19 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Female American Singers

Written by Laura Macmillan
Last updated

There is no question that American female singers have made a significant impact on popular music over the past several decades. From Barbra Streisand to Beyoncé, these talented women have entertained and inspired fans around the world.

In this post, we’re going to be taking a look at the lives and careers of 19 of the greatest and most famous female American singers of all time. Let’s get started.

1. Beyoncé

Born in Houston, Texas, in 1981, Beyoncé Knowles formed Destiny’s Child with school friends at the young age of only nine years old.

The group had some success and some setbacks, but eventually they released an album at the end of the twentieth century that gave the world “Say My Name,” the group’s signature song. 

Knowles debuted as a solo act in 2003 with her album Dangerously In Love, a hit with fans and critics that earned her five Grammys. She would go on to win nearly 30 Grammys, making Knowles the most decorated female artist of all time!

2. Dolly Parton

Easily the most famous person ever to hail from Locust Ridge, Tennessee, Dolly Parton was born in the mountains there in 1946, as the fourth in a line of 12 kids. 

Despite the hard life that her family led (no running water in their one-room home), she was writing songs by age five and earning money by age 10— by singing on television. 

She used her songwriting skills and sparkling, down-home personality to become arguably the biggest country music star of them all.

Her impressive career includes 110 charting singles, 25 number one songs, and 41 top-ten country albums. 

3. Madonna

A Michigander, Madonna Louise Ciccone headed for New York at age 20 in 1978.

While she went there to pursue a career in modern dance, by 1983, she had released an eponymous solo album with hit singles like “Borderline,” “Lucky Star,” and “Holiday.” She followed these with a string of hits, including “Like A Virgin,” “Vogue,” and “Ray Of Light.”

With over 300 million albums and singles sold, she is the undisputed Queen of Pop and the world’s best-selling female artist.

4. Taylor Swift

Next is Taylor Swift, who started her stardom as a cute kid singing country music. That’s not to say she wasn’t very good at it. The Pennsylvania native had a debut album at 16 and a Platinum certification by 18.

Her second album, Fearless, started moving her into the pop oeuvre, though her country fans didn’t object.

As of 2019, Swift had sold nearly 40 million albums in the US alone, making her one of the biggest-selling artists of all time.

That includes her streaming numbers, which, in 2022, were approaching 80 billion views.

5. Aretha Franklin

The daughter of a minister, Aretha Franklin, honed her singing abilities in her father’s church as a kid. At 18, she signed with Columbia Records, though her career did not explode right then. 

By 1966, she had moved to Atlantic, a label that decided to emphasize her gospel-music roots. It was a wise decision—she churned out hit after hit, many becoming R&B classics: “Respect,” “Think,” and “I SayA Little Prayer.” Franklin went on to have more than 100 charting singles over her illustrious career.

Though she was a superstar in the ’60s and ’70s, it wasn’t until 1985 that she had a Platinum-selling album—Who’s Zoomin’ Who? It signaled a revitalization of her career and introduced her to a new generation. She became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Related: See where Aretha is on our list of the greatest soul singers of all time here.

6. Lady Gaga

Stefani Germanotta was born in New York City in 1986 and introduced herself as Lady Gaga to the world 20 years later.

As a kid, she had a natural affinity for music and studied it at NYU before dropping out to pursue a music career.

Even as a teenager, Gaga was a provocateur (and described herself as “eccentric”), which played well in cultivating her own stardom.

After studying fame and how it works in America, she used what she knew to present herself (remember the meat dress?). However, her songwriting and talent were real, and she sustained her stardom by being good at what she did and not just a series of costumes.

7. Whitney Houston

Known commonly as the Voice, Whitney Houston sold over 200 million records in her career.

With a beautiful voice that was both huge and completely under her control, she brought genuine talent to an industry that sometimes overlooks that in favor of image.

As a New Jersey kid, she learned to sing in church but was also exposed to R&B music through her mother, Cissy, who sang backup for Elvis Presley on a few occasions.

Houston was 19 when she signed a record deal, and her first two albums combined to sell nearly 50 million copies. Her eponymous debut album landed at #1 on Rolling Stone magazine’s top albums of 1986, making Houston the first woman to achieve this distinction.

She added acting to her career and starred in, among others, The Bodyguard, a film for which she also did the soundtrack. That album produced “I Will Always Love You,” her biggest single ever.

Houston had a troubled marriage to fellow R&B crooner Bobby Brown and died in 2012.

8. Tina Turner

Born Anna Mae Bullock in Brownsville, Tennessee, Tina Turner made a name for herself as part of a group and as a solo artist.

She came to fame singing with Ike Turner. The pair had great success through the 1960s and early ’70s, though their marriage was rocky at best. Turner was abused by her husband and eventually left.

Turner began focusing on her solo work, though she was considered something of a has-been by many. That changed, however, in 1984 when she released “Private Dancer,” which earned her three Grammys.

9. Patsy Cline

Virginia Hensley had a difficult childhood as the daughter of an abusive father, a musician who abandoned the family before his daughter was 15.

She became Patsy Cline by age 20, at which point she’d been singing to support her family for five years.

Tragically, Cline had a short career, as she died in a plane crash at age 30. But before that, she became one of the first country artists to cross over into pop success, and her influence on country music remains large.

10. Mariah Carey

As the daughter of an opera singer, Mariah Carey had the genetic makeup for a great voice. So she used it, missing many days of high school because she was off singing.

