Black women have contributed a great deal to various genres of music, such as rock and roll, R&B, jazz, classical music, pop, and more. Across all these musical styles, a handful of singers have reached the pinnacle of excellence in the industry.
They all served as inspiration for those who have come and will come after their career has ended. With unique voices, accolades, and notable achievements to prove their impact, here is our list of 19 of the greatest and most famous black female singers. Let’s get started.
Related: Check out our list of the greatest black singers here.
1. Whitney Houston
Up first, Whitney Houston, sometimes called the Voice, was and will always be one of the greatest and most influential black female singers of all time.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) deemed Houston the best-selling female artist of the 20th century in the R&B genre. With over 200 million record sales, she is undoubtedly in a league of her own.
“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “I Will Always Love You” are two of her most popular songs. Her two albums Whitney Houston and Whitney, released in 1985 and 1987, respectively, each went to #1 on the Billboard 200.
She has eight Grammy Awards (1986–2013), two Emmys, 14 World Music Awards, and much more. Houston will always be remembered as a legend with a powerful and soulful voice that moved the masses.
2. Aretha Franklin
Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin certainly left her imprint on the world with her vocal range and ability to capture the crowd when she sang. She is consistently cited as being in the top ten for the 100 greatest singers ever.
She started her career at 18 but found mainstream success in 1966. Some of her most notable singles are “Respect,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You).”
Altogether, Franklin has won 18 Grammy Awards (1968–2008), sold 75 million records, recorded 112 singles, and was the first female artist to get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Beyoncé Knowles, or Queen Bey as many of her fans call her, became popular in the ’90s singing lead for Destiny’s Child, one of the best-selling and most notable girl groups in history.
When the group stopped recording for a few years, Knowles released her debut album in 2003, Dangerously in Love. Since then, she has sold 120 million records worldwide and is the first female artist to have six of her albums reach #1 on the Billboard 200.
Knowles has 28 Grammy Awards (2001–2021), 31 BET Awards, and 26 MTV Music Video Awards to name just a few—because, yes, there are so many!—accolades that have placed her in the upper echelon of female singers of the previous two decades.
4. Toni Braxton
Our third singer, Toni Braxton, started out singing with her sisters during the ’80s in a group called “The Braxtons.” After she left the group in 1991, she started a solo career.
Braxton released her eponymous solo debut album in 1993. It reached #1 on the Billboard 200, and she earned three Grammy Awards after it sold more than 10 million copies internationally. She has sold more than 70 million records to date.
Industry experts describe Braxton’s voice as versatile because of its elegance yet husky and deep tone. One of her most popular songs where her contralto voice gets showcased is her hit single “Un-Break My Heart” (1996), which was #1 for 11 weeks on the Billboard 100.
Braxton has received seven Grammys (1994–2015), nine Billboard Music Awards, and seven American Music Awards, and in 2011, she was inducted into the Georgia Hall of Fame.
5. Mariah Carey
Songbird Supreme Mariah Carey has one of the most intricate voices of all time. Often compared to Whitney Houston, everyone is enamored with Carey’s long vocal runs, five-octave range, and her signature whistle register.
In 1990, when she released her self-titled album, it was clear that she was special. She was the only singer to have her first five consecutive singles become #1 on the Billboard 100.
Additionally, Carey has multiple accolades, such as the most #1 hits from a solo artist, and she has sold over 220 million records globally. From the start of her career to present, she has garnered 5 Grammy Awards (1991–2006), 15 Billboard Music Awards, 10 American Music Awards, and many more.
6. Ella Fitzgerald
Known as Lady Ella, Ella Fitzgerald was a jazz singer that earned the additional moniker as the Queen of Jazz. After having her debut in 1934, she found national fame after releasing her version of “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.”
She initially started with the Chick Webb Orchestra and took over the band after Webb died. Then in 1942, she decided to launch a solo career. The song she is most known for is “Dream a Little Dream of Me.”
Fitzgerald was the most recognized jazz singer in the country for nearly fifty years, selling over 40 million records. She was also the first black woman to win a Grammy award at the inaugural show, winning a total of 14 Grammys and many other awards throughout her career.
7. Chaka Khan
Yvette Marie Stephens, or as we know her, Chaka Khan, has had an illustrious career lasting over 50 years, selling more than 70 million records. A truly gifted singer, Khan is also called the Queen of Funk for her role as lead singer in the 1970s funk band Rufus.
After Rufus, Khan released her first album, Chaka, in 1978, and it featured one of her best-selling songs, “I’m Every Woman.” Since then, she has wowed fans with music that crossed over into most music styles, including country, gospel, pop, R&B, rock, and classical.
Khan has won ten Grammys, two of those when she was a member of Rufus. She also has a BET Lifetime Achievement Award and a Soul Train Award.
8. Diana Ross
Up next, we have Diana Ross. She was originally a member of the Supremes during the ’60s, which is still considered the most accomplished female group ever. They have 12 hit singles on the Billboard 100.
Ross started her solo career in 1970. Since then, she has recorded 25 albums, with her most popular song being “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” from her self-titled album.
Since starting a career as a solo artist in 1970, she has sold over 100 million records globally and won the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 and eight American Music Awards.
9. Tina Turner
Queen of Rock and Roll Tina Turner gained renown as the lead singer of the Ike and Tina Turner Revue. Her first big break came as a member of Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm in 1957.
In 1960, she introduced herself to the world as Tina Turner with the hit song and duet “A Fool in Love.” Before disbanding the group in tandem, Ike and Turner would go on to release hits such as “Proud Mary” and “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine.”
Tina then rebranded herself alone in the ’80s with her 1984 multi-Platinum album Private Dancer. The album won a Grammy for Record of the Year, showcasing the hit song “What’s Love Got to Do with It.” In Turner’s successful career, she has won 12 Grammys.
