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25 Best Jazz Singers of All Time (Most Famous)

June 19, 2023
jazz singer

Jazz music is captivating.

And the genre’s storied history leads us to super-talented jazz singers who left everything on the stage.

There have been all kinds of jazz singers in history, from the incredibly talented Billie Holiday to soulful balladeers like Sarah Vaughan.

And that makes it difficult to compile an outright list of the best jazz singers in history.

But we’ve done our best to create our list of who we think are the 25 best jazz singers of all time.

So, check it out.

1. Billie Holiday

Nicknamed “Lady Day,” Billie Holiday’s career spanned almost thirty years, and she’s remembered as one of the best jazz artists of all time.

Her hauntingly emotive delivery and delicate phrasing profoundly influenced countless vocalists that came after her.

Billie Holiday was not only an incredible singer but also a talented instrumentalist.

Her songbook includes American classics such as “God Bless the Child” and “Strange Fruit.”

2. Ella Fitzgerald

One of the best female jazz singers of all time, Ella Fitzgerald, recorded over 200 albums throughout her career.

Her beautiful voice, powerful range, and playful scatting earned her worldwide admiration.

Ella Fitzgerald often collaborated with big-name artists, including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, and Frank Sinatra.

3. Sarah Vaughan

Known for her “velvet-like” voice, Sarah Vaughan’s singing style ranged from bebop to soulful ballads and everything in between.

She was nicknamed “Sassy” for her sultry sound and passionate delivery.

Sarah’s songbook includes hits like “Misty,” “Fascinating Rhythm,” “I Cried For You,” and “Send in the Clowns.”

4. Nat King Cole

With his soothing baritone voice and effortless crooning ability, Nat King Cole made some of the biggest hits of the 20th century, including “Unforgettable,” “Mona Lisa,” and “Route 66.”

Starting his career as a piano player, he became one of the first African American crossover stars to thrive both within and outside the jazz genre.

Nat King Cole was also one of the most influential figures during the golden age of radio with his show, The Nat King Cole Show.

5. Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong, also known as “Satchmo” or “Pops,” was a legendary jazz singer and trumpeter.

He is widely considered one of the most influential figures in jazz music.

His influence extended beyond the genre as he had a hand in different musical styles that are still popular today.

Louis’ songbook includes classics like “What a Wonderful World,” “Hello Dolly,” and “Mack the Knife.”

6. Chet Baker

Chet Baker was known as one of the best jazz singers of his generation, earning him a place in the jazz hall of fame.

His signature style was marked by an intimate delivery that turned his songs into personal confessions.

His memorable hits include “My Funny Valentine” and “I Get Along Without You Very Well.”

Chet Baker’s influence extended beyond music, as he appeared in films and even had a brief career as a professional boxer.

7. Nina Simone

Nina Simone was a classically trained pianist and one of the most important musicians of the civil rights movement.

Through her music, she expressed her outrage at the world’s injustices.

Simone’s strong, soulful voice was full of emotion, and her best songs include classics like “I Put A Spell On You,” “Mississippi Goddam,” and “Feeling Good.”

8. Peggy Lee

Peggy Lee was a jazz, pop, and blues vocalist who rose to prominence in the 1940s.

Her unique singing style was characterized by a smooth and soft approach as if she were whispering directly into the listener’s ear.

Peggy Lee recorded numerous hits, including “Fever” and “Is That All There Is?” which became jazz classics.

9. Mel Tormé

Mel Tormé was a jazz and swing vocalist known as the “Velvet Fog” due to his velvety-smooth vocals.

He released over 50 albums throughout his long and illustrious career, receiving multiple Grammy nominations.

His biggest hits include “The Christmas Song” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”

10. Anita O’Day

Anita O’Day was a vocalist and one of the defining jazz singers of the Swing Era.

She was known as one of the most daring improvisational jazz singers of the 20th century.

O’Day earned the nickname “the Jezebel of Jazz” because of her daring and dazzling live performances.

She recorded the famous tune “Sweet Georgia Brown” and the album Anita O’Day Swings Cole Porter in 1959.

11. Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett was a traditional pop and jazz singer whose career spanned seven decades.

He won 20 Grammy Awards and 2 Emmy Awards.

His hit single “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” remains one of his most recognized recordings.

Bennett’s “The Good Life” recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2007.

12. Carmen McRae

Carmen McRae was a jazz vocalist and pianist.

She was a major influence on jazz vocalists and was often compared to Ella Fitzgerald.

Her distinct phrasing and wide range of dynamics allowed her to transform the Great American Songbook into something entirely new.

McRae was noted for her collaborations with prominent jazz artists, such as Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck.

13. Dinah Washington

Dinah Washington was a jazz, R&B, and gospel singer.

With a powerful, dramatic contralto voice, she is considered one of the best female jazz singers of all time.

Washington achieved major success in the 1950s and was one of the first African American women to perform on national television.

14. Abbey Lincoln

Abbey Lincoln was an iconic jazz and soul vocalist, songwriter, and actress.

She sang in the bebop, hard bop, and post-bop jazz styles and was known for her earthy, husky alto.

Lincoln wrote socially conscious lyrics that commented on racial inequality and feminism.

She pioneered “jazz poetry,” combining spoken word with music.

Her notable songs include “Brother Where Are You?” “Down Here Below,” and “Straight Ahead.”

15. Billy Eckstine

Billy Eckstine was an influential jazz and big band vocalist, composer, and bandleader.

