The future of music

30 Best Male R&B Singers of All Time

December 6, 2023
male r&b singers

In this article, I’ve selected the best male R&B singers, and artists who have truly defined and shaped the soulful sound of rhythm and blues.

Their powerful voices and emotional depth continue to resonate with audiences, making them timeless icons in the music world.

Best male R&B singers of all time

  • Stevie Wonder
  • Marvin Gaye
  • Prince
  • Lionel Richie
  • James Brown
  • Charlie Wilson
  • George Benson
  • Babyface
  • Isaac Hayes
  • Al Green

1. Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder is a legendary singer, songwriter, and musician who has been a major force in the music industry for over five decades.

Wonder began his career as a child prodigy, signing his first record deal at 11.

He quickly became known for his soulful voice and virtuosic skills on the piano, harmonica, and other instruments.

Wonder’s music has been celebrated for blending R&B, jazz influences, and socially conscious themes.

Some of his most famous songs include “Superstition,” “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” and “I Just Called to Say I Love You.”

He has won 25 Grammy Awards, making him one of the most awarded artists in history.

Stevie Wonder’s legacy as one of the greatest male R&B singers of all time is secure, and his influence on music and culture continues to be felt today.

2. Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye is considered one of the most iconic male R&B singers ever.

Born in Washington, D.C., in 1939, Gaye began his career in the 1960s with hits like “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).”

He became known for his smooth and sultry vocals and ability to blend R&B, soul, and pop music elements.

Gaye’s music often explored love, politics, and social justice themes.

His album What’s Going On is widely regarded as a masterpiece, featuring songs tackling poverty, war, and environmentalism.

Other classic hits from Gaye include “Let’s Get It On,” “Sexual Healing,” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

3. Prince

Prince began his music career in the late 1970s, blending funk, soul, and rock elements into a unique and eclectic sound.

Prince’s music was characterized by his impressive musicianship, inventive arrangements, and charismatic stage presence.

He released numerous hit songs throughout his career, including “When Doves Cry,” “Kiss,” and “Purple Rain,” which became the title track for his iconic film and album.

In addition to his music, Prince was also known for his flamboyant fashion sense and bold artistic vision.

He challenged societal norms around gender and sexuality, often pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable in popular culture.

Prince’s influence on music and culture continues to be felt today, and he is remembered as one of the most iconic and influential male R&B singers of all time.

4. Lionel Richie

Lionel Richie began his career as a member of the Commodores, a band that blended elements of funk, soul, and R&B.

Richie later embarked on a successful solo career, releasing numerous hit songs such as “Hello,” “All Night Long (All Night),” “Dancing on the Ceiling,” and “Say You, Say Me.”

Richie has sold over 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling music artists ever.

He has won multiple Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year for his work on Can’t Slow Down in 1985.

His smooth, soulful vocals and romantic lyrics were particularly popular with R&B fans, and his music has had a lasting influence on the genre.

5. James Brown

James Brown, also known as “The Godfather of Soul,” was an American singer, songwriter, dancer, and bandleader.

Brown began his music career in the 1950s and quickly became one of the most influential R&B and funk music figures.

He is known for his high-energy live performances, often featuring elaborate dance routines and theatrical elements.

Brown’s music blended soul, funk, R&B, and gospel elements, and his unique style helped shape popular music’s sound in the 1960s and beyond.

Some of his most famous hits include “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” “I Got You (I Feel Good),” “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud,” and “Sex Machine.”

6. Charlie Wilson

Charlie Wilson first gained fame as the lead singer of the funk and R&B group The Gap Band, which he formed with his brothers Ronnie and Robert in the 1970s.

The group had numerous hits in the 1980s, including “You Dropped a Bomb on Me,” “Outstanding,” and “Party Train.”

After The Gap Band disbanded in the late 1990s, Charlie Wilson launched a successful solo career with a string of hit albums and singles.

Some of his most famous songs include “There Goes My Baby,” “Charlie, Last Name Wilson,” “You Are,” and “My Love Is All I Have.”

Wilson has been recognized for his contributions to music with numerous awards and honors, including multiple Grammy nominations and BET Lifetime Achievement Award.

7. George Benson

Benson began playing the guitar at a young age, and by the time he was a teenager, he was performing in local jazz clubs.

In the 1960s, Benson signed with Columbia Records and released successful albums, including The George Benson Cookbook and Giblet Gravy.

In the 1970s, he achieved even greater success with albums such as Breezin‘ and In Flight, which featured his unique blend of jazz, pop, and R&B music.

