Do you want to find out who the best R&B artists of all time are? Well, you’ve come to the right place!
‘Rhythm and blues’, abbreviated to R&B, is a genre of African-American popular music that has grown in popularity over the last few decades, and now remains one of the most listened-to genres.
It’s all thanks to these stars, who contributed to its uprise with their chilled-out tunes.
This article lists the top R&B artists of all time and details some of their biggest achievements and best-known works.
Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is highly regarded as one of the biggest stars of the last two decades, and will likely continue on the same trajectory for the rest of her career.
She is affectionately nicknamed “Queen Bey”, she rose to fame with Destiny’s Child.
The girl group is the best-selling girl group in musical history and certainly got Beyoncé off to a flying start.
She made her solo breakthrough in 2003 with her debut studio album Dangerously in Love and has since racked up seven multi-platinum albums.
2. Mary J. Blige
The ‘Queen of R&B’, i.e. Mary J. Blige, broke onto the hip-hop-soul scene in the early nineties with her debut studio album What’s the 411? and has since released fifteen other best-selling albums.
With nine Grammy Awards among her eighty-eight wins and over two hundred nominations, she has certainly earned her nickname.
She was even stated by Billboard to be the most successful female hip-hop artist of the past twenty-five years!
3. Chris Brown
Chris Brown, who has earned the title of the “King of R&B”, is a singer whose music is a mash-up between pop and hip-hop, to form an intriguing sub-genre of R&B.
His live performances have been likened to that of Michael Jackson!
His self-titled debut studio album shot to number one in the United States upon its release in 2005, and has since been awarded triple platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America.
See also: Best Chris Brown Songs
4. The Weeknd
The Weeknd, born Abel Makkonen Tesfaye in Canada, is an extremely popular singer who is best known for his R&B tunes and falsetto register.
He has been awarded with one hundred and sixty-six accolades, including four Grammy Awards.
His studio albums Beauty Behind the Madness and Starboy, released in 2015 and 2016 respectively, were both awarded 7x Platinum certification after selling millions of copies each in Canada.
New Jersey singer Solána Imani Rowe, better known by her stage name SZA, began her career as an R&B artist when she teamed up with Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé to cowrite “Feeling Myself” in 2014.
Her most popular studio album is her 2022 release SOS, which topped the charts in eight different countries and sold over two million copies in the United States, subsequently being awarded double Platinum status.
Usher rose to prominence in the R&B world in 1997, upon the release of his second studio album My Way.
It reached the top of the US Billboard R&B/Hip Hop chart and sold over six million copies in the United States!
Usher has won an incredible three hundred and thirty-nine awards, including eight Grammy Awards; Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for “U Remind Me” and “U Don’t Have To Call”, and Best Contemporary R&B Album for Raymond V Raymond to name a couple.
7. Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston, who has been affectionately nicknamed “the Voice”, was named “the second-greatest singer of all time” by Rolling Stone and is one of the best-selling music artists in history.
She is an R&B legend, known for her powerful vocal range.
Her 1987 studio album Whitney has sold over twenty million copies worldwide and has been awarded Diamond certification by the Recording Industry of Association.
She has released seven other popular studio albums, selling millions of copies around the world.
8. Mariah Carey
Mariah Carey is an extremely popular female R&B singer from New York, who has been affectionately titled “Songbird Supreme” by Guinness World Records.
Her signature note is the whistle register, and she is credited for combining pop and hip-hop.
She is ranked as the best-selling female artist since 1991 and has received over fifty-five and half million album sales.
Daydream is her most popular studio album, topping a multitude of charts worldwide when it was released in 1995.
9. Alicia Keys
Alicia Augello Cook, who is better known as Alicia Keys, started composing her own songs at the age of twelve.
She has since won two hundred and seventy-two awards, including fifteen Grammy Awards, and is one of the bestselling female artists ever.
Her debut studio album Songs in A Minor, released in 2001, was awarded 7x Platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America after selling seven and a half million copies in the United States, and over one million in the United Kingdom.
10. Muni Long
Priscilla Renea Hamilton, better known by her stage name Muni Long, is an R&B artist who came onto the scene with her debut studio album Jukebox, which was commercially successful and reached number twenty-three on the US Heatseekers chart.
