When you think about famous British vocalists, the first names that might come to mind are David Bowie, John Lennon, and Elton John. With one of the largest music industries in the world, the United Kingdom has produced singers of all types of genres.
Some of the most legendary musicians changed the culture of music during the British Invasion in the mid-1960s, but other notable British singers have taken the world by storm.
Read on to see who made our list of the 28 greatest and most famous British singers of all time.
1. David Bowie
One of the most successful and influential singers in the 20th century, David Bowie was an icon in music, pop culture, and film for his eccentric style, experimental music, and innovative style.
Bowie entered the music scene in 1963 and first topped charts with his song, “Space Oddity,” in 1969.
During the glam rock era in the 1970s, he created Ziggy Stardust, his androgynous alter ego that gained immense popularity.
Bowie also collaborated with many other famous musicians to co-write songs such as “Fame” with John Lennon, “Under Pressure” with Queen, and “Dancing In The Street” with Mick Jagger.
In 1996, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and sold over 100 million records worldwide during his lifetime.
Adele is one of the world’s best-selling singers, with over 120 million records sold worldwide. She rose to fame with her debut album, 19, in 2008. The album later received 8x platinum certification in the UK and, in the US, triple platinum.
Her album 21 is the best-performing album in US chart history for topping the Billboard 200 for 24 consecutive weeks. This album achieved Diamond status in the US and 17x platinum in the UK, the highest of all time by a solo artist.
Some of Adele’s hits include “Rolling in the Deep,” “Set Fire to the Rain,” and “Someone Like You.” She has won 15 Grammy Awards and 12 Brit Awards and was appointed MBE at the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2013 for her contributions to music.
3. Elton John
Elton John has been producing music since the 1970s. He was known for his flamboyant style and talented piano compositions.
He started playing piano at a young age and formed the band Bluesology, which he played with from 1962 to 1967.
His first hit in the UK and the US was “Your Song.” He released several albums in the 1970s and 80s.
One of his top-selling singles is “Candle In The Wind” (1997), which he wrote as a tribute to Princess Diana.
He has sold over 300 million records worldwide, and over 50 of his songs have been in the Top 40 hits in the UK and US Billboard’s Hot 100.
4. Freddie Mercury
Known as the lead singer and frontman for the band Queen, Freddie Mercury is considered one of the greatest rock music singers.
His theatrical stage presence and four-octave range set him apart from other rock singers during his time.
In 1970, he formed the band Queen with Brian May, the guitarist, and Roger Taylor, the drummer.
Some of the most famous songs he wrote for Queen include “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “We Are The Champions.”
After his death, Mercury was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 as part of Queen. In 2003, he got inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2004.
5. Amy Winehouse
Though Amy Winehouse had a short-lived career, she found immense success with her expressive vocals in singing a variety of genres. Winehouse found fame in 2003 with her first album Frank. Most of the songs on the album were co-written by Winehouse.
Her second album, Back to Black, became the best-selling album in the UK, and she was nominated for British Album of the Year at the 2007 Brit Awards. In 2008, she became the first British woman to win five Grammy Awards.
After her death from alcohol poisoning in 2011, Back to Black once again found popularity and became the best-selling album in the UK during the 21st century. Some of her most memorable songs are “Valerie,” “Rehab,” and “Stronger Than Me.”
6. John Lennon
John Lennon was a legendary singer-songwriter known for his innovative music and social activism. With The Beatles, Lennon pushed the boundaries of music with his witty lyrics and experimental style.
He wrote dozens of songs for The Beatles with Paul McCartney and found continued success after quitting the band to become a solo artist.
Lennon was a political activist later in life, and he used his music to take a stand against social and political issues such as the Vietnam War, writing anti-war songs such as “Give Peace A Chance” and “Imagine.”
After his tragic death, Lennon was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 as part of The Beatles and in 1994 as a solo musician.
7. Paul McCartney
Most famous for his involvement with The Beatles, Paul McCartney is one of the world’s most successful musicians today. He was born in 1942 in Liverpool and taught himself guitar, piano, and songwriting.
He was an integral part of The Beatles from 1960 to 1970 and co-wrote dozens of highly successful songs with John Lennon.
