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 of these musical styles, a handful of singers have reached the pinnacle of excellence in the industry, serving 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 the greatest and most famous black female singers.
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 deemed Houston the best-selling female artist of the 20th century in the R&B genre.
Her two albums Whitney Houston and Whitney, released in 1985 and 1987 each went to number one on the Billboard 200.
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.
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
Aretha Franklin, also known as “The Queen of Soul,” certainly left her imprint on the world with her vocal range and ability to capture the crowd when she sang.
She started her career at 18 but found mainstream success in 1966. She is consistently cited as being in the top ten for the 100 greatest singers ever.
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.
Beyonce 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.
She has sold 120 million records worldwide and is the first female artist to have six of her debut albums reach number one on the Billboard 200.
“Crazy in Love” is still one of the best songs from her early days, but her 2016 album Lemonade was the number one selling album worldwide that year, and she received high praises.
Knowles has 28 Grammy Awards (2001-2021), 31 BET Awards, 26 MTV Music Video Awards, and numerous other awards that have placed her in the upper echelon of female singers of the previous two decades.
4. Toni Braxton
Toni Braxton started out singing with her sisters during the 80s in a group called “The Braxtons.”
She released her first solo album in 1993 called Toni Braxton. This album reached number one on the Billboard 200, and she earned three Grammy Awards after it sold more than ten million copies internationally. She has sold more than 70 million records to date.
Industry experts describe Braxton’s voice as versatile because it’s elegant yet husky and deep.
One of her most popular songs where her contralto voice gets showcased is her hit single “Un-Break My Heart” (1996), which was number one for 11 weeks on the Billboard 100.
She has received seven Grammys (1994-2015), nine Billboard Music Awards, and seven American Music Awards. Braxton was inducted into the Georgia Hall of Fame in 2011.
5. Mariah Carey
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 number one on the Billboard 100.
Additionally, Carey has multiple accolades, such as the most number one hits from a solo artist, and she has sold over 220 million records globally.
She has five Grammy Awards (1991-2006), 15 Billboard Music Awards, ten American Music Awards, and many more accomplishments and nominations. Based on her song chart performance and album success, Carey is iconic.
6. Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald, also known as “Lady Ella,” was a jazz singer that earned the additional moniker the “Queen of Jazz.”
Later, she found national fame after co-writing the song “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” in 1938. She was the most recognized jazz singer in the country for nearly fifty years, selling over 40 million records.
She started with the Chick Webb Orchestra and took over the band after Webb died. She decided to launch her solo career in 1942, and she released her first record, Souvenir Album, in 1947.
She’d go on to make some notable music, including collaborations with the likes of Duke Ellington, The Ink Spots, and Louis Armstrong.
The song she is most known for is “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” Fitzgerald was 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.
Khan is also called the “Queen of Funk” for her role as lead singer in the 1970s funk band “Rufus.”
She is a truly gifted singer who can crossover into most music styles, including country, gospel, pop, R&B, rock, and classical.
Her first album, Chaka, released in 1978, featured one of her best-selling songs, “I’m Every Woman.”
Khan has won ten Grammys (1984-2008), two of those when she was a member of Rufus.
She also has a BET Lifetime Achievement Award and a Soul Train Award. She is nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and VH1 regards her as one of the top 100 greatest women in Rock and Roll.
8. Diana Ross
Diana Ross was originally a member of the Supremes during the 60s, which is still the most accomplished female group ever. They have 12 hit singles that reached number one on the Billboard 100.
She has recorded 25 albums to date, and one of her most popular songs is “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” from her self-titled album.
She won the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 and eight American Music Awards. Since starting a career as a solo artist in 1970, she has sold over 100 million records globally.
Ross is also the only female singer to have achieved multiple number one hits on the Billboard 100 as a solo act, a member of a duet, a member of a trio, and a member of an ensemble.
9. Tina Turner
Tina Turner is often called the “Queen of Rock and Roll.” Before launching her solo career, she gained renown as the lead singer of the Ike and Tina Turner Revue.
Turner’s first big break came as a member of Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm in 1957, and 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.”
She 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.
James was talented enough to delve into several genres such as R&B, gospel, rock and roll, jazz, and blues.
She began her musical career in 1954 and gained national fame with popular songs such as “At Last” and “Something’s Got a Hold on Me.”
Her first album, At Last!, was released in the late 60s and was notable for its variety of musical styles. This album included classic hits, but “At Last!” would become her signature song, reaching number two on the R&B chart and 47 on the Billboard Hot 100.