She initially rose to fame upon writing a series of hit songs for other artists.
Her credits include “California King Bed” by Rihanna, “Worth It” by Fifth Harmony, “Love So Soft” by Kelly Clarkson, “Timber” by Pitbull featuring Kesha, and “Imagine by Ariana Grande.
11. Chaka Khan
Yvette Marie Stevens, who is well known by her stage name Chaka Khan, rose to fame as the lead singer of Rufus, a funk band.
Her career has spanned over five decades, and she has been affectionately nicknamed the “Queen of Funk”.
She has sold over seventy million records worldwide, with many sales coming from her studio album I Feel For You.
Released in 1984, the album was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America and charted in over ten countries.
Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson is an R&B artist who is better known as H.E.R. She rose to fame upon the release of her single “Focus” in 2016, from her extended play H.E.R.
It has since been certified double platinum and put her on the map as a serious artist.
She has collaborated with lots of great artists, including Jess Glynne, Wizkid, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Saweetie, Lil Baby, and Chris Brown.
She holds five Grammy Award titles, including Best R&B Album for H.E.R. and Song of the Year for “I Can’t Breathe”.
13. Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke was largely known as the “King of Soul”, but also dabbled in R&B.
His debut single “You Send Me” was released in 1957 and reached number one on the United States Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs chart.
This year, fifty-nine years after his tragic shooting, he was named the “Greatest Singer of All Time” by Rolling Stone.
He has also been inducted into the National Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, ensuring that his legacy continues to live on.
See also: Best Sam Cooke Songs
14. Luther Vandross
Luther Vandross is a soulful R&B artist who has sold over forty million records around the world.
He won eight Grammy Awards before his death, four of which were for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.
He has released twelve Platinum albums, with his latest Dance with My Father reaching number one on the US Billboard Hot 200 Singles chart and on the US Hot R&B/Hip Hop chart.
15. Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin, i.e. the “Queen of Soul”, is known as one of the greatest singers of all time.
Globally, she has sold over seventy-five million records and is an R&B star.
With countless best-selling studio albums, her most popular is Who’s Zoomin’ Who?
The album was released in 1985 on the Arista record label and was certified platinum by the Recording Industry of America and Music Canada.
It charted in over ten different countries and was considered to be her comeback album.
16. Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye is an R&B artist who changed the course of the sound of Motown in the sixties.
In 1987 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and many of his albums have been named in the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.
His 1992 studio album Midnight Love was certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America after reaching number one on the US Hot R&B/Hip Hop album chart.
Prince Rogers Nelson, known simply as Prince, was a popular artist in lots of genres, including funk, rock, pop, soul, and largely R&B.
His most well-known album Purple Rain was released in 1984 and was certified thirteen times platinum by the RIAA.
With seven Grammy Award wins, he holds the titles of Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best Traditional R&B Performance for “Future Baby Mama” and “Musicology” respectively.
18. Lionel Richie
Lionel Richie is an R&B star who rose to prominence as the lead singer of Commodores, a Motown group.
He was one of the biggest stars of the eighties, having sold over one hundred million records in his time and leading him to be one of the best-selling artists ever.
His second studio album Can’t Slow Down was released in 1983 and was certified Diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America for selling over ten million copies.
It hit number one in numerous countries and is one of the best-selling albums in history.
19. Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder, known to his friends and family as Stevland Hardaway Morris, was an R&B pioneer who paved the way for the artists that followed him.
With a total of twenty-five Grammy Awards, he is certainly one of the best R&B artists of all time.
His 1976 studio album Songs in the Key of Life was awarded Diamond certification by the Recording Industry Association of America and reached number one in four different countries, selling millions of copies worldwide.
20. Ray Charles
Ray Charles is an R&B singer and songwriter who is regarded as one of the most influential singers in the history of rhythm and blues.
Despite being blinded in childhood, he became a “genius” pianist and saxophonist.
His 2004 studio album Genius Loves Company proved to be one of his most popular releases, reaching number one on the US Billboard Hot 200 Albums chart and subsequently being awarded triple platinum status by the RIAA.
