21 Of The Greatest And Most Famous British Female Singers

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Written by Laura Macmillan
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The United Kingdom has been the starting place for so many of the world’s biggest musical stars. Despite being stereotyped as a culture of button-down propriety, Great Britain has produced some incredibly groundbreaking, sensual, outspoken, and interesting artists.

Today, we’ll focus on the feminine side of British musical talents. We’ll explore the origins and success of some of the region’s most popular female vocalists. They span various musical genres and styles, representing the eclectic culture of the United Kingdom.

Let’s jump right in as we take a look at 21 of the greatest and most famous British female singers. Have fun reading!

1. Julie Andrews

One of the best-known British female singers of all time is Julie Andrews. Born into a family of performers, Andrews was on stage from an early age which got her to start on TV as a teenager. Her clear soprano voice and perfect pitch wowed audiences from day one, and her sweet personality endeared her to her fans.

Andrews was a talented actress as well, starring in stage productions and, eventually, films. Most people know her from Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, and later, The Princess Diaries.

Andrews’ list of musical and film credits is too long to list here. Her contributions to the arts have been recognized with multiple awards and honors, including a Damehood from Queen Elizabeth II for services to the performing arts in 2000.

Related: Our list of the most popular British singers.

2. Shirley Bassey

Our next British artist, Shirley Bassey, was born in Cardiff, Wales, to a Nigerian father and English mother. The adults in Shirley’s life recognized her powerful voice at an early age but were not particularly supportive of her potential.

As years went by, Bassey performed in traveling stage shows and eventually recorded successful singles. She became a well-known recording artist in the UK. But her claim to international fame was in 1965 when she recorded the theme for the James Bond movie Goldfinger.

She later went on to sing two more Bond themes: “Diamonds Are Forever” and “Moonraker.” Aside from these, she released chart-topping albums and singles, selling over 140 million records worldwide.

3. Adele

Not only is Adele one of the most popular British singers to ever live, she is also one of the biggest stars in the world. This London-born artist’s list of accolades is too long to list, but they include 15 Grammy Awards as well as dozens of awards for singing and songwriting.

Growing up, Adele attended the BRIT School for the Performing Arts and Technologies. This is the same school that produced several other British megastars like Leona Lewis and Amy Winehouse. As a young performer, she sounded wise beyond her years, thanks to her mature, emotive voice.

In 2008, Adele released her debut album, 19, which was named after the age she was when she wrote most of the material that was on it. It was the beginning of an incredible career where she sold more than 120 million records worldwide.

4. Olivia Newton-John

With sweet girl-next-door looks and an angelic voice to match, Olivia Newton-John charmed her way into her listeners’ hearts. And into our list as well. With more than 100 million records sold, she is one of the best-selling music artists of all time.

Newton-John was born in Cambridge, England, but later moved to Australia. She comes from an academic family of scientists, jurists, and educators but followed her talents and pursued music and acting.

Her career soared after starring in the Broadway musical Grease. The film’s soundtrack was a success and included some of her hits such as “You’re the One that I Want,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” and “Summer Nights.”

5. Annie Lennox

Few people know that Scottish singer-songwriter Annie Lennox began her musical career as a flute player in the band Dragon’s Playground. It was a big leap from being in an obscure band to being one of Britain’s most treasured musicians. But Lennox’s hard work and talent earned her that place.

After being a member of the Tourists and Eurythmics, Lennox went on a solo career that spanned more than four decades. She released six studio albums and a compilation album and is best known for her ’80s hit “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).”

Throughout her career, Lennox received various accolades. She received eight Brit Awards and was awarded Best British Female Artist six times. She also received four Grammy Awards and a Billboard Century Award.

Related: Read about the most famous Scottish singers here.

6. Petula Clark

Best known for her 1964 hit “Downtown,” Petula Clark was born in Ewell, Surrey, to parents who worked in the medical industry. Clark showed musical talent from early childhood.

She went on to have a career as a child performer, appearing on BBC radio spots during the Second World War. During this time, she entertained the troops, earning herself the name “Britain’s Shirley Temple.”

It was only natural that Clark would go on to have a successful singing career. Clark’s flair for languages allowed her to record music in French, German, Spanish, and Italian, as well as English.

Throughout her career, Clark sold over 68 million records. Some of her popular songs include “Sailor,” “Sign of the Times,” and “Chariot.”

7. Dua Lipa

English and Albanian singer-songwriter Dua Lipa is one of the most popular pop stars of the last five years. Lipa was born in London, England, to Kosovo-Albanian parents.

Her father, who played in a rock band, was a major inspiration for her. Lipa eventually began trying out her own musical wings, posting clips of her singing to SoundCloud and YouTube.

Lipa’s sultry voice and striking beauty eventually won her the attention of an agency that helped her hone her talents and advance her career. Her debut album was a massive success, and the next few years saw her career take off even more.

