Gospel music is an incredibly moving and powerful genre that has birthed some of the most influential artists of the 21st century. The female singers on this list are both younger and older, some living and some passed on, having left this world with a beautiful memory of their dedication to the craft.
Let’s look at some of the greatest and most famous female gospel singers that have shaped and continue to shape the genre today.
1. Mahalia Jackson
One of the most famous gospel singers of all time, Mahalia Jackson paved the way for many others during her 40-year career.
Born into poverty in New Orleans, Louisiana, Jackson had a humble upbringing, sometimes performing in front of segregated and integrated crowds.
She stated that she was influenced by Bessie Smith, one of the best female blues singers of all time. Jackson spearheaded the Gospel Blues movement in black churches during the 20th century, thanks to this influence.
She worked hard as a youngster but eventually found success, receiving national attention for her solo album, Move On Up A Little Higher, in 1947. It sold two million copies and was #1 on the Billboard charts.
She was the first gospel artist to tour Europe, and she has sold over 22 million albums. Jackson is known as the “Mother Of The Golden Age Of Gospel.”
2. Tamela Mann
Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Tamela Mann was an American gospel singer, as well as an actress, songwriter, and businesswoman.
She started singing in church choirs when she was around 12 years old, and her family had a strong Christian upbringing.
Mann began her professional career as a singer in Kirk Franklin and the Family in 1993. She is also an actress and has written and performed many songs for various plays and movies that she starred in.
Mann decided to pursue her solo career in 2005 when her first studio album debuted. The RIAA certified her third studio album, Best Days, as Gold.
The lead single “Take Me to the King” was immensely successful, and she was nominated for a Grammy award for the Best Gospel/Contemporary Christian Music Performance.
3. CeCe Winans
Priscilla Marie Winans Love, also known as CeCe Winans, is a decorated American gospel singer and songwriter born in Detroit, Michigan.
She has been singing all of her life, having sung her first solo at the tender age of eight in her church choir.
Winans previously sang with her older brother BeBe Winans until 1999, when she released her first solo record, Alabaster Box, which sold over a million copies. She rose to fame since then, releasing several popular singles beyond the gospel genre, including “Well Alright” and “Slippin.”
Winans has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and all of her solo albums are bestsellers in the Christian music genre.
Throughout her two-decade career as a solo artist, she has received many awards and accolades, the latest being three Grammy awards in 2022 for Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance and Best Gospel Album for Believe It, and Best Gospel Performance/Song for “Never Lost.”
4. Vickie Winans
Viviane Bowman, also known as Vickie Winans, was born in Southfield, Michigan.
She grew up singing in church, and she joined a group called the International Sounds of Deliverance as a teenager.
She eventually married Marvin Winans, brother of famous gospel singer CeCe Winans. This marriage led her to an opportunity to join their music group Winans Part II.
The group didn’t find much success, but Winans released a solo album, Be Encouraged, in 1987, which was a hit. It garnered a Grammy nomination and a Stellar Award for album of the year.
Since then, she has released multiple albums, receiving five more Stellar awards and Grammy nominations. Some of her best hits were “Long As I Got King Jesus,” “It’s Alright,” and “Don’t Throw Your Life Away.”
5. Shirley Caesar
The “First Lady of Gospel Music” Shirley Caesar was born in Durham, North Carolina.
Caesar’s 60-year career began at age 19 in 1958 when she joined The Caravans music group, which was among the most popular groups at the time.
Eight years later, since 1991, Caesar has sold a little over 2.2 million albums, having released more than 40 albums during her extensive career. Some of her most notable hits are “No Charge,” “Hold My Mule,” and “God Will Make A Way.”
She has been a participant in three gospel musicals and won 14 Stellar Awards and 12 Grammys. She was also honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, one of the highest accolades in music.
She is undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in the industry.
6. Aretha Franklin
The “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin is among the best-selling music artists in history.
She has been in ninth place twice out of 100 other contenders for her contributions to gospel, soul, jazz, R&B, and pop music.
Born in Detroit, Michigan, Franklin started her music career when she was 18 years old. In 1966, she found commercial success when she signed with Atlantic Records and recorded her hit singles, “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” “Respect,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”
Some of her most notable gospel songs include “O Happy Day,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Wholy Holy.”
Franklin has recorded 112 top-charted singles, a Lifetime Achievement Award, 18 Grammy Awards, and countless other honors and awards to her name. She has sold over 75 million records, and she was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
7. Dionne Warwick
Considered one of the greatest artists of all time, Dionne Warwick grew up in Orange County, New Jersey, into a family where many members were part of a gospel singing group.
You can say that singing has always been a part of her life. She actually began her professional singing career as part of a family gospel group, the Drinkard Singers, in the 1950s.
It was in 1962 that her potential as a solo artist was taken notice of, and she began her solo career. This leap proved to be a good move because from 1955 to 1999, she was part of the top 40 biggest hitmakers in the United States.
Fifty-six of her top singles made the Hot 100 list, with 12 singles making it to the top ten. Some of her most notable songs include “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Keepin’ My Head Above Water,” and “Walk On By.”
As of this writing, Warwick is in 74th place on the “Greatest Artists of All Time” list. Having sold more than 100 million records, she has more awards than we have space to list.
8. Yolanda Adams
Hailing from Houston, Texas, Yolanda Adams made sure that you couldn’t tell the story of Modern Gospel without mentioning her name.
She was named the “Gospel Artist Of The Decade” from 2000 to 2010 by Billboard, which was inspired by the high sales of her top-selling album, Mountain High…Valley Low.