21. Summer Walker
Summer Walker is an R&B artist who shot to fame upon the release of her debut studio album Over It.
The album broke the record for the biggest streaming debut for any female R&B artist, and her career took off from there.
The album won her a Billboard Music Award for Top R&B Female Artist, a Chart Breaker Award, and a Soul Train Music Award for Album of the Year.
She also received a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year for songwriting and featured artist credits.
22. Teddy Pendergrass
Teddy Pendergrass, whose full name is Theodore DeReese Pendergrass, began his career as the lead singer of the group Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes.
He left the group in 1976 and signed with the Philadelphia International Record Label.
When he began his solo career, he broke records and became the first African-American R&B Artist to release five consecutive Platinum albums.
He received five Grammy Award nominations during his career and was inducted into the National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame in 2021, eleven years after his death.
23. James Brown
James Brown has adopted a series of nicknames following his success, including “The Hardest Working Man in Showbusiness”, “Mr. Dynamite”, “Godfather of Soul”, and “Soul Brother No. 1”.
He massively influenced the rhythm and blues genre.
He released his debut studio album Please Please Please in 1958, as part of James Brown and The Famous Flames.
He has since released a multitude of other albums, including his most popular The Playback which was certified Gold and reached number one.
Aaliyah Dana Haughton is known as the “Princess of R&B” and the “Queen of Urban Pop”.
She redefined the genre and has sold over thirty million records around the world.
She sadly passed away in 2001, but her legacy lived on with posthumous releases.
Her self-titled studio album was released in 2001 and reached number one in the United States, selling a massive thirteen million copies worldwide and being certified double Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
25. Otis Redding
Otis Ray Redding Jr. is credited as one of the greatest artists in the R&B genre and has influenced the rhythm and blues sound.
He won two posthumous Grammy Awards for his single “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”.
His most popular studio album was Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul which was released in 1965.
It reached the top of the US Hot R&B/Hip Hop album chart and was certified Gold by the British Phonographic Industry.
26. Janet Jackson
Janet Jackson broke gender and racial barriers when she rose to fame, becoming a critical part of the growth of MTV.
She has sold over one hundred million records worldwide, making her one of the best-selling artists in the history of music.
Her 1993 studio album Janet sold over fourteen million copies around the world and topped charts in the United States, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand.
She has won over two hundred awards throughout her career, including five Grammy Awards.
27. Ari Lennox
Courtney Shanade Salter, who is better known by her stage name Ari Lennox, rose to prominence as an R&B artist when she became the first female to be signed to J. Cole’s Dreamville Records label.
Her debut studio album Shea Butter Baby was released in 2019 and proved popular in the United States, being awarded Gold certification and charting in three different charts.
The title single, which featured J. Cole, also performed well, being certified Platinum.
28. Smokey Robinson
William “Smokey” Robinson Jr. shot to fame as the frontman of the Miracles, a Motown group that he founded in 1955.
He began his solo career when the group disbanded, and he released fifteen solo studio albums between 1973 and 1986.
His most popular studio album was Being With You, which topped the US Hot R&B/Hip Hop album chart and was subsequently awarded Gold certification by the Recording Industry Association of America.
Khalid Donnel Robinson, known simply as Khalid, is a talented R&B singer-songwriter.
He has won nine awards for his work, including Best New Artist in 2017 at the MTV Video Music Awards and Best New R&B Artist in 2018 at the iHeartRadio Music Awards.
He released his debut studio album American Teen in 2017 and went on to release Free Spirit in 2021.
The latter reached number one in three different charts in the United States and also in Canada.
30. Al Green
Albert Leornes Greene, who is better known as Al Green, is a popular R&B artist who has won eleven Grammy Awards and is a Kennedy Center Honors recipient.
He has been recognized as “one of the most gifted purveyors of soul music”.
His 1972 studio album I’m Still in Love with You reached number one on the US Hot R&B/Hip Hop album chart and was subsequently awarded Platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America.
See also: Best Al Green Songs
Giveon Dezmann Evans, better known by his stage name GIVĒON, began his career when he teamed up with Drake to release the single “Chicago Freestyle” in 2020.
His solo debut was Give or Take, which was released in 2022.
