Bass and baritone parts of songs often carry the music. They may not be as noticeable as sopranos and tenors, but bass voices drive the music forward and often add a level of harmony that no other vocal range can reach.
Bass singers are particularly popular in gospel, country, acapella, and operatic music. A fine-tuned bass voice can calm the listener or make them feel an overwhelming amount of emotions.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at a few of the greatest and most famous bass singers of all time. Let’s get started!
Related: See our list of the most famous tenor singers here.
1. Barry White
Born Barry Eugene Carter, Barry White is best known for his songs “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe,” “You’re The First, The Last, My Everything,” and “Never Never Gonna Give Ya Up.”
His rich bass voice is easily recognizable to those familiar with his music. White was inspired to pursue a musical career after listening to Elvis and reevaluating his life.
In the 1970s, White formed “The Love Unlimited Orchestra.” The orchestra had 40 string musicians at its peak and accompanied White in some of his most memorable songs.
White was nominated for 11 Grammy Awards throughout his career, two of which he won. White also earned 20 gold and 10 platinum singles, solidifying his place as one of the greatest bass singers of all time.
2. Johnny Cash
“The Man In Black” Johnny Cash was a wildly famous singer in the 60s and 70s, known for his painfully emotional songs about sorrow, morality, and hope.
Cash began playing guitar in 1944, the year of his older brother’s tragic death. Cash’s teenage voice eventually dropped from the tenor range to the baritone/bass range we know today.
Shortly after becoming a success in the 1950s, Cash began heavily using drugs. Cash’s addiction became part of his reputation for decades to come. Drugs became the focal point of some of Cash’s most memorable songs like “Hurt,” “The Junkie’s Prayer,” and “Cocaine Blues.”
He was also known to wear black in most of his performances, and coupled with the dark themes of his songs, he was dubbed “The Man In Black.”
Related: See more baritone singers here.
3. Boris Christoff
Bulgarian opera performer Boris Christoff was considered by many to be the 20th century’s greatest bass singer.
Christoff began singing as a choir boy in his youth. However, Christoff did not initially pursue a career in music. Instead, he studied law and became a magistrate. Slowly, Christoff gained popularity performing as a choir soloist on the side.
In 1942, the Bulgarian government gave Christoff a grant to move to Italy and train under Riccardo Stracciari, a world-renown baritone singer. Christoff performed as one of the world’s most famous opera singers for several decades.
His unique, hypnotic voice drew out massive audiences in every country he toured.
Related: Read about other well known male opera singers here
4. J.D. Sumner
John Daniel Sumner, more popularly called J.D., was best known as a member of the Blackwood Brothers, a gospel quartet that was particularly popular in the 1950s.
In addition to the Blackwood Brothers, Sumner was a member of the Sunny South Quartet, the Sunshine Boys, the Stamps Quartet, and Masters V.
Sumner met Elvis Presley when Presley was 14 and didn’t have enough money to get into a Blackwood Brothers show. Sumner told Presley he would let him into any of his shows for free. The two had a long-lasting friendship through the remainder of Presley’s life. Sumner even performed at Presley’s funeral.
Although he didn’t pursue a solo career, he has contributed greatly to the music industry as a songwriter. He is known to have written over 700 songs.
Some of the most notable songs he wrote are “Wonderful Savior,” “I’ve Got To Walk That Lonesome Road,” and “A Land Where Milk And Honey Flows.”
Related: Read our list of male gospel singers here.
5. Leonard Cohen
Canadian baritone/bass singer Leonard Cohen was known for his distinctly recognizable voice.
Cohen began his career writing novels and poetry before dabbling in folk music during the late 60s. One of Cohen’s first songs, “Suzanne,” was covered by Judy Collins and became a moderate hit. Collins went on to cover many of Cohen’s songs in his early career.
Cohen’s greatest accomplishment was writing the song “Hallelujah,” which has received countless covers and has been used in many movies since. “Hallelujah” is a particularly popular song to cover among other baritone/bass singers, but it’s safe to say no bass singer has performed the song better than Cohen did in 1984.