Before her 20th birthday, she was already singing backup for Brenda K. Starr and got her demo tape into the hands of Columbia Records exec Tommy Mottola. He signed her immediately and married her three years later.

Her debut album sold 15 million copies and made her a star. The following years brought ups and downs, but she continued building her reputation as a stellar singer and a terrific live act. 

11. Christina Aguilera

Our next singer, Christina Aguilera, started out in New York as the little girl whom everyone knew had a huge voice.

She pursued a career in entertainment, landing a spot on Disney’s The Mickey Mouse Club with young pre-stars Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, among others.

Once that show came to a close, she started working toward securing a recording deal, eventually lobbying Disney for the job of singing for its upcoming animation project Mulan

She got the gig and has since earned a reputation as a versatile singer. In addition to her illustrious and still active music career, Aquilera has also made appearances on TV and in movies.

12. Barbra Streisand

Hailing from New York, Barbra Streisand is known for her iconic and extraordinary voice, and she’s as much an acting star as a singer. She was the first Jewish actress to play many leading roles in film and on Broadway.

She debuted on Broadway in a small role in 1962. The role was her big break, as she was the show’s standout. A year later, she’d won her first two Grammys. 

Streisand has spent her entire professional life as a singer and an actor, and her enormous success in both worlds has allowed her to become a noted philanthropist.

Related: Did you know Barbra Streisand is a Taurus? Check out our list of other most popular Taurus singers here.

13. Carrie Underwood

Born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, in 1983, Carrie Underwood grew up in the even smaller town of Checotah, Oklahoma, where her voice was a staple at community events even as a child.

She pursued a musical career as a teenager, but her real break came when she won season four of American Idol. Part of the prize package included a record deal, and Underwood made use of it, recording “Some Hearts” in 2005.

The album was the best-selling country album of 2006 and 2007, and in 2006, it was the biggest seller in any musical genre.

Underwood has sold over 70 million albums and is the most decorated country musician ever.

14. Britney Spears

With more than 150 million albums sold, Britney Spears is undoubtedly a mega-star. It should be no surprise, then, that she had a record deal at age 15 after the end of her Disney show The Mickey Mouse Club.

Her debut album, …Baby One More Time, climbed to #1 on the Billboard 200, gaining Platinum twice, and topping charts of 15 countries! Though Spears found great success in music, her life has been anything but smooth.

Highly publicized marriages, parental missteps, and episodes of mental distress have punctuated Spears’ adult life, though the courts recently dissolved the conservatorship into which her father forced her.

15. Ella Fitzgerald

The first African-American woman to win a Grammy was Ella Fitzgerald. That was in 1958, but it was more than 20 years earlier when she sang at an amateur night at the Apollo Theater.

Fitzgerald was an immediate success, joining up with Chuck Webb, a Chicago bassist and bandleader. 

She parlayed that career move into a solo act and ended up touring with Dizzy Gillespie, during which time she began experimenting with scat singing, for which she became known.

Fitzgerald died in 1996 at 79, having earned 14 Grammys and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

16. Miranda Lambert

Native Texan Miranda Lambert was performing in talent shows by age 10. She placed third on Nashville Star, an American Idol–style competition show with a country bent. 

She used that exposure and experience to hone her songwriting and performing chops, then released “Kerosene” in 2004. It debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and went Platinum. Her next three albums also went Platinum.

Lambert continues writing, recording, and performing as a solo artist and with Pistol Annies, a side project with Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley. 

17. Billie Eilish

Born Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell in 2001 in Los Angeles, California, our next singer made music as a kid with her brother Finneas and streamed it online, getting a lot of attention.

That experience carried over into Eilish’s professional recording career, as when she released “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” in 2019, it was immediately a #1 album, earning five Grammys. 

Eilish continues to record with her brother and has established herself as a powerful force in the music industry.

18. Joan Jett

Joan Larkin got a guitar at age 13 and quickly fell in love with glam rock. As Joan Jett (it sounded more rock and roll than Joan Larkin), she formed The Runaways at age 16, and before the age of 20, her band was opening for the likes of Van Halen and Cheap Trick.

When she pursued a solo career, Jett was insistent on having a band, so she formed Joan Jett And The Blackhearts and, in the process, became the first female artist to own and oversee an indie label—Blackheart Records.

As the 1980s—the biggest decade of her career—closed, her sales dropped, though critics have never stopped praising her efforts. 

Related: Did you know Joan Jett is vegan? Check out our extended list of famous singers who are vegan here.

19. Pat Benatar

Originally planning to be an opera singer, Patricia Mae Andrzejewski became Pat Benatar after dropping out of Stony Brook University and marrying Dennis Benatar.

Once her new husband left the army in 1975, the pair moved to New York so she could pursue music.

She had dropped her operative aspirations in favor of rock music. Though her first album was a success in Canada, Benatar had to wait for her second one, which contained the hit single “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” to find blockbuster success in the States. 

She spent the 1980s making hit records, but the 1990s saw her turn her musical style more to the blues. Those albums didn’t sell as well but were still critically praised. 

Summing Up Our List Of Famous Singers From America

Dominating different eras and genres, these ladies are some of the brightest stars among countless more born in the US. Many of them are still active singers, so don’t miss out on seeing them perform live if given a chance.

This list, however, is far from complete as there are too many to list. But who did we miss off? Let us know and we’ll add them in!

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Laura has over 12 years experience teaching both classical and jazz saxophone and clarinet. She now resides in California where she works as a session and live performer.