15 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Female Singers Of The 1970s

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Written by Laura Macmillan
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The 1970s was a decade filled with incredible music. From disco to punk rock, there was something for everyone. And while the 70s are often thought of as a male-dominated decade in music, there were also many amazing female singers making their mark on the world.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at the lives and careers of 15 of the greatest and most famous female singers of the 1970s.

1. Aretha Franklin

First, we have Aretha Franklin who was known as the ‘Queen of Soul,’ but her influence was more significant than that.

Her singing, songwriting, and piano-playing abilities make her one of the most recognized female singers of any era.

Her career began singing gospel music in church. Then throughout the late 50s and 60s, her career began to take off. She even sang at the memorial service for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the late 1960s.

She then won the Grammy female R&B performance eight times in a row, from 1968, through 1975. Her 1968 recording of her most celebrated hit “Respect” is one of the most famous songs of all time. 

Throughout the 1970s, she sang popular hit after hit but never strayed too far from her gospel roots, having grown up singing in church choirs. 

Her career spanned five decades and even performing at the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009 and at other democratic party events over the years.

When she passed away at the age of 76 in 2018, pop music star Mary J. Blige eulogized her as a gift from the heavens, inspiring other women to sing. 

2. Stevie Nicks

Next up, we have Stevie Nicks, who was part of the most successful iterations of the band Fleetwood Mac.

In 1975, she and her bandmates released the “Fleetwood Mac” album and followed it up with “Rumours” in 1977.

Both topped the charts, and “Rumours” remained in the number one position for more than thirty weeks, winning a Grammy and an American Music Award.

The band had a number-one hit with the single “Dreams” in 1977 and had nine other top 20 singles in the latter half of the 1970s, helping to cement Nicks as one of best female rock singers of all time.

3. Gladys Knight

Gladys Knight was the featured star of a 1970s rhythm and blues band known as The Pips. She was so distinctive as the lead vocalist that the band is commonly known as Gladys Knight and The Pips despite the formal moniker.

The band released two albums in 1973, both of which made it to the top of the R&B charts and cracked the top ten Billboard 200. 

Of their 31 singles in the 1970s, the band had six top ten hits, and their number one hit “Midnight Train to Georgia” is still performed today. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. 

4. Olivia Newton-John

Another female singer who was popular in 70s was Olivia Newton-John who had five number one hits in her singing career.

She had two number one albums in the 1970s If You Love Me Let Me Know in 1974 and Have You Never Been Mellow in 1975.

Though already a major star as a singer, her fame took on a whole new level when she starred in the musical film, Grease, in 1978. The soundtrack album from that movie is one of the top-selling recorded musical albums of all time.

Two of her duets with the movie’s co-star, John Travolta, are also top-selling singles which lead to her selling more than 100 million records worldwide. 

Later in life, she has been noteworthy for her result as an activist for animal rights, environmentalism, and health awareness. 

5. Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton’s career is perhaps most notable for her country music singing. But, she’s also enjoyed success as a songwriter, author, actress, entrepreneur, author, and activist.

Her song catalog includes more than 3,000 compositions, and she has charted more than 110 singles in her forty-year career. She even has her own record label, and it’s, of course, named Dolly Records. 

Her 44 top ten country albums are a record for any artist, and she’s won countless other awards for her songs. She has won eleven Grammy awards and received fifty nominations.

She also penned one of the most famous songs of all time, Whitney Houston’s recording of “I Will Always Love You” and her song “9-5” is an anthem of the 1970s.

Parton is also an accomplished actress and has starred in at least six films, including the movie adaptation of her song 9-5, Steel Magnolias, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and, Rhinestone. 

6. Barbara Streisand

Barbara Streisand had already risen to prominence as a 1960s actress before the turn of the decade.

She’d also already had a very successful record, The Barbra Streisand Album. It won three Grammys.

Her 1970s hit “The Way We Were,” and a string of other successful releases led to unprecedented fame. And by 1980, she would have sold more albums than all others, except for Elvis Presley and the Beatles.

Her acting and singing resume stretches on through the years, with Broadway success, acting roles, and mega-albums of her own, alongside compilations with the world’s most famous artists. 

7. Joni Mitchell

Canadian female singer Joni Mitchell is another singer who enjoyed a lot of success on the American music scene in the 1970s.

Her career break came in the late 60s after working as a gigging musician and songwriter around Canada and the US.

She won her first Grammy award in 1970 and then went on to win seven more as well as receiving another as a Lifetime Achievement award in the early 2000s, more than twenty years after her 1974 album “Court and Spark” hit the number position on the charts. 

She released 8 albums throughout the 70s with a number of hits and she still performs and writes music to this day.

