15 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Female Singers Of The 1980s

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Written by Laura Macmillan
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When we think of the 1980s, a few things come to mind – big hair, brightly colored clothes, and of course, some of the greatest music ever made. And when it comes to female singers from that decade, there are so many iconic and legendary figures to choose from. But who are the absolute best of the best?

In this post, we’re going to take a look at 15 of the greatest and most famous female singers of the 80s.

1. Whitney Houston

Hailing from Beverly Hill, California, first, we have 80s legend Whitney Houston who was a top-selling R&B female music artist of the 20th century.

At the tender age of 19, Houston started her professional solo career, and by the mid-80s, she would later release her two best-selling albums of all time: Whitney Houston in 1985 and Whitney, released in 1987. 

Houston is regarded as the world’s greatest female pop vocalist for her one-of-a-kind voice. She has the accolades to back this claim eight, including Grammy Awards, two Emmy Awards (including Album and Record of the year wins), 16 Billboard Music Awards, 14 World Music Awards, and 22 American Music Awards.

She sadly died in 2012 after drowning due to suspected drug abuse but remains one of the best-selling artists of all time with over 200 million records sold.

2. Diana Ross

Next up we have Motown singer Diana Ross was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. When she was 15, Ross joined “The Primettes,” which officially began her music career.

In 1959, she became a part of The Supremes, an iconic female group widely regarded as one of the best in its category.

By 1975, Ross decided to go solo and release her studio album, Diana Ross, which had two classics, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Reach Out and Touch.”

She has won one Golden Globe, one Grammy, and eight American music awards and was named the “Female Entertainer of the Century” by Billboard magazine.

3. Madonna

There are few people who are known by lonely one name but Madonna is one of them. Born Madonna Louise Ciccone in Bay City, Michigan she began her promising career in 1983 as she’d produce her debut album, Madonna.

That iconic album had memorable hits such as “Material Girl,” “Like a Prayer,” “La Isla Bonita,” “Hung Up,” and “Like a Virgin.” 

Since then, she has sold over 300 million records globally, allowing her to lay claim to the title of the best-selling female artist of all time.

Many regarded her as the true “Queen of Pop,” and through her music, she has impacted and has forever changed pop music with her musical contributions.

She has won an astonishing seven Grammy Awards, two Golden Globes, and a host of other awards.

4. Grace Jones

Grace Jones is a model, actress, songwriter, and singer from British Jamaica. She has a unique style that meshed with the cross-dressing and androgynous movements which were prevalent in the 1980s. 

Furthermore, her unique music would put her in a category of her own as one of few extraordinary artists in the 80s.

In 1981, after trying her hand at new wave music, she would make one of her best albums, Nightclubbing. It won album of the year for the British crowd.

She was nominated for a Grammy in 1984, and she has many international awards.

5. Tina Turner

Anna Mae Bullock, or Tina Turner, is from Nutbush, Tennessee. Turner went on to have a blossoming career that allowed her to become one of the 80s most impressionable figures.

In 1966 her career began to take off, but she changed her appearance and style around 1983 and never looked back. 

By 1984, Turner released the single “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” and at 44, her classic single topped the Billboard 100.

Since then, she has sold approximately 100 million records, won 12 Grammy Awards, and was on Rolling Stone’s top 100 Greatest Artists and 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.

Related: Our post on other female singers of the 1960s.

6. Olivia Newton-John

Another singer who had a lot of success in the 90s was Olivia Newton-John who was raised in the United Kingdom and is best known for her role as Sandy in the 1978 musical film Grease.

She began her musical career at 14 when she joined an all-girl group with three of her friends, Sol Four. Newton-John would release her debut studio album, If Not for You

The success of this album would lead to her being named Best British Female Vocalist for two years in a row in Record Mirror Magazine.

During the 1980s, Newton-John became a star with her most successful album, Physical which was released in the ’80s having a string of number one hits.

Newton-John has won four Grammys and a slew of other prestigious awards.

7. Kate Bush

Catherine Bush, better known professionally as Kate Bush, has her roots in the United Kingdom.

Bush was introduced to music at a young age because her father was a pianist and her mother was an Irish dancer.

By the age of 16 she made a demo tape with the help of David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, and by the age of 20, she released her debut album, The Kick Inside

Bush would receive tremendous success with the release of her 1980 album Never For Ever, which featured one of her greatest hits to date, “Babooshka.”

Bush has an NME award for the best female singer and Brit Award for a British female solo artist.

8. Cyndi Lauper

Next is Cyndi Anne Stephanie, or Cyndi Lauper, as we know her, who hails from Brooklyn, New York.