He had an exceptional baritone voice and recorded the hit single “Blue Moon.”

Billy toured widely throughout the 1940s and 50s, playing in clubs and theaters across the United States and Europe.

16. Betty Carter

Betty Carter was a jazz vocalist, pianist, and educator.

She had a distinct style characterized by a conversational delivery, intricate melodic improvisations, and scatting.

Carter was a major influence on modern jazz vocalists, and her recordings are still studied by jazz musicians today.

She was a prolific performer and recording artist and won numerous awards, including the National Endowment for the National Medal of Arts award in 1997.

17. Jon Hendricks

Jon Hendricks was a jazz lyricist and vocalist known for inventing the “vocalese” singing style.

His hit song “Don’t Get Scared” was the first vocalese recording released in 1954.

In addition to performing, he was a professor at the University of Toledo and lectured extensively on jazz vocal techniques.

Hendricks collaborated with jazz greats such as Dizzy Gillespie.

18. Nancy Wilson

Nancy Wilson was an American jazz and pop vocalist, radio show host, and actor.

She began her career singing jazz and later branched out into more popular material.

Wilson recorded 60 albums and won a Grammy Award for Best Rhythm and Blues Performance.

Her hits include “How Glad I Am,” “Guess Who I Saw Today,” and “Face It Girl, It’s Over.”

Wilson also hosted the nationally syndicated NPR program Jazz Profiles from 1996 to 2005.

19. Joe Williams

Joe Williams was an American jazz and blues vocalist from the 1940s through the 1990s.

He was renowned for his soulful baritone and blues-influenced phrasing.

Williams earned acclaim for his work with Count Basie, whom he sang with until his death.

His biggest hit was “Every Day I Have The Blues,” which reached the top ten on the Billboard charts.

He also performed other standards like “In The Evening (When The Sun Goes Down),” “Old Man River,” and “I Left My Baby.”

Williams continued to tour and record until the end of his life, passing away in 1999 at 80.

20. Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves is a five-time Grammy-winning jazz singer who has been active since the 1980s.

Her powerful voice has made her one of the most sought-after singers for film soundtracks and live performances.

Her albums have featured collaborations with some of the greatest names in music history, such as George Duke, McCoy Tyner, and Chick Corea.

Reeves is still a prominent figure in jazz, often captivating audiences with her flawless scat singing.

Some have labeled her the perfect successor to jazz greats such as Carmen McRae and Dinah Washington.

21. Norah Jones

Norah Jones is a multi-Grammy-winning American jazz, folk, and pop vocalist.

She gained international fame with her debut album, Come Away With Me, selling over twenty million copies.

Jones has incorporated various musical styles in her composition, including jazz, country, rock, and classical.

She has explored different musical genres throughout her career, collaborating with celebrated artists such as Willie Nelson, Herbie Hancock, and Outkast.

Nirah’s latest album, I Dream of Christmas, was released in 2021.

22. Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra is one of the best male jazz singers of all time.

He was known for his smooth crooning and mellow phrasing, making his songs timeless classics.

Frank had a unique ability to bring together different styles of music, such as swing and blues, becoming one of the greatest entertainers of the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s.  

He is considered one of the most important vocalists in jazz history.

And his songbook includes timeless hits such as “My Way,” “Strangers in the Night,” and “New York, New York.”

23. Blossom Dearie

Blossom Dearie was an American jazz singer and pianist best known for her charming vibrato and gentle touch.

Her delicate vocals blended swing, bebop, cabaret, and French chanson.

Dearie’s lyrics were playful, whimsical, and often delivered with wry humor.

Her recordings include classic tracks like “It Might As Well Be Spring,” “I’m Hip,” “I Remember You,” “Do I Love You,” and “Someone To Watch Over Me.”

She recorded over four albums and worked with respected artists like Stan Getz, Chet Baker, and Mose Allison.

24. Miles Davis

Miles Davis was one of the most influential jazz musicians of all time.

Known for his innovative trumpet playing style, he was prominent in fusion and cool jazz.

He formed great jazz bands of the 1950s and ’60s, such as The Birth Of The Cool Band, The Quintet, The Second Great Quintet, and The Electric Band.

He recorded great studio albums, including Kind Of Blue, Sketches Of Spain, In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Live-Evil, Jack Johnson, and On The Corner.

Alongside John Coltrane and other leading figures, he ushered in a new era of improvised music, identified by complex harmonies, unusual rhythms, and extended solo improvisations.

25. Diana Krall

Diana Krall is a renowned Canadian jazz singer, pianist, and composer.

Born in British Columbia, she first gained recognition for her silky contralto and swinging interpretations of jazz standards.

With two Grammy Awards, she has earned acclaim for her captivating performances worldwide.

Her breakthrough album, When I Look In Your Eyes, won two Grammys, including Best Jazz Vocal Album.

Her sultry voice and impeccable technique make her one of the finest contemporary jazz vocalists.

Best Jazz Singers of all Time – Final Thoughts

Jazz music is the smooth, rhythmic, and emotional style everybody craves.

It can be comforting on bad days.

And music fans have been treated to classics from some of the greatest jazz singers in history, like Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, and Ella Fitzgerald.

From pianists to saxophonists, trumpeters, and drummers, the list of the best jazz singers is just as varied as it can get.

Whether you’re looking for a new music genre or reminiscing about the good old days, our list of the 25 best jazz artists of all time is a great place to begin.

These artists will make you fall in love with jazz music.

Related Articles:

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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