James went on to win three Grammys awards and was nominated for many others.
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 began writing songs at 12. She did get 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 number one hit on the Billboard 100.
She has sold more than 90 million records globally and is regarded as one of the world’s best-selling music artists. She has 15 Grammys in her career and countless other awards as well.
Robyn Rihanna Fenty is a Barbadian singer. An American producer discovered Fenty 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 Fenty her first Grammy and launched her to global superstardom.
Her next four albums set the stage for a slew of chart-topping singles. Fenty has released eight studio albums and sold over 250 million records worldwide.
She has nine Grammys and is regarded as one of the world’s best-selling music artists.
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 first studio album after signing with Atlantic Records in 1993, entitled Brandy. It sold six million copies, and she would continue to find commercial success during her career.
Norwood has sold over 40 million records worldwide. She also won a Soul Train Music Award and a Billboard Music Award in 1995, an American Music Award in 1996, and her first Grammy Award in 1999 for her famous single “The Boy is Mine” with fellow singer Monica.
Norwood has won over 100 music awards during her career.
14. Mary J Blige
Mary Jane Blige is an American singer, rapper, and songwriter. Many regard Blige as the “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.”
She started her career in 1991 and released her debut album, What’s the 411?, released in 1992, which was a huge success. Blige receives credit for spearheading the mix of R&B and hip hop into mainstream pop.
Throughout Blige’s career, she released 14 studio albums. Moreover, her albums have reached ten on the Billboard 200 chart.
She has also had four number one albums. Blige’s greatest hits include “Not Gon’ Cry,” “Be Without You”, and “Real Love.”
She has done extremely well in her career, securing nine Grammy awards, ten Billboard Awards, and much more.
15. Jennifer Hudson
Jennifer “J.Hud” Hudson placed seventh on the third season of American Idol in 2004. In 2006, 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 first album, Jennifer Hudson, in 2008, selling more than one million copies globally. It was certified gold in the U.S., and she won a Grammy for Best R&B Album.
She got her Hollywood star on the Walk of Fame in 2013, and she won another Grammy in 2017 for the Best Musical Theatre Album for her work on “The Colors Purple.”
Hudson also has a Daytime Emmy Award and an Academy Music Award.
16. Jill Scott
Jill Scott is a songwriter and songwriter in the neo-soul genre.
Scott began her musical career in 2000 when she released her debut album Who Is Jill Scott? The album was a hit as it would go platinum. Her two following albums went gold, and Scott continues to wow crowds without her unique vocal style.
She cites her inspiration as classical music, jazz, opera, and R&B. Scott says she channels her upper registry, wanting to imitate Minnie Riperton and Deniece Williams.
So far in Scott’s career, she has won three Grammys, three Soul Train Music Awards, and numerous other nominations.
Aaliyah Dana Haughton was an iconic singer credited for redefining contemporary pop, R&B, and hip hop.
Known as the Princess of R&B, at age 12, she signed with Blackground Records and Jive Records.
After she was introduced to R. Kelly became her mentor, producer, and lead songwriter on her first album, Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number, in 1994, which went double platinum.
Her most popular songs are “One in a Million” and “Are You That Somebody?”. For Aaliyah’s second album, One in a Million, she worked with top producers Missy Elliott and Timbaland.
The album sold eight million copies worldwide and three million copies domestically.
Monica Denise Arnold is one of the most influential R&B artists of the past 25 years.
She sang in the gospel choir when she was a child 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 hit single by the same name.
Arnold has had a successful career, selling over five million albums in the U.S. Based on Billboard’s listing, she is the youngest solo artist to have two consecutive number-one Billboard hits.
She was the first singer to be at the top of the U.S. Billboard R&B and Hip Hop chart for three successive decades. Arnold has won several other awards for her work.
Ashanti Douglas became a star after signing to the Murder Inc. record label in 2002.
That same year she released her debut album Ashanti, and she sang on two tracks for fellow Murder Inc. artists, which became top hits of the year.
Douglas was the first female that had songs in the first and second spot on the Billboard 100.
One of her most famous songs to date is “Foolish,” from her first album. She has sold more than 25 million records so far in her career.
Her album also won a Grammy in 2003 for being the Best Contemporary R&B album. That album has gone triple platinum, and Douglas sold over six million records globally by 2004.
Douglas also has other music awards from the Billboard, American Music Awards, and more.
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.
But, 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!