Lauper has sold more than 50 million records worldwide, and her hairstyles and clothing have made a mark for years. 

In 1983, she dropped her debut album as a solo act, She’s So Unusual. Lauper found success on the International stage with this album, and her singles “She Bop” and “Time After Time” were a hit. 

Later on that year she sang “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” which is a classic.

Lauper won two Grammys, 21 Billboard awards, and many other awards due to her stellar career.

9. Annie Lennox

Ann (“Annie”) Lennox, hailing from Scotland, is most famous for her association with the Eurythmics and Dave Stewart.

Lennox was well-known for her androgynous appearance, which made her unique during the 80s. 

Throughout the 70s, she enhanced her vocal abilities and learned how to play several musical instruments at the London Royal Academy of Music.

Sweet Dreams was a hit album from Lennox and Stewart in 1983, with the song called “Sweet Dreams” reaching the top of the Hot 100 on the US Billboard. 

Lennox pursued a solo career in 1990 after the group split, and she won the Billboard Century Award in 2002 for being the most original artist of her era and immensely influential. 

Related: More great female singers of the 70s.

10. Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton, from Pittman Center, Tennessee, is one of the greatest female country singers, an incredible songwriter, and an inspiration behind a well-known amusement park in the country, Dollywood.

Given the accolade as one of the best country music artists ever, Parton is and always will be a household name. 

During the 1980s, Parton created three chart-topping hits: “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You,” “9 to 5,” and “Starting Over Again.”

She’s one of only a few female artists to have a number one song on both the Pop and Country chart simultaneously. 

After 52 albums, countless international tours, eleven Grammy Awards, and too many others to name, Parton goes down as one of the best female singers of all time. 

11. Pat Benatar

Patricia Mae Andrzejewski, better known as Pat Benetar, from Brooklyn, New York, has roots in rock music.

She became interested in voice lessons and music theater at the tender age of eight.

She released In the Heat of the Night in 1979, her first studio album.  Even more popular than this was her single, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” selling more than a million copies.

MTV played Benatar’s song “Love is a Battlefield,” further propelling her success.

In 2020, she got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with four Grammys and other notable awards. 

12. Deniece Williams

Deniece Williams has been deemed one of the world’s greatest soul singers.

From humble beginnings in Gary, Indiana, to total success as a solo artist, Williams began singing at local clubs and became a backup singer for Stevie Wonder in 1972. 

In 1984, her album Let’s Hear it For the Boy featured the hit single with the same name, which rose to number one on the Billboard Hot 100. It was also on the soundtrack of the movie Footloose.

Known for having a four-octave range and four Grammy Awards, Williams has been compared to the likes of Mariah Carey. 

13. Chaka Khan

Yvette Marie Stevens, better known as Chaka Khan, or the “Queen of Funk,” has sold more than 70 million copies during her illustrious career.

Her influence has inspired many R&B artists, and she has also become a mentor for artists in other genres. 

She started her career in 1973, and her most popular hits are “Be Bop Medley,” “I Feel for You,” “Higher Love,” and “Through the Fire.”

Khan has ten Grammy Awards and is number 17 on the list of the top 100 greatest women in Rock and Roll history. 

14. Bonnie Tyler

Bonnie Tyler is a Welsh singer born Gaynor Hopkins. Tyler has a very distinct voice, citing Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and the Beatles as her inspiration growing up.

Her first gig in the industry was as a backup vocalist for Bobby Wayne & the Dixies. 

In 1982 she found immense success with Columbia Records, recording one of the all-time best-selling singles, “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

Tyler recorded the song “Holding Out for a Hero” for the soundtrack of the 1984 film, Footloose, and her fame continued to rise during the 80s.

She has been nominated for three Grammys and has received multiple international music awards. 

15. Belinda Carlisle

Belinda Carlisle is from Los Angeles, California, and is one of the best lead vocalists of the 80s, finding success with the Go-Gos. Carlisle formed this music group with a group with friends.

Their album Beauty and the Beat became the first-ever album by an all-women group that played their instruments to become number one on the Billboard. 

The band broke up in 1985, and Carlisle became a solo artist, with “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” and “Circle in the Sand” being some of her most famous singles.

She and the other band members got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2021.

Carlisle has received numerous nominations for prestigious awards such as the Grammy and AMA Awards. 

Summing Up Our List Of Great 1980s Women Singers

Tina Turner by Andy Kobel (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

The 1980s were known for big hair, new wave, punk, rock, and pop culture explosions.

The birth of many iconic artists took place during the 80s, which paved the way for many of the industry’s best afterward.

Without these influential famous female singers of the 1980s, the era, and the genres they sang in simply wouldn’t be the same.

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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.