After The Beatles disbanded, McCartney founded another band with his wife, Linda, called Wings. They found enormous success in the 1970s, with many of his songs topping international charts.
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 as part of The Beatles and in 1999 as a solo artist. He has also won 18 Grammy awards and was knighted in 1997 for his services to music.
8. Mick Jagger
If you don’t know Mick Jagger, you most likely have heard of the Rolling Stones, one of the most popular and lasting rock bands from the 1960s with iconic hits such as “Paint It Black” and “Satisfaction.”
Mick Jagger wrote most of the songs for the band with guitarist Keith Richards. He first released solo recordings in 1985 and joined the band Superheavy in 2009. However, most of his success has come as the frontman of The Rolling Stones.
Jagger was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 and into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2004. He was also knighted for his contribution to music in 2003.
9. Brian Johnson
Brian Johnson was the third lead singer of the band AC/DC in 1980 when he was asked to audition for the position. He is known for his distinctive voice and strong accent.
Johnson first played with a band called Gobi Desert Canoe Club and later became part of the cabaret band the Jasper Hart Band, which performed popular musical and soft-rock songs.
In 1971, he went on to form the band Geordie with a few other members, but it split up in 1978.
After joining AC/DC in 1980, they recorded the album Back in Black, which found worldwide success that year. In 2014, he received an honorary doctorate in music from Northumbria University in Newcastle.
10. Ozzy Osbourne
Informally known as the “Godfather of Metal,” Ozzy Osbourne was the lead singer for the heavy metal band Black Sabbath during the 1970s.
After getting fired from the band in 1979 due to his addiction to alcohol and drug, he found immense success as a solo artist.
He released 12 albums and received eight multi-platinum certifications. In 1997, he rejoined Black Sabbath and recorded their final album, 13.
Osbourne was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006 as a member of Black Sabbath and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005 as both a band member and solo artist.
11. Phil Collins
Phil Collins is known for his unique tone and high vocal range. He started his music career as first the drummer for the rock band Genesis in 1970, then as the lead singer in 1975.
In 1981, he started his solo career and released successful pop and soul music. Some of his most recognizable songs from the ’80s are “In The Air Tonight” and “Another Day In Paradise.”
Collins also acted and composed music for Disney’s Tarzan and Brother Bear. He won an Oscar for Best Original Song for the Tarzan song, “You’ll Be In My Heart.”
Overall, he has sold about 150 million records worldwide. In 2003, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and joined the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Genesis in 2010.
12. Annie Lennox
When the band split up, she and band member Dave Stewart formed a new duo called the Eurythmics. They produced popular songs such as “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and “There Must Be An Angel (Playing with My Heart).”
In 1992, she moved on to a solo career and recorded hit singles such as “Why” and “Walking on Broken Glass.”
Lennox is known for her contralto vocal range and for singing soul music. She has won eight Brit Awards, including Best British Female Artist, six times.
13. Rod Stewart
Rod Stewart has sold over 250 million records worldwide, with ten albums at number one in the UK and 31 singles in the top ten.
He first joined The Dimensions in 1963 as a singer and harmonica player. After that, he joined several bands while starting a solo career on the side in 1969.
His breakthrough album was Every Picture Tells a Story in 1971, which topped the charts in the US, UK, and Australia. He received the 1993 Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music and a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album in 2005.
In 2001, he was the first-ever to receive the Diamond Award at the World Music Awards for selling over 100 million records worldwide.
During the 2016 Birthday Honours, Stewart was knighted for his contributions to music and charity.
14. George Michael
George Michael became a star as part of the musical duo Wham! with Andrew Ridgeley in 1981.
Their hit singles include “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Last Christmas,” which still get played every winter. Wham! became the first Western pop music act to tour in China in 1985.
In 1984, he found success with his first solo single, “Careless” Whisper, which reached number one on charts in more than 20 countries.
In 1998, he was the best-selling musical artist with his debut solo album Faith, receiving Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards in 1989.
He sold over 120 million records worldwide and won two Grammy Awards, three Brit Awards, and several others during his lifetime.
15. Olivia Newton-John
Most famously known for her role as Sandy in the musical film adaptation of Grease (1978), Olivia Newton-John had an extensive musical career.