Adams is an inductee of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and she is also one of the most popular and best-selling gospel singers ever. She has sold more than ten million albums, gone multi-platinum, and had five of her albums score #1 on the Billboard charts.
Some of her most notable singles are “The Battle Is the Lord’s,” “Open My Heart,” “I Believe I Can Fly,” and “Be Still.”
Adams also has five BET Awards, four Grammy Awards, sixteen Stellar Awards, four Dove Awards, and more.
9. Karen Clark Sheard
Grammy Award-winning gospel singer Karen Clark Sheard is another Detroit native who is well-loved in the music industry.
She began her singing career as part of the gospel group, The Clark Sisters. With the group, she recorded 17 albums, and one of its singles where Sheard is the lead singer “Speak Lord” is among their greatest hits.
In the mid-1990s, Sheard explored a solo career, releasing five successful albums. Out of all that she recorded, however, her album Finally Karen is the most lauded and most popular, cementing her place as one of the greats in gospel music.
The album earned her a Soul Train Lady of Soul Award for “Best Female Vocalist” and a Grammy nomination. Some of her other songs also hit the charts, including “Favor,” “Prayed Up,” and “My Words Have Power.”
Sheard is also the mother of Kierra Sheard, another gospel artist featured on this list.
10. Kierra Sheard
The daughter of iconic gospel singer Karen Sheard, Kierra Sheard began performing at the tender age of nine in Detroit, under the tutelage of her mom.
Her early introduction to recording was more of a function of being Karen’s protegée, where she would be featured on her mother’s albums and provide background singing.
It was in 2004 when Sheard paved her own way in the gospel music industry, releasing her debut album, I Owe You. She instantly became the first new artist in the history of the Billboard charts to debut at #1 on the Top Gospel Albums.
Sheard would go on to release five more albums, all giving with top-charting songs such as “Something Has To Break,” “It Keeps Happening,” and “Praise Him Now.”
11. Della Reese
Delloreese Patricia Early is professionally known as Della Reese. Reese was a gospel and American jazz singer, ordained minister, and actress whose career success lasted the better part of seven decades.
A notable part of her early beginnings is that she was discovered by the iconic gospel singer Mahalia Jackson when she was only 13. She toured with Jackson’s group during her teenage years, jumpstarting her career.
Although her roots were in gospel music, she won a contest, giving her a week to sing in Detroit’s well-known Flame Show Bar, which would eventually lead to her signing a recording contract with Jubilee Records.
She has been a trailblazer for black female gospel artists from her hit RCA single, “Don’t You Know?” selling over a whopping one million copies in 1959.
12. Koryn Hawthorne
“The Voice” placer Koryn Hawthorne is a gospel and contemporary Christian music singer from Abbeville, Louisiana.
Hawthorne was first noticed on a worldwide stage when she entered The Voice at the age of 17. After placing fourth in the competition, she signed with RCA Inspiration and soon released her debut album, Unstoppable, in 2018.
Although she is new to the music scene, her debut album would earn her several awards nominations, which include two Grammys.
In 2020, Hawthorne released “Pray,” the lead single from her second album, I Am, which reached #1 on Billboard’s Gospel Digital Song Sales chart.
13. Erica Campbell
Christian R&B singer Erica Atkins-Campbell began her music career in 1998 as part of the gospel duo Mary Mary, alongside her sister Tina.
The sister group was quite successful in the gospel music scene, releasing notable hits such as “Shackles (Praise You),” “Dance, Dance, Dance,” and “In the Morning.”
Campbell soon went on to have a solo career in 2013, and she released her first studio album, Help, a year later. Help proved to be quite as successful as her former career, winning her a Grammy Award for Best Gospel Album.
She continues to make music with her record producer husband, Warryn Campbell, until today.
14. Tasha Cobbs
Considered one of the best rising gospel singers of her time, Tasha Cobbs began her solo career in 2010 with her independent and self-released album, Smile.
The album eventually captured the attention of EMI Gospel, and she was signed to their label not soon after. In 2013, Cobbs released her first extended play (EP) Grace, which met moderate success reaching #61 on the Billboard charts.
The following year, she won a Grammy Award for Best Gospel/Contemporary Christian Music Performance, and then a Dove Award for Gospel Artist of the Year in 2015.
As of this writing, Cobbs is focusing on her pastoral career alongside her husband, Kenneth Leonard, the founder of The Purpose Place Church.
15. Dorinda Clark Cole
The “Rose of Gospel Music” Dorinda Clark Cole is most renowned for being a member of The Clark Sisters, a gospel group consisting of Dorinda and her sisters.
As a group, they achieved much success, winning two Grammy Awards and releasing notable gospel hits such as “Is My Living In Vain,” “Blessed and Highly Favored,” and “His Love.”
She eventually ventured into a solo career in 2002, releasing her self-titled debut album, which featured the hit song “I’m Coming Out.” The album was also an instant success, winning her a Soul Train Lady of Soul Award and two Stellar Awards.
She released another successful album two years later, The Rose of Gospel, which was the origin of her moniker the “Rose of Gospel Music.”
Aside from her musical talents, Cole also leads a successful career as an evangelist and a TV show host.
Final Thoughts On Our List Of Notable Female Gospel Singers
Gospel music has evolved over the years, and though generally deemed as Christian music, it can vary between cultures.
It has become a conglomeration of multiple musical styles, including jazz, blues, R&B, and rock and roll.
Take a chance on these artists, as their music will undoubtedly inspire present and future generations.