10. Etta James
Jamesetta Hawkins, better known by her professional name Etta James, is one of the most versatile singers. She was talented enough to delve into several genres such as R&B, gospel, rock and roll, jazz, and blues.
James began her musical career in 1954 and gained national fame her first album, At Last!, which was released in the late ’60s and was notable for its variety of musical styles.
The album featured classic hits, but “At Last!” would become James’s signature song, reaching #2 on the R&B chart and 47 on the Billboard Hot 100.
James went on to win three Grammys awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll and the Blues Halls of Fame.
11. Alicia Keys
Alicia Augello Cook, known by fans as Alicia Keys, is best known for being able to play the piano and sing simultaneously. Keys got signed for a record label when she was 15, but that endeavor was unsuccessful, and she got another deal later with Arista Records.
She released her debut album, Songs in A Minor, in 2001. The album was a commercial success, and it featured “Fallin,” which was a #1 hit on the Billboard 100. The song also won the singer three Grammys, including Song of the Year.
Having sold more than 90 million records globally, Keys is regarded as one of the world’s best-selling music artists. She has landed 15 Grammys in her career and countless other awards as well.
Robyn Rihanna Fenty is a Barbadian singer. An American producer discovered her and invited her to America to record demo tapes.
After releasing two relatively successful albums, her third album, Good Girl Gone Bad (2007), featured the hit single “Umbrella.” This song won Rihanna her first Grammy and launched her to global superstardom. Her next four albums set the stage for a slew of chart-topping singles.
Rihanna has released eight studio albums and sold over 250 million records worldwide. Her work has won her 9 Grammys and 12 Billboard Music Awards among many more.
Brandy Norwood, who goes by the mononym Brandy, is commonly referred to as the Vocal Bible for her unique voice and intricate abilities.
She started singing as a backup in teen groups but released her eponymous debut studio album after signing with Atlantic Records in 1993. It sold six million copies, and she would continue to find commercial success during her career.
Her hit single with fellow singer Monica, “The Boy Is Mine,” is her greatest yet, topping charts in several countries, including the US. It landed her a Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.
14. Mary J. Blige
American singer-songwriter and rapper Mary Jane Blige is regarded by many as the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. She receives credit for spearheading the mix of R&B and hip hop into mainstream pop.
Bilge started her career in 1991 and released her debut album, What’s the 411?, in 1992, which was a huge success. Following this, she released 13 more studio albums. Moreover, her albums have all reached top 12 on the Billboard 200 chart.
“Not Gon’ Cry,” “Be Without You”, and “Real Love” are among Bilge’s best-known hits, helping to secure the singer 9 Grammy Awards, 10 Billboard Awards, and much more.
15. Jennifer Hudson
Singer and talk show host Jennifer “J.Hud” Hudson placed seventh on the third season of American Idol in 2004. Two years later, she starred in the movie Dreamgirls, where she demonstrated her vocal abilities with the song “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.”
Hudson released her self-titled first album in 2008, which sold more than one million copies globally. It was certified Gold in the US and landed the singer a Grammy for Best R&B Album.
She was honored a Hollywood star on the Walk of Fame in 2013, and in 2017, she won another Grammy for the Best Musical Theatre Album for her work on “The Colors Purple.”
16. Jill Scott
Multi-talented singer-songwriter Jill Scott is known for her neo-soul musical style, citing inspiration as classical music, jazz, opera, and R&B.
Scott began her musical career in 2000 when she released her debut album, Who Is Jill Scott? The album was a hit, going two-times Platinum as of 2020 and winning the singer two Lady of Soul Awards. The rest of her albums (four of them) all became top-five hits on the chart.
So far in Scott’s career, she has won four Lady of Soul Awards, three Grammys, three Soul Train Music Awards, and numerous other nominations.
Next up, we have iconic singer Aaliyah Dana Haughton. Credited for redefining contemporary pop, R&B, and hip hop, she was also known as the Princess of R&B.
She was introduced to R. Kelly, who became her mentor, producer, and lead songwriter on her first album, Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number. Released in 1994, the album went double Platinum.
Aaliyah was on her way to great stardom when her career and life was cut tragically short. In 2001, the plane she was on returning to the US from the Bahamas crashed and killed everyone on board.
Our penultimate singer, we have Monica Denise Arnold, who is one of the most influential R&B artists of the past 25 years. She sang in the gospel choir when she was young but found success upon the release of her first album Miss Thang at age 15.
Shortly after her debut, she released her best-selling album, The Boy Is Mine, in 1998. She won a Grammy for Best Duo for her performance with Brandy on the lead single of the same name.
Monica has had a successful career, selling over five million albums in the US. Based on Billboard‘s listing, she is the youngest solo artist to have two consecutive #1 Billboard hits with “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days)” and “Before You Walk Out of My Life.”
Lastly, we have Ashanti Douglas. This singer became a star after signing to the Murder Inc. record label in 2002.
That same year she released her self-titled debut album. It featured some of her best hit singles, like “Foolish,” “Happy,” and “Baby.” The album itself landed Ashanti a Best Contemporary R&B Album Grammy Award.
Following Ashanti, the singer released five more studio albums. The second, Chapter II, was also a huge success as it topped charts. Along with this album came Ashanti’s other big hits: “Rock wit U (Awww Baby),” “Rain on Me,” and “Breakup 2 Makeup (Remix).”
Summing Up Our List Of Famous Black Female Vocalists
The phenomenal black female singers on the list have the extraordinary ability to touch people worldwide with their voices. Having made their mark on the world, these women continue to be iconic and leave us with some of the best songs of the century.
However, there wouldn’t be enough room to list all the amazing women that should be on this post. Who do you think we missed off? Let us know and we’ll add them in!