Born in Cambridge, England, Newton-John emigrated to Australia when she was six and started performing in coffee shops and on Australian radio and TV shows at 14 years old.
She recorded “Till You Say You’ll Be Mine,” her first single, in England in 1966 with Decca Records.
She won four Grammy Awards and reached five number-one hits in the US. Two of her albums, If you Love Me, Let Me Know (1974) and Have You Never Been Mellow (1975), reached number one on the Billboard 200 chart.
16. Leona Lewis
Leona Lewis started as a contestant on The X Factor, where she won a one million pound recording contract in 2006.
Her cover of Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This” reached 50,000 digital downloads within 30 minutes, breaking a world record.
Lewis released her debut album Spirit in 2007, and it received a 10x platinum certification in the UK.
Her single “Bleeding Love” was number one in the UK for seven weeks and became the best-selling single in 2007. In the US, the song was the best-selling single of 2008.
She has been nominated for three Grammy Awards and two Brit Awards and has won two World Music Awards, an MTV Europe Music Award, and two MOBO Awards.
17. Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran is one of the most popular British singer-songwriters in pop music today. He has sold over 150 million records worldwide.
Sheeran started writing music at 11 years old and independently released his first project in 2011 called No. 5 Collaborations Project.
Sheeran won the Best British Male Solo Artist and British Breakthrough Act at the Brit Awards in 2012.
Some of his most famous songs include “Shape of You” and “Castle on the Hill,” which broke chart records in several countries by debuting at the top two spots.
Sheeran has collaborated in writing music and performing with other musicians such as Elton John, Beyonce, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift.
18. Sam Smith
Sam Smith first entered the music scene in 2012 when they featured on “Latch,” Disclosure’s breakthrough single. They later featured on Naughty Boy’s song “La La La” in 2013, which reached number one on the UK charts.
Their debut album In the Lonely Hour (2014) won four awards after its release at the Grammy Awards and two more nominations.
Smith wrote “Writing’s on the Wall” for the movie Spectre (2015), which won a Golden Globe Award for Academy Award for Best Original Song.
As of 2021, Smith has sold over 30 million albums worldwide and received several awards, including four Grammy Awards, three Brit Awards, three Billboard Music Awards, and one American Music Award.
19. Harry Styles
One of the most recognizable singers today, Harry Styles, is a singer-songwriter and actor who first skyrocketed to fame as part of the best-selling boy band One Direction.
In 2017, he released his first solo album, Harry Styles, with Columbia Records, which debuted at number one in the UK and US.
He released his second album, Fine Line, in 2019. It debuted at the top of the US Billboard 200 as the most first-week sales in history for an English male artist.
Styles has received several awards with 121 nominations and 43 wins. His single “Watermelon Sugar” earned the Grammy Award for Best Pop Solo Performance and Brit Award for British Single of the Year in 2021.
20. Ellie Goulding
Ellie Goulding started writing songs at age 15. In her final year of university, she met Jamie Lillywhite, her future manager, who introduced her to the record producer Starsmith.
Her debut album Lights came out in 2010 and reached number one on the UK Albums Chart.
In November the same year, the album was re-released as Bright Lights with six more songs, including a cover of Elton John’s “Your Song.” Her single “Lights” peaked at number two in the US, her highest-charted single to date.
In 2014, Goulding received the 2014 Brit Award for British Female Solo Artist. Her song “Love Me Like You Do” earned her first Grammy Award nomination for Best Pop Solo Performance in 2015.
Sting is best known for being the frontman of the band The Police, though he has had a successful solo career.
He started performing in local clubs with jazz bands, and one of his bandmates gave him the nickname “Sting” because of the black-and-yellow striped sweater he wore during performances.
He moved to London in 1977 after teaching for two years, where he formed the Police with bandmates Stewart Copeland and Henri Padovani.
In 1983, the group won two Grammy Awards and Song of the Year for “Every Breath You Take.”
In 1984, the group disbanded, and Sting embarked on his solo career. Overall, he has won 17 Grammy Awards, three Brit Awards, and four Academy Award nominations for Best Original Song.
22. Kate Bush
Kate Bush is known for her stunning soprano singing voice and eclectic style. She started writing music at age 11 and signed with EMI at 16. By her late teens, she had composed over 200 songs.