Benson is widely regarded as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, and he has won numerous awards for his music, including 10 Grammy Awards.

He has collaborated with many other artists, including Miles Davis, Quincy Jones, and Stevie Wonder.

8. Babyface

Babyface began his music career in the late 1970s as a member of the R&B group, Manchild.

He later became a songwriter and producer for artists like Whitney Houston, Boyz II Men, and Toni Braxton.

In the 1990s, Babyface embarked on a successful solo career and released several hit albums, including Tender Lover, For the Cool in You, and The Day.

He has won numerous awards for his music, including 11 Grammy Awards.

Babyface is considered one of the most successful and influential figures in R&B and soul music history.

9. Isaac Hayes

Hayes was best known for his soulful music and distinctive baritone voice.

He began his music career as a session musician for Stax Records in the 1960s, where he co-wrote and produced many hits for artists such as Otis Redding and Sam & Dave.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Hayes began releasing his albums, characterized by their cinematic orchestration, extended instrumental breaks, and socially conscious lyrics.

His most famous album, Hot Buttered Soul (1969), is regarded as a soul music masterpiece.

Hayes was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 and received numerous other honors throughout his career, including multiple Grammy Awards.

10. Al Green

Green is best known for his soulful music, which fuses gospel and R&B influences.

He began his music career as a member of the gospel group The Greene Brothers before launching his solo career in the late 1960s.

Green’s early hits included “Tired of Being Alone” and “Let’s Stay Together,” which became his signature songs.

Throughout the 1970s, he continued to release hit singles, including “I’m Still in Love with You,” “Here I Am (Come and Take Me),” and “Love and Happiness.”

11. Ray Charles

Ray Charles was a songwriter, pianist, and composer often called “The Genius” for his innovative musical style, blending blues, gospel, R&B, and jazz.

At the age of seven, he began to lose his sight and was completely blind by the age of 10.

Despite his disability, Charles became a successful musician and played a crucial role in shaping the sound of popular music in the 20th century.

He signed with Atlantic Records in 1952 and had his first hit with “I Got a Woman” in 1955.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Charles had a string of hits, including “What’d I Say,” “Georgia on My Mind,” and “Hit the Road Jack.”

He also experimented with different genres, such as country music, and collaborated with other artists.

12. Smokey Robinson

Smokey Robinson is a renowned singer, songwriter, record producer, and former Motown group The Miracles frontman.

Robinson is known for his smooth and soulful R&B vocals and his ability to write poignant and memorable songs.

Robinson’s career began in the late 1950s with The Miracles, which he formed with childhood friends.

The group achieved numerous hits, including “Shop Around,” “Tears of a Clown,” and “The Tracks of My Tears.”

Robinson also wrote and produced many of the group’s songs, as well as for other Motown artists.

In the 1970s, Robinson began his solo career, releasing hit songs such as “Cruisin'” and “Being with You.”

13. Bill Withers

Withers’ most popular songs include “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me,” “Lovely Day,” and “Just the Two of Us.”

Withers’ music career began relatively late, as he released his debut album when he was 33.

However, he quickly gained popularity with his first single, “Ain’t No Sunshine,” which earned him a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in 1972.

Over the next few years, Withers released a string of successful singles, including “Use Me,” “Lean on Me,” and “Lovely Day.”

In recognition of his contributions to music, Withers was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.

14. Usher

Usher Raymond IV, known professionally as Usher, is an R&B singer, songwriter, actor, and dancer.

Usher rose to fame in the late 1990s with his self-titled debut album, which featured the hit singles “You Make Me Wanna” and “Nice & Slow.”

Usher has released multiple successful albums, including My Way, 8701, Confessions, and Raymond v. Raymond.

He has won numerous awards, including eight Grammy Awards and 18 Billboard Music Awards, and has sold over 75 million records worldwide.

Usher is known for his smooth and soulful vocals, as well as his dynamic stage presence and impressive dance skills.

15. Louis Armstrong

Armstrong first gained national recognition as a King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band member in the 1920s.

He then formed his band, the Hot Five and Hot Seven, which produced many of his most famous recordings, including “West End Blues” and “Potato Head Blues.”

Armstrong was known for his virtuosic trumpet playing, distinctive gravelly voice, and improvisational skills, revolutionizing how jazz musicians approached their craft.

Armstrong was also an influential cultural figure, breaking racial barriers and helping popularize jazz worldwide.