He has since won an MTV Video Music Award and an iHeartRadio Music Award in the categories of Best Pop (“Peaches” with Justin Bieber and Daniel Caesar) and Best New R&B Artist respectively.
32. Steve Lacy
Steve Thomas Lacy-Moya rose to fame as a part of the Internet, an alternative R&B band.
He also had a successful solo career outside of the band, with his studio album Gemini Rights proving highly successful and widely critically acclaimed.
The album charted in twelve countries around the world upon its release in 2022.
Lacy has also collaborated with other big R&B/hip hop artists such as Vince Staples, Tyler, the Creator, Thundercat, and Steve Arrington.
33. Lucky Daye
David Debrandon Brown, better known by his stage name Lucky Daye, is a popular R&B artist.
He has been nominated for ten Grammy Awards and won Best Progressive R&B Album for Table for Two in 2022.
He released his debut studio album Painted in 2019, and it shot to number fifteen on the United States Top Heatseekers chart upon release.
Three years later he released his second studio album Candydrip, which reached number sixty-nine in the United States.
Kehlani, whose full name is Kehlani Ashley Parrish, initially rose to fame in 2011 as a member of the group Poplyfe.
They have won two awards during her career among sixteen nominations; the Rulebreaker Award and the Alchemist Award.
Kehlani garnered a large fanbase when they came out as queer and has massively influenced their generation with progressive music.
They released their debut studio album SweetSexySavage in 2017, which topped the US R&B/Hip Hop album chart.
35. R. Kelly
Despite his controversy, Robert Sylvester Kelly, better known as R. Kelly, has sold seventy-five million copies worldwide and was a trailblazer in the R&B genre.
He has won one hundred and ten awards during his career, including Best Male R&B Artist.
His second studio album 12 Play reached number one on the US R&B/Hip Hop album chart and was subsequently awarded 6x Platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America.
Temilade Openiyi, better known by her stage name and nickname Tems, is a Nigerian R&B singer who shot to fame when she featured on “Essence” by Wizkid.
She has won thirty-two awards, including a Grammy Award for Best Melodic Rap Performance (“Wait for U” with Future and Drake).
Her most popular single is “Free Mind” from her album For Broken Ears, which was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America and charted on three different charts in the United States.
37. Patti LaBelle
Patti LaBelle is often referred to as the “Godmother of Soul”.
She began her career as the frontwoman of Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles and went on to have a successful solo career.
She is the winner of three Grammy Awards: Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for Burnin’, Best Traditional R&B Performance for Live! One Night Only, and the Grammy Hall of Fame award for “Lady Marmalade”.
38. Etta James
Jamesetta Hawkins, better known as Etta James, was a trailblazer in multiple genres, including R&B.
She faced a lot of illnesses in her life and sadly passed away in 2012 at the age of seventy-three after a short battle with Leukemia.
She received multiple Grammy Award nominations for her R&B performances and releases, including All I Could Do Was Cry, Fool That I Am, Security, and St. Louis Blues.
Ne-Yo, known to his friends and family as Shaffer Chimere Smith, is a popular R&B artist who broke onto the scene with his debut studio album In My Own Words in 2006.
The album reached number one and sold over two million copies in the United States.
Ne-Yo has won three Grammy Awards: Best Contemporary R&B Album for Because of You, Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for “Miss Independent”, and Best R&B Song for “Spotlight”.
40. Barry White
Barry Eugene Carter, better known by his stage name Barry White, has sold over one hundred thousand R&B records during his career.
His album Staying Power won two Grammy Awards in 2000, and he has been nominated for eleven others.
His 1994 studio album The Icon Is Love was certified double Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America and reached number one on the US R&B/Hip Hop album chart.
The title came from White’s romantic image and seductive persona.
Best R&B Artists – Final Thoughts
That was our list of the top R&B artists of all time.
Hopefully, it gives you some insight into the best stars to check out.
There are lots of artists that dabble in rhythm and blues, but these are the best of the best.
They have helped to pioneer the genre into what it is today, and they’re definitely worth listening to if you’re a fan of African-American music.
We hoped you enjoy checking them out!
You may also like: Best R&B Songs of All Time