Some of her best-known pop hits include “New Rules,” “Levitating,” and IDGAF.” In 2019, she received the Grammy Award for Best New Artist and a Grammy Award for Best Dance/Electronic Recording.

8. Sade

Sade Adu, better known as Sade, was born in Nigeria to a Nigerian father and English mother. After her parents separated when she was four, she and her mom moved back to England.

Before she found her voice in singing, Sade was immersed in the world of fashion, studying at the prestigious St Martin’s School of Art in London. However, her life took a dramatic turn when she began singing with two of her old school friends.

This marked the beginning of her musical journey, which quickly led to critical acclaim and widespread popularity in the 1980s and early ’90s. During this time, she gave us many memorable hits such as “Smooth Operator” and “No Ordinary Love.”

Despite her swift rise to fame, Sade maintained a low profile. Yet her talent was impossible to ignore. Over the years, Sade has won four Grammy Awards and her songs continue to be a part of music history.

9. Amy Winehouse

Born in London, Amy Winehouse embodied a style of jazz singing that harkened back to the days of Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughn.

To a generation of younger fans, this was a new and fascinating sound. Winehouse paired her vocal prowess with an edgy retro look that included a tall bouffant hairdo and winged black eyeliner.

Between 2002 and 2011, she only released three studio albums. However, she amassed 60 nominations for awards and collected 23 awards, including Grammys and Brit Awards.

Unfortunately, Winehouse suffered from drug and alcohol addiction throughout her career and succumbed to alcohol poisoning at the age of 27.

Related: More musicians and singers who died aged 27.

10. Leona Lewis

The third season of The X Factor was the big break for Leona Lewis. The Londoner was only 21 years old at the time, yet had already run into many setbacks in her recording career.

Despite having an undeniable vocal talent, Lewis had been struggling to get a record contract since she was a teen.

Finally, on The X-Factor, Lewis won the show and launched a successful career. Her single “Bleeding Love” was the #1 selling single of 2007.

Aside from “Bleeding Love,” Lewis also released “I See You,” “One More Sleep,” and “You Are the Reason,” a duet with Calum Scott. She went on to release several more albums and sold more than 35 million records worldwide.

11. Susan Boyle

Next is Susan Boyle, a name that resonates in the hearts of many, not just for her stunning voice, but also for her inspiring story. Born in West Lothian, Scotland, Susan was the youngest of nine children and was diagnosed with a learning disability at an early age, which made her school years challenging.

However, her life took a dramatic turn in 2009 when she decided to audition for the third season of Britain’s Got Talent. Her choice of song, “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables, left the audience and judges in awe.

Boyle’s debut album, fittingly titled I Dreamed a Dream, was released later in 2009 and immediately topped the charts in the UK and across the globe. It became the UK’s best-selling debut album of all time, a testament to her incredible talent.

12. Jessie J

London-born R&B singer Jessica Cornish, known professionally as Jessie J, is up on our list. She was a child performer who appeared in West End musicals and attended the BRIT school.

Later, she was an opening act for Cyndi Lauper and also wrote lyrics for Miley Cyrus before breaking out on her own.

Her solo career began with her debut single, “Do It Like a Dude.” But her 2011 single “Price Tag” (2011) topped the charts in the UK as well as in 18 other countries. She also had four other top 10 singles off that album.

By 2015, Jessie J had sold more than 20 million singles and three million albums worldwide. Some of the awards she received include the BBC’s Sound of 2011 and the 2011 Critics’ Choice Brit Award.

13. Bonnie Tyler

Most people remember Bonnie Tyler best for her chart-topping ’80s songs “Holding Out for a Hero” and “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Born Gaynor Sullivan in Skewen, Wales, Tyler got her start singing in church and eventually formed a soul band.

Tyler stood out from other female singers thanks to her unique deep husky voice. The husky quality led to her being referred to as “the female Rod Stewart.”

It was the unexpected result of a vocal cord nodule operation in the 1970s. This is the voice you’ll hear in her singles “It’s a Heartache,” “If You Were a Woman (And I Was a Man),” and “If I Sing You a Love Song.”

Throughout her career, Tyler sold more than 20 million records. She received three Grammy Award nominations, three Goldene Europa awards, a Gold Badge Award, and an Echo Award, among others.

Related: Read more about the most famous Welsh singers here.

14. Dusty Springfield

One of Britain’s first and most widely renowned iconic pop singers is Dusty Springfield. Born Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien in London, she became known for her mezzo-soprano voice.

Springfield was part of the “British invasion” of the American music charts and was a consistent hitmaker throughout the 1960s. With her deep smoky voice and emotional delivery, she was able to navigate easily between upbeat pop songs and tear-jerking emotional ballads.

Some of her hit songs include “I Only Want to Be With You,” “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” and “Wishin’ and Hopin’.” Throughout her career, she sold more than one million records. 

Related: For more on Dusty Springfield, read our list of lesbian female singers article here.