6. Tim Storms
American musician Tim Storms is not one of the most recognizable bass singers, but he may be the greatest.
Storms is said to have the lowest voice and largest vocal range of anyone currently alive. Storms currently holds the Guinness World Record for the lowest note produced by a human, a G-7 note at 0.189 Hz.
Storms launched his music career shortly after graduating high school in the 90s. He has since been a member of Christian rock bands Freedom and Rescue, along with acapella groups like AVB, Vocal Union, and Acapella.
In 2012, Storms recorded two songs for the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir’s album Tranquility – Voices of Deep Calm.
7. Ray Davies
Born Raymond Douglas Davies, Ray Davies was a founding member of The Parliaments, a doo-wop/blues/funk quintet that later split into Parliament and Funkadelic.
The music group first began singing in the back of a barbershop in 1956, trying to base their style on Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers. George Clinton, the leader of The Parliaments and owner of the barbershop, partially formed the group to entertain customers.
Besides The Parliaments, Davis also performed with Zapp and The Temptations. His distinct bass voice particularly added to Zapp’s “Doo Wa Ditty.” Later on, Davis left The Temptations and mostly stepped away from singing after being diagnosed with throat cancer.
8. Josh Turner
Country and gospel singer Josh Turner was most popular in the 2000s and early-2010s. Turner started singing bass at a young age after joining a few choirs and his church’s gospel quartet, Thankful Hearts.
In 1996, doctors found a lesion on Turner’s vocal cord, forcing Turner to take a break from singing for a whole year. Turner studied classical singing techniques and taught himself to whistle during his year off.
In 2001, Turner’s first hit song, “Long Black Train,” was released and was quickly certified gold. Turner continued releasing steadily-popular country songs for many years. Turner’s “Time Is Love” was named the US’s biggest country song in 2012 by Billboard.
9. Tay Zonday
Next up we have Adam Nyerere Bahner who is better known by his stage name Tay Zonday. He is an American bass singer and songwriter that you might recognize from YouTube.
Zonday rose to fame in 2007 with his original song “Chocolate Rain,” which has since garnered over 133 million views on YouTube. “Chocolate Rain” was an award-winning music video that became a popular Internet meme. The lyrics are an analogy for institutionalized racism in the United States.
Zonday attended the University of Minnesota in the early 2000s, studying theater and social change. In 2006, Zonday started performing at open mic events and uploading content to YouTube.
After the success of “Chocolate Rain,” Zonday moved to Los Angeles and began his ongoing career as an entertainer.
10. Avi Kaplan
Avriel Benjamin Kaplan, popularly recognized by his nickname Avi, was best known as the bass singer of Pentatonix.
Pentatonix is a five-person acapella group consisting of a bass, baritone, tenor, soprano, and beatboxer. Kaplan sang bass with Pentatonix from 2011 through 2017, winning three Grammys.
Kaplan left Pentatonix in 2017, citing that their schedule was too demanding and that he’d rather spend time with his family. Kaplan immediately launched a solo music career with his debut song “Fields and Pier.”
Most of Kaplan’s songs today are slow, calming, meaningful, and original.
Related: Check out our list of famous acapella groups here.
11. Bob Bingham
Born Robert Franklin Bingham, Bob Bingham is a Broadway singer and actor who was most active in the 1970s.
Bingham is best known for playing Caiaphas in “Jesus Christ Superstar” in the show’s original Broadway performance, its USA tour, and its 1973 movie adaptation.
The rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice had many unique musical numbers with choppy melodies bouncing between radically different vocal ranges. Bingham’s deep bass voice was most notable in the song “This Jesus Must Die.”
Bingham later played God in Arthur Miller’s “Up From Paradise” in 1974 before mostly retiring from acting.
Final Thoughts On Our List Of Distinctive Bass Singers
These bass singers were known for pushing the limits of music. Artists like Davis and Kaplan were known for adding deep, rhythmic beats to their music.
Other artists like Cohen and Cash left marks on the music industry that far exceeded the reach of their voices.
If any of the names on this list were new to you, take some time to listen to their greatest hits. The artistry of bass singers is unlike that of any other vocal range.