the best-selling female gospel singers of all time with hits such as “Only Believe,” “I Believe I Can Fly,” and “Hold On.”
The Texas-born singer has won multiple awards, including 4 Dove Awards, 4 Grammy Awards, 6 NAACP Image Awards, 6 Soul Train Music Awards, and 5 BET Awards.
She also made history as the first gospel singer to win an American Music Award.
Yolanda has been nicknamed the “First Lady of Modern Gospel,” the “Reigning Queen of Urban Gospel,” and the “Queen of Contemporary Gospel Music.”
Billboard ranked her as the #1 gospel artist of the decade in 2009, thanks to her successful Mountain High…Valley Low album of 1999.
10. Marvin Sapp
Marvin Sapp is an ordained pastor who was determined to become a successful gospel singer from a young age.
He started his career in the 1990s with the Commissioned gospel music group before going solo a few years later.
Marvin has recorded 7 albums since rising to prominence with the “Never Would Have Made It” single in 2007.
He’s earned 11 Grammy Award nominations, a Dove Award, and 2 BET Awards.
11. Andrae Crouch
Andrae Crouch was a Grammy-winning gospel singer, songwriter, pastor, and record producer from San Francisco, California.
Some have described him as “the father of modern gospel music,” notable for the “Soon and Very Soon,” “My Tribute (To God Be The Glory),” and “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power” songs.
Andrae collaborated with big-name artists on some of his best projects, including Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, and Philip Bailey.
The American singer always blended secular elements with gospel music, inspiring many upcoming artists who adopted the same style.
12. CeCe Winans
CeCe Winans won over audiences with her unique style, becoming one of the greatest gospel singers ever.
The American gospel singer rose to fame as part of the BeBe & CeCe Winans gospel music duo before launching a successful solo career.
With 15 Grammy Awards, 16 Stellar Awards, 31 GMA Dove Awards, and 7 NAACP Image Awards, CeCe became one of the most-awarded gospel singers ever.
She sold over 19 million records, joining other big-name artists in the list of the best-selling gospel singers in history.
Apart from her widely acclaimed solo career, CeCe has written three books, including On A Positive Note (2000), Throne Room: Ushered Into the Presence of God (2004), and Always Sisters: Becoming the Princess You Were Created to Be (2007).
13. Travis Greene
The next singer hails from Delaware and has excelled with urban contemporary gospel music.
Travis Greene doubled as a pastor and songwriter after debuting in 2007 with The More album.
He has released 3 studio albums, 2 live albums, and a single EP throughout a storied career that stretches back to the late 2000s.
14. Fred Hammond
Fred Hammond is a popular name in contemporary gospel music, notable for combining several musical styles in his compositions.
He’s the gospel singer behind the “No Weapon” and “Glory to Glory To God” singles and “By Faith” collaboration featuring Sean Combs.
As a multi-award winner and one of Detroit’s most successful male artists, Fred is among the greatest gospel singers ever.
15. Shirley Caesar
Shirley Caesar has had a successful 7-decade-long career as one of the best female gospel singers from Durham, North Carolina.
She’s nicknamed “The Queen of Gospel Music” for her selfless contributions to the music genre, standing out with over 40 studio albums, a guest appearance, and numerous hit singles.
A memorable moment in the American singer’s successful career was a 2015 White House invitation to perform for President Obama and Michelle.
Shirley got a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017, formally putting her among her generation’s best female gospel singers.
16. Karen Clark Sheard
Karen Clark Sheard is an award-winning gospel singer from Detroit, Michigan.
She’s a member of the Clark Sisters gospel group and the mother to the famous gospel singer Kierra Sheard.
Karen has released 5 albums as a solo artist and 17 with the Clark Sisters musical group.
Her 1997 solo album, Finally Karen, is one of her best projects, earning her a Grammy nomination in 1998.
Karen has had just as much success in the filming industry, featuring in several stage plays, movies, and documentaries.
17. Elvis Presley
You probably didn’t expect to see Elvis Presley in the list of the best gospel singers of all time.