16. Otis Redding

Redding began his music career singing in the church choir, but he was heavily influenced by the R&B and soul music that he heard on the radio.

He recorded his first song in 1960, and his breakthrough came in 1962 with the release of his hit single “These Arms of Mine.”

He went on to record many other hit songs, including “Try a Little Tenderness,” “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” and “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” which was released posthumously and became his most famous song.

Redding’s voice was raw and emotional; his performances were known for their intensity and passion.

17. Luther Vandross

Vandross was one of his generation’s most successful R&B and soul singers, and he was known for his smooth, silky voice and romantic ballads.

Vandross began his music career in the 1970s as a backup singer for artists such as David Bowie, Bette Midler, and Chaka Khan.

He released his debut album, Never Too Much, in 1981, which featured the hit title track as well as “A House Is Not a Home” and “Don’t You Know That.”

Vandross released many successful albums, including Give Me the Reason, Power of Love, and Your Secret Love.

Throughout his career, Vandross was known for his impeccable vocal control and ability to convey deep emotion through his singing.

Vandross remains a beloved figure in the R&B and soul music world; fans celebrate and cherish his music.

18. Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson was a highly successful R&B singer, songwriter, and dancer who became one of the most popular and influential entertainers of the 20th century.

Jackson began his music career as a child in the group The Jackson 5, composed of him and his siblings.

In the 1980s, Jackson became a solo artist and released several critically acclaimed albums, including Off the Wall, Thriller, and Bad.

He was known for his distinctive voice, electrifying dance moves, and innovative music videos, which helped revolutionize the music industry.

Jackson’s influence on popular music and culture cannot be overstated.

He won numerous awards and accolades throughout his career, including multiple Grammy Awards and the American Music Award’s Artist of the Century award.

He was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, once as a member of The Jackson 5 and later as a solo artist.

19. Jackie Wilson

Wilson is considered one of the greatest and most influential vocalists in soul and R&B music history.

Wilson began his career in the 1950s as a member of the group The Dominoes.

He quickly became a solo artist and released several hit songs throughout the 1960s, including “Lonely Teardrops,” “Higher and Higher,” and “Baby Workout.”

His powerful, dynamic voice and energetic stage performances made him a famous and beloved performer.

Wilson’s influence on R&B and soul music was profound, and he is widely considered a genre pioneer.

He was known for his emotional and expressive vocals, impressive range, and ability to infuse his performances with raw energy and passion.

20. Curtis Mayfield

Curtis pioneered soul and funk music, and his socially conscious lyrics and distinctive guitar playing profoundly influenced popular music.

Mayfield first rose to prominence as a member of the group The Impressions in the 1960s, where he wrote and performed hits such as “People Get Ready” and “Keep on Pushing.”

He later embarked on a successful solo career and released several critically acclaimed albums, including Superfly, considered a masterpiece of funk and soul music.

Mayfield’s music was characterized by his soulful vocals, unique guitar style, and socially conscious lyrics, which addressed issues such as poverty, civil rights, and social injustice.

He was known for his ability to blend different genres, including R&B, soul, and rock, and his music profoundly influenced subsequent generations of musicians.

21. Chris Brown

Chris Brown is a singer, songwriter, and actor who gained fame in the mid-2000s.

Brown began his music career in 2004 by releasing his self-titled debut album, which featured the hit single “Run It!”.

Brown is primarily known for his R&B and hip-hop music but has also dabbled in other genres such as pop, dance, and electronic.

Some of his most famous songs include “Forever,” “With You,” “Yeah 3x,” “Turn Up the Music,” and “Loyal.”

22. Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke began his music career as a member of the gospel group The Soul Stirrers.

Cooke eventually left the gospel world and embarked on a successful solo career in the 1950s and 1960s.

He had a smooth, soulful voice and was known for his ability to blend gospel, pop, and R&B styles.

Some of his most famous songs include “You Send Me,” “Cupid,” “Chain Gang,” “Twistin’ the Night Away,” and “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which became an anthem for the civil rights movement.

23. Nat King Cole

Cole first rose to prominence in the late 1930s as a jazz pianist, but he soon began to sing as well.

He formed the Nat King Cole Trio in 1943, becoming one of the era’s most popular and influential groups.

Cole’s solo career took off in the late 1940s and early 1950s, during which he became known for hits such as “Mona Lisa,” “Too Young,” and “Unforgettable.”

He was one of the first African American performers to have a weekly national television show, The Nat King Cole Show, which aired from 1956 to 1957.