15. Ellie Goulding

Hailing from Hereford, England, singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding has captured the hearts of fans with her ethereal voice.

After signing on to Polydor Records, Goulding soon released her debut album, Lights (2010). It became a smash hit, peaking at #1 on the UK Albums Chart. Its title track also became popular, reaching #2 on the UK chart and #1 on Billboard Hot 100.

In 2012, Goulding released her second studio album, Halcyon, which spawned more successful singles. “Burn,” from the album, became her first song to top the UK Singles Chart.

Goulding today continues to pursue her passion for music. Her latest release, Higher Than Heaven (2023) has already taken the top spot on UK’s chart and hailed as one of the best albums of the year!

16. Kate Bush

Progressive rock began in England and had a big influence on the international music scene in the 1970s and 1980s. This was good news for Bexleyheath, Kent-born singer-songwriter Kate Bush. Since her pre-teen years, she had been writing music that didn’t quite fit into the pop genre.

With an impressive vocal range and a background in dance, Bush had a lot to offer the world of music, especially at the dawn of the popularity of music videos. At the tender age of 19, her single “Wuthering Heights” topped the charts in the UK and Australia.

Over the last 40 years, she has produced many successful artistic albums that have received critical acclaim.

17. Duffy

Born in Bangor, Wales, Duffy began singing at a young age. Her early career included a stint on the Welsh talent show Wawffactor in 2003, where she placed second.

After signing with A&M Records in 2007, she debuted with the single “Rockferry” later that year. This was followed by her debut album of the same name in 2008.

The album was a commercial and critical success, topping the UK Albums Chart and selling over 7 million copies worldwide. It featured soulful pop tunes influenced by 1960s music, including the hit singles “Mercy” and “Warwick Avenue.”

After releasing her second album in 2010, Duffy took an extended hiatus from music. Despite her relatively brief career, her impact on late 2000s pop music was significant and earned her several awards, including a Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album for Rockferry.

18. Rita Ora

If you’ve listened to popular music in the last ten years, you’ve likely heard Rita Ora. She broke into the music scene in 2008 when she auditioned for Eurovision: Your Country Needs You. However, she withdrew because she felt she was not ready.

But 2012 was the right time for this artist when she released her debut single, “Hot Right Now.” It was the first of many dance-pop bangers to come from this London-raised artist.

Some of her popular singles include “R.I.P.,” “How We Do (Party),” “Your Song,” and “Let You Love Me.” She has collaborated with many other famous musicians, such as Iggy Azalea, Tiesto, and Calvin Harris.

Ora was a coach on the fourth season of the UK version of The Voice and has hosted several awards shows and competitions.

19. Florence Welch

London native Florence Welch is known for her powerful vocals and cool bohemian style. She emerged on the music scene at a fairly young age and has displayed impressive staying power within the realm of indie rock.

Welch is best known as the lead vocalist and songwriter of the indie rock band Florence + the Machine. Their debut album, Lungs, dominated the UK Albums Chart. It also won the Brit Award for Best British Album.

Even while working with the band, Welch also collaborated with some of the big names in the music industry. These include Fatboy Slim, Drake, Calvin Harris, and Lady Gaga. Welch is the recipient of a Brit Award (Critic’s Choice, 2009) and a Silver Clef Award (Best Female 2017) and has been nominated for many more.

20. Lily Allen

Our next female artist, Lily Allen, was born in Hammersmith, London, into a family that was steeped in the performing arts. Her mother was a film producer, and her father was a comedic actor. Despite a career on stage being an obvious choice for Allen, she didn’t find her niche right away.

As a teenager, Allen pursued a recording contract but was turned down more than once. As a result, she began promoting herself and her music on the then-popular social media site MySpace.

This grassroots promotion, and the positive response to it, finally got Allen the attention of the right people, and she was signed to a record label.

Her first single, “Smile,” made it to #1 on the UK charts. This led to a healthy pop/electro-dance career for the next several years.

21. M.I.A.

Hailing from London is rapper and singer Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, known professionally as M.I.A. Her music is woven with social commentary inspired by her Tamil Sri Lankan heritage and experience as a Londoner of color.

As a teenager, M.I.A. was attracted to the sounds of rap and dancehall music that she would hear coming from the other apartments in the complex where she lived. Eventually, she would take those early inspirations and create the unique sound that would make her an international star.

Throughout her career, she released six studio albums and successful singles that, include “Paper Planes,” “Bad Girls,” and “The One.” She was featured in Travis Scott’s “Franchise,” which topped the Billboard Hot 100.

Summing Up Our List Of Famous Female Singers From Britain

The United Kingdom has produced countless female virtuosos, and many went on to enjoy international success. However, we are just scratching the surface, as many more British artists have entered the music scene in the last years or so.

Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this list of female stars from across the pond.  Who are some of your favorites? Are there any that you think we missed? Let us know, and well add them here!

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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.