Of course, he was the “King of Rock n’ Roll” and one of the most influential artists from the 1950s.
But Presley was also a devoted Christian, always praying before his stage performances.
The American singer acknowledged the impact of spiritual music at the beginning of his career.
He had already recorded several gospel songs by the time he established himself as one of the greatest rock n’ roll singers of all time.
Some of Presley’s best gospel songs include “Peace in the Valley,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and “Run On.”
18. Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash is one of the most prominent artists ever to grace the music industry, enjoying unprecedented success across several music genres.
His songs have become timeless classics.
The Man In Black began his career via the Sun Records record label as a prolific rock singer.
He also released country and folk songs that condemned social injustices, among other issues.
Despite establishing himself as one of the best rock singers, Cash’s strong spiritual side often showed in some songs.
The singer’s best gospel songs include “The Ten Commandments,” “Are All the Children In,” and “Jesus Was a Carpenter.”
His best gospel albums include Hymns, The Gospel Road, and The Holy Land.
19. Kirk Franklin
Kirk Franklin blended gospel with R&B and hip-hop music elements to become one of the most popular gospel singers of the 1990s and 2000s.
He spread God’s message to global audiences, working with many gospel choirs and music groups, including One Nation Crew, Nu Nation, and The Family.
Kirk’s music often crossed boundaries, collaborating with several successful singers such as CeCe Winans, Yolanda Adams, and Shirley Caesar.
He won several awards as the “Reigning King of Urban Gospel,” becoming one of the first inductees into the Black Music & Entertainment Walk of Fame.
20. Mary Mary
Mary Mary was one of the best female American contemporary gospel music duos of the late 1990s and 2000s.
The group’s lineup comprised sisters Trecina Atkins-Campbell and Erica Atkins-Campbell, quickly rising to fame with their successful debut album, Thankful (2000).
The duo’s second album, Incredible (2002), topped the Top Gospel Albums chart, increasing their popularity.
Mary Mary released a compilation album, Go Get It, in 2012 before taking a break.
While they are no longer active in the music scene, the duo is one of the most successful gospel groups of all time, having sold over 8 million records throughout their career.
They’ve won 4 Grammy Awards and are always credited with popularizing urban contemporary gospel in the 2000s.
21. Aretha Franklin
The Queen of Soul had a compelling voice that put her above her peers.
And that began with her gospel background before switching to secular music.
Aretha rose to fame as a gospel singer after laying the perfect foundation at Detroit’s New Bethel Baptist Church.
She signed with Columbia Records as a teenage artist, getting off to a sluggish start, which was normal for a then 18-year-old prodigy.
When Aretha’s time to shine arrived, there was no stopping her.
While she will go down as one of the best female singers in history, it’s impossible to ignore Aretha’s gospel background that laid the foundation for her future successes.
Some of her best songs as a gospel artist include “God Will Take Care of You,” “Give Yourself to Jesus,” and “Mary, Don’t Weep.”
22. Tamela Mann
Tamela Mann’s early beginnings with Kirk Franklin and the Family gospel group made her one of the best gospel singers of the 1990s.
She began her solo career with the Gotta Keep Movin (2005) album before following up with The Master Plan in 2009.
While many remember her commercially successful “Take Me to the King” hit single, Tamela’s discography includes 7 studio albums, a live album, and a soundtrack and promotional single.
She combined her successes in the music industry with a filming career, appearing in Kingdom Come (2001), Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005), and Meet the Browns (2008), to mention a few.
23. Albertina Walker
Albertina Walker’s career extended beyond the music studios.
She was an accomplished actress and humanitarian who formed the Albertina Walker Scholarship Foundation for the Creative and Performing Arts to support student education.
She was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, and crafted her singing skills as a West Point Baptist Church member.
The American artist joined numerous gospel groups, including Robert Anderson Singers, Willie Webb Singers, and Pete Williams Singers.
Mahalia Jackson played a key role in shaping Albertina’s path, challenging her to launch her career in 1951 with The Caravans gospel music group.