Bush’s debut single “Wuthering Heights” was number one for four weeks on the UK Singles Chart. S
he became the first female artist to reach number one with a song she wrote and recorded. She was one of the first performers to use a head mic to dance and sing simultaneously.
Bush has been nominated for three Grammy Awards and received the Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music.
23. Joe Cocker
Joe Cocker‘s gritty and bluesy voice gets him a well-earned spot on our list of great British singers.
He is known best for his dynamic stage presence and covers of songs by other artists, but he wrote some of his own songs with his writing partner, Chris Stainton.
Cocker found almost instant success with his first album that included his version of “With a Little Help From My Friends” by The Beatles. In 1968, his version topped the UK chart at number one.
In 1983, he won a Grammy Award for his song, “Up Where We Belong,” which he sang with Jennifer Warnes. Over his 43-year career, he released 22 albums that found varied success.
24. Marianne Faithfull
During the 1960s, Marianne Faithfull was the most popular female singer of the British Invasion.
She originally had a distinctive melodic and higher voice in the 1960s, but her drug abuse and severe laryngitis in the 1970s permanently changed her voice to a lower and raspier sound.
After a hiatus from the music industry, Faithfull returned to the scene with the release of her album Broken English in 1979, one of her most definitive albums. She earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.
In 2009, she received the World Lifetime Achievement Award at the Women’s World Awards and was given the title Commandeur of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.
25. Jessie J
Jessie J started her career at age 11, performing in the West End musical Whistle Down the Wind.
In 2011, she released her debut single “Do It Like a Dude” with Republic Records. Her song topped the charts in 19 countries, including the UK.
Her album Who You Are was released the same year and reached number two in the UK.
Jessie J became the first British female artist to have six singles reach the top ten from one studio album.
She has an unconventional musical style that mixes her soulful vocals with various genres, including contemporary R&B, electropop, and hip hop.
In 2011, she received the Critics’ Choice Brit Award and the BBC’s Sound of 2011 Award.
26. Rita Ora
Born in Pristina, SFR, Yugoslavia (modern-day Kosovo), Rita Ora‘s family relocated to London when she was just a year old.
She occasionally performed at open mics and her father’s pub before signing with Roc Nation in 2008 and later released her debut in 2012.
Ora first debuted on DJ Fresh’s single “Hot Right Now” as the main singer. Jay Z recognized her potential and helped her release “Ora” in 20212, which debuted at number one in the UK.
Her singles “R.I.P.” and “How We Do (Party)” also reached number one on UK charts.
She was nominated for three awards at the MTV Europe Music Awards in 2012. After her second album was released, she became the first British female solo artist with 13 top ten songs in the UK.
27. Ian Gillan
Ian Gillan is known for his wide vocal range and his powerful voice. He was the lead singer for several local bands in the mid-1960s but found his big break with the band Deep Purple in 1969.
He performed with them until 1973 when he resigned and started his solo band. He then joined Black Sabbath for one year in 1983 as their vocalist.
In 1984, he rejoined Deep Purple and recorded two albums with them until he was fired in 1989.
However, in 1992, he rejoined Deep Purple to record The Battle Rages On album and has remained the lead singer for the band ever since.
28. Elvis Costello
Elvis Costello got his start in the pub rock scene in London during the 1970s. He released his first album, My Aim Is True, in 1977.
He recorded his second album, This Year’s Model, with his band, the Attractions, and it was released a year later.
Costello toured with the Attractions until 1986, when they split due to differences. He is known for writing songs that draw from several diverse genres, creating his own new wave style. He is often associated with the first wave of British punk in the mid-1970s.
Costello won two Grammy Awards in 1999 and 2020 and was twice nominated for Best British Male Artist at the Brit Awards. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.
Summing Up Our List Of Famous Singers From Britain
There are many legendary and popular singers from the United Kingdom, with some having careers spanning over five decades.
Their innovative and experimental styles in the 1960s and 70s created new genres such as Britpop and influenced other generations of musicians.
With a variety of heavy metal, rock, and pop genres, these artists have impacted the culture of music and created unforgettable legacies that will continue to inspire musical artists for years to come.
But, this list barely scratches the surface of talented vocalists from the British Isles. Who did we miss off? Let us know and we’ll add them in!