24. Barry White

Barry White was known for his deep, resonant voice and romantic ballads, often featuring lush arrangements and orchestration.

White began his music career in the 1960s as a session musician and producer, working with artists such as The 5th Dimension and Love Unlimited.

In the early 1970s, he formed the group Love Unlimited Orchestra and released a string of successful singles, including “Love’s Theme,” which became a number-one hit in the United States.

White’s solo career took off in 1973 with the release of his album I’ve Got So Much to Give, which featured the hit singles “I’m Gonna Love, You Just a Little More Baby” and “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up.”

He is considered one of the most influential figures in R&B music, and his distinctive voice and romantic ballads continue to inspire and influence musicians today.

25. Ronald Isley

Ronald Isley is best known as the lead vocalist and founding member of the R&B group The Isley Brothers, which was formed in the late 1950s.

Isley began his music career performing with his siblings in the Isley Brothers, including Rudolph and O’Kelly.

The group gained popularity in the 1960s with hits such as “Twist and Shout,” “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You),” and “It’s Your Thing.”

Isley also began a successful solo career in the 1980s, releasing albums such as Mr. I and Here I Am.

26. Ben E. King

King was best known for his hit songs “Stand by Me,” “Spanish Harlem,” and “Supernatural Thing.”

King began his career in the late 1950s as a member of the doo-wop group, The Five Crowns.

He later joined The Drifters and recorded several hits, including “There Goes My Baby” and “This Magic Moment.”

In 1960, King left The Drifters to pursue a solo career.

King’s signature song, “Stand by Me,” was released in 1961 and became a huge hit, reaching No. 1 on the R&B charts and No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

27. Chuck Berry

Berry’s music blended elements of blues, R&B, and country, and he was known for his energetic performances and distinctive guitar style.

Some of his most famous songs include “Johnny B. Goode,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” and “Maybellene.”

His songs often dealt with teenage life and the American Dream.

He was known for his distinctive guitar playing style, which included energetic solos and a signature “duck walk” dance move.

Berry was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1985.

28. Aaron Neville

Neville started his music career in the 1960s as part of the Neville Brothers, which included his brothers Cyril, Charles, and Art.

He later pursued a solo career and had several hits in the 1980s and 1990s, including “Don’t Know Much” and “Everybody Plays the Fool.”

Neville’s music draws on various influences, including R&B, soul, gospel, and country.

His voice is known for its high range and distinctive vibrato, and he is considered one of the greatest singers of all time.

Neville has received numerous awards and accolades for his music, including multiple Grammy Awards and inductions into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

29. Donny Hathaway

Hathaway started his music career as a gospel singer and pianist and later became a session musician in Chicago, where he worked with many prominent artists in the music industry.

In 1969, Hathaway signed a recording contract with Atco Records, and his debut album Everything Is Everything was released the following year.

He is best known for his collaborations with Roberta Flack, including their hit duets “The Closer I Get to You” and “Where Is the Love,” reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Hathaway also succeeded as a solo artist, with hits like “Someday We’ll All Be Free” and “A Song for You.”

Hathaway struggled with mental health issues throughout his career, and in 1979, he died at 33 from an apparent suicide.

Despite his short career, Hathaway’s music has had a lasting impact and has influenced many musicians in the R&B and soul genres.

30. Freddie Jackson

Jackson began his music career in the late 1970s as a background singer for artists such as Melba Moore and Barry Manilow.

He signed with Capitol Records in 1985 and released his debut album, Rock Me Tonight, which was a huge success and spawned hit singles such as “You Are My Lady” and the title track.

Over the years, Jackson continued to release successful singles, including “Just Like the First Time,” “Do Me Again,” and “Hey Lover.”

His smooth, soulful voice and romantic lyrics made him a favorite among R&B fans.

Best Male R&B Singers of All Time – Final Thoughts

After exploring the 30 best bale R&B singers of all time, it’s clear that R&B music has been shaped by some truly remarkable and innovative male voices.

While their styles and sounds may vary, what these singers all have in common is a commitment to delivering heartfelt and soulful performances that have resonated with audiences for decades.

They have also inspired countless other artists who have followed in their footsteps, proving that their influence extends far beyond the music world.

Whether you’re a fan of classic R&B or contemporary soul, there’s no denying these male singers‘ impact on the genre.

Their music has brought joy, comfort, and inspiration to listeners worldwide and will continue to do so for generations to come.

You may also like: Best 2000s Male R&B Singers

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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