Ultimately, Albertina took up the mantle from Mahalia when the latter passed on in 1972, becoming the new “Queen of Gospel Music.”
24. Larnelle Harris
Larnelle Harris is a Kentucky-born gospel singer admired for his impeccable tenor voice.
His 4-decade career has translated into several awards and honors, including 5 Grammy Awards and 11 Dove Awards.
Larnelle has also appeared on many TV series, including The 700 Club and Live with Regis and Kathie Lee.
The American singer is among the few artists inducted into the Amateur Radio Hall of Fame, Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, and Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
25. Israel Houghton
Israel Houghton is another decorated artist of the gospel music genre.
He started singing in the 1990s and has consistently delivered when it matters, placing several singles on the gospel charts.
Israel has won 6 Grammy Awards, becoming one of the greatest gospel singers in recent years.
26. The Clark Sisters
The Clark Sisters was one of the best gospel music groups from the 1970s, comprising 5 sisters: Karen Clark Sheard, Dorinda Clark-Cole, Elbertina Clark, Denise Clark-Bradford, and Jacky Clark Chisholm.
They are widely celebrated for pushing gospel music to the mainstream market, held in high regard among the pioneers of contemporary gospel music.
The group’s best songs include “Praise the Lord (Hallelujah),” “Is My Living in Vain,” and “Nothing to Lose, All to Gain.”
27. Chandler Moore
South Carolina native Chandler Moore is one of the most active gospel singers, thriving with contemporary worship and gospel music.
Moore is a Maverick City Music collective member but has also completed several projects as a solo artist, including his 2020 album, Feelings.
28. Jonathan McReynolds
Jonathan McReynolds is an award-winning gospel singer who debuted in 2012 with the Entertainment One Music record label.
He has released two chart-topping albums: Life Music: Stage Two (2015) and Make Room (2018).
Throughout a decades-long career, Jonathan has won 4 GMA Dove Awards, 15 Stellar Awards, and 1 Grammy Award, with 5 nominations.
McReynolds is notable for many successful hit singles, including the “Not Lucky, I’m Loved” radio hit that garnered public attention.
29. Donnie McClurkin
Donnie McClurkin is among the most awarded American gospel singers, with 2 Soul Train Awards, an NAACP Image Award, a Dove Award, 2 BET Awards, and 3 Grammy Awards.
He’s also one of the best-selling gospel music artists, with over 10 million records sold worldwide.
Donnie’s tough childhood prepared him for his later life as God’s chosen servant.
At 8 years old, he lost his brother to a car accident.
It got even worse when Donnie was subjected to childhood sexual abuse on two occasions.
It reached a breaking point when his two sisters battled substance abuse, forcing the American singer to seek solace in the Almighty.
That was the beginning of a new life, a path that saw him form the McClurkin Singers gospel group to spread God’s message.
Years later, Donnie is still a devoted Christian, spreading hope and positivity in “Great is Your Mercy,” “We Fall Down,” and “Victory Chant.”
30. Sam Cooke
Transitioning from secular music to gospel wasn’t a big deal for traditional singers, including Sam Cooke, a legendary soul music singer with an incredible career.
Sam was the undisputed “King of Soul” whose influence on the music genre has traversed generations.
He started his career as a gospel singer with The Soul Stirrers group.
He went solo in the mid-1950s, releasing several songs, including “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which became an anthem for the civil rights movement.
Sam’s best gospel songs include “Be With Me Jesus,” “Touch the Hem of His Garment,” and “Lord, Remember Me.”
After his untimely death in 1964, Cooke’s legacy in soul music lived on through Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, and Bobby Womack.
Best Gospel Singers of All Time – Final Thoughts
There’s something about gospel singers that make them unforgettable, be it their passionate voices, powerful lyrics, or incredible instrumental.
These 30 best gospel singers of all time were instrumental in spreading the genre throughout the 20th century and beyond.
Most produced timeless classics.
Some influenced upcoming singers.
And a few are still active today.
Check out their best songs to receive God’s blessings, healing, and strength through the power of music.
You may also like: Best Gospel Songs of All Time