8. Patti Smith

Patti Smith was a force to be reckoned with in the 1970s. While other acts were adopting the glittering disco ball and synthesized disco sounds, Smith remained a solo performer.

She is best known as a singer and songwriter, but she also displayed a talent for writing both prose and poetry and played her own music as well. 

She never enjoyed the smash-hit success of some other female singers of the era, but she was certainly among the most influential.

Her song “Because the Night” was her highest-achieving single, hitting number thirteen on the charts. In evidence of her influence, it has also been recorded by performers like Bruce Springsteen, 10,000 Maniacs, Tori Amos, and others.

It was also performed by U2, with Smith and Springsteen in 2010 at the 25th anniversary of the grand opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

9. Donna Summer

Donna Summer was known for her contributions to the disco, R&B, soul, and dance music scene as a singer and songwriter.

Her records have sold more than 130 million copies worldwide, and she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

During the disco craze of the 1970s, she had a run of hit albums and singles.  Some of her biggest hits include the disco standard “Hot Stuff” and other influential songs like “Bad Girls,” “No More Tears (Enough is Enough),” and “Macarthur Park.”

Studio albums included “Bad Girls,” which was the number one album on the Billboard charts for a time. She also released five other albums in the 1970s, all of which made it to the top 30 of the Billboard Charts. 

10. Linda Ronstadt

Linda Ronstadt is among the best-selling artists in music history.

In the 1970s alone, she performed on and released eight studio albums. Those albums yielded 27 singles, and her hit single “You’re No Good” reached number one on the Billboard charts. 

Five other singles made it to the top five positions on the charts, and songs like “Simple Dreams,” “Living In The USA,” and “Heart Like A Wheel” all went to the very top, hitting the number one position.

She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 in recognition of her extensive song catalog and award-winning career. She was nominated for 26 Grammy Awards and won ten. 

11. Carly Simon

Carly Simon exploded onto the 1970s music scene right at the beginning of the decade. But, she’d already had some success performing with her sister, Lucy, as The Simon Sisters.

Then with her self-titled debut solo album in 1971, she reached new levels of stardom and fame. The album won Simon a Grammy for Best New Artist. 

Throughout the decade, she had hit albums and singles. Anticipation, her second album, and No Secrets, her third, made her a commercial success and also featured her most famous song, “You’re so Vain.”

She has continued to record, releasing at least fifteen albums, worked on movie soundtracks, and seen some success. Her compilation album, a collection of her hits released in 1975, is a triple-platinum record. 

12. Carole King

Carole King might be most famous to modern audiences for the Broadway musical, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

The show is a collection of her songs and a portrayal of her life story, and both the album and show itself have had a very successful run. 

King began her recording career in 1958, but the 1970s were perhaps her busiest decade. Her album Tapestry was a smash hit, remaining on the charts for six years and featuring “You’ve Got a Friend,” a song that continues to touch audiences today.

King’s career went on to see many more hits, and even her worst-performing record of the 1970s went gold. She remains active as a performer, composer, and singer. 

13. Bonnie Rait

Bonnie Rait is something of a musical pioneer. She was among the first women to be widely recognized for her electric guitar skills, particularly her skills in playing bottleneck slide.

Her initial live performances were in small clubs and cafes, and through some good publicity, she was able to eventually record a record.

It, and other early recording forays, were all critically acclaimed, but she didn’t enjoy commercial success.

Throughout the rest of the decade, Rait recorded multiple albums and continued to hone her craft, eventually seeing major commercial success in the early 1990s.

14. Cher

Cher was a famous performer before the 1970s, having hit number one on the charts for her work with Sonny Bono and their song, “I Got You Babe.”

The song spawned a successful variety show on television, which ran for three years and received an Emmy nomination.

Cher went on to have her own television show from 1975-76. Simultaneously, she continued to pump out solo hits. 

Her career has continued to be successful over the years, with a major resurgence in the early 2000s, and she has even seen some success as an actress. 

15. Diana Ross

And finally, we have singer Diana Ross who had major success as a member of the Supremes, performing in the 1960s.

When she left that group for a solo career in 1969, her success continued. She had a breakout hit with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and recorded many more albums and hit songs as the decade went on. 

The decade also saw her star in Lady Sings the Blues, a biopic of Billie Holiday.

She was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance and helped drive continued acting and singing success for Ross. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. 

Summing Up Our List Of Great Women 1970s Singers

Many of the female artists of the 1970s were pioneers. Together, their accomplishments are a collective milestone in musical arts.

Women, and particularly solo women performers, cracked the mold in the 1970s, and many of the icons we know today stand on the shoulders of the women on this list.

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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.