Most of the times, in our minds, when we think “female singer,” we expect voices in the higher range, say a soprano. However, female vocal types are separated into three—soprano, mezzo-soprano, and alto.
Then there’s the rarest of these, the contralto, which is so low and deep sometimes it’s mistaken for a male voice. This post will pay homage to those contralto and alto ladies who’ve rocked the charts. Read on to learn about 15 of the greatest and most famous female singers with low voices.
We’ll begin with the rare contraltos out there, and probably the most famous one of all time is Cher. Since 1962, she has given her low, smoky tone to genres such as folk, rock, and dance, earning her the nickname Goddess of Pop.
Cher’s soulful voice is so low that her first single, “Ringo, I Love You” (singing as Bonnie Jo Mason) was rejected by labels who thought she was a homosexual male singing the song.
Thankfully, she had her break when she partnered with Sonny Bono, and they performed “I Got You Babe” in 1965. The song has since been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and Cher has continued releasing songs in that uniquely deep, sultry voice of hers.
Related: Up next, see our list of famous female singers here.
2. Toni Braxton
Next up, let’s let Toni Braxton unbreak our hearts with her R&B, soul, pop, and hip-hop blend of music, sung in that dark, heavy low alto voice of hers.
Braxton can sing as deep as D3 and go up three octaves. This is best heard in the songs “Breathe Again,” “He Wasn’t Man Enough,” and “Un-Break My Heart.”
The latter song is considered Braxton’s greatest hit. The multi-Platinum single earned the singer an Adult Contemporary Single of the Year Billboard award and a Best Female Pop Vocal Performance Grammy, among other accolades.
3. Nina Simone
The High Priestess of Soul singer Nina Simone was a classically trained pianist but also well-known for her gospel-fused jazzy classic hits like “Feeling Good” and “I Put a Spell On You.”
Her voice was often described as booming, a contralto that was raspy when hitting high notes. Some might even say androgynous; especially when listening to the songs “New World Coming” and “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life.”
Often the victim of racism, Simone used her voice as an activist in the fight for civil rights. In fact, the 1964 “Mississippi Goddam” was her response to the inequality. For the song’s historical and cultural significance, it has been preserved in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry.
4. Tina Turner
To anyone who has heard, the robust and throaty voice of Tina Turner is decidedly unmistakable. The rocky twang and deep notes she expresses in her music are what makes her the Queen of Rock and Roll.
Listen to her hits “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” and “GoldenEye,” and you’ll see why she earned a spot on this list of low-voiced singers. She can hit those deep tones so well and have the flexibility to sing high notes too.
Turner, now 83, has retired from the music scene, but her legacy is strong and lives on. For her works, she received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Related: Check out our list of other female rockstars like Tina here.
Deep, warm, velvety, soulful—these are some words describing Sade’s iconic sound. Sometimes described as having an airy contralto voice, the Nigerian-born British singer has given us some of the greatest hits of the 1980s and ’90s.
Take, for example, her 1984 “Your Love Is King” and the 1992 “No Ordinary Love.” One could lose themselves in the huskiness of her songs.
Over the years, Sade has had several breaks in her career but has since returned in 2018 to work on film soundtracks, like “Flower of the Universe” for A Wrinkle in Time and “The Big Unknown” for Widows.
6. Tracy Chapman
Our next singer, Tracy Chapman, is known best for her stand-out, emotional hits “Fast Car” and “Give Me One Reason.” A contralto vocalist with an androgynous quality to her voice, Chapman is known for recording folk, blues, rock, pop, and soul music.
Chapman has been playing ukulele and guitar from a young age and began writing songs at eight. She signed to Electra in 1987, and her self-titled debut album came out the following year, earning her critical acclaim.
Since then, she has recorded eight studio albums, sold over 44 million records worldwide, and earned four Grammy Awards, among many other accolades.
Related: To learn more about Tracy, check out our list of lesbian singers here.
7. Annie Lennox
Scottish singer-songwriter Annie Lennox is famous both for her solo musical career as well as for her time in the band the Eurythmics, who gave us hits like “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and “Here Comes the Rain Again.”
When Eurythmics went on hiatus in the early 1990s, Lennox began her solo career. Over the years, she has layered her versatile contralto voice over various genres, including pop, soul, new-wave, synth-pop, and jazz, and released six studio albums.
Lennox’s solo hits include “Walking on Broken Glass,” “Why?” and “No More ‘I Love Yous.’” Her works earned her a spot in the Songwriters and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame.
8. Karen Carpenter
Drummer and singer Karen Carpenter had a rich, deep voice that unfolded on the songs of the duo she formed with her brother, the Carpenters.
Although she had a three-octave range, Karen called the lower end of her voice her “basement,” and she loved to linger there, evident in her best-known songs, including “Rainy Days and Monday,” “We’ve Only Just Begun,” and “Top of the World.”
When her brother took a break from singing, Karen started working on a solo album, but due to various problems and her untimely death in 1983, it wasn’t released until 1996.
9. Amy Winehouse
When Amy Winehouse died in 2011, the world mourned the loss of a talented alto. Hers was a voice that dredged up all the emotional detritus from the bottom of her heart and lifted it to the light.
She was just getting started with two studio albums; however, the singer struggled with addiction. The bulk of her final tour was canceled after she became incapable of remembering lyrics, what city she was in, or the names of her band members.
The documentary Amy chronicles and pays tribute to her life and legacy, and fans will always remember her for her soul, R&B, and jazz-fused hits “You Know I’m No Good,” “Rehab,” and “Back to Black.”
Related: Click here to learn about other pop stars who died at 27.
10. Fiona Apple
The classically trained pianist and singer Fiona Apple was discovered in 1994 when she gave a three-song demo to a friend who babysat for music publicist Kathryn Schenker. The demo was passed to Sony Music executives, who signed her to a recording contract.
Apple’s alto, mezzo-soprano voice has dazzled and devastated with hits like “Criminal,” “Shadowboxer,” and “Shemeika” in the genres of art pop, avant-pop, and alternative.
She has recorded five studio albums from 1996 to 2020, all of which have landed in the top 20 on the US Billboard Top 200.
11. Miley Cyrus
Those of you who are fans of Miley Cyrus must be wondering about the changes in her singing lately. The usual mezzo-soprano singer now has a rather deep, raspy voice.
If you compare Cyrus’s 2013 smash, hit “Wrecking Ball,” and even 2017’s “Malibu” with her latest global chart-topping hit “Flowers,” you’ll notice a striking difference.
Cyrus has stated several reasons for this change, one of which is the trauma she experienced after losing her Malibu home to a wildfire in 2018. The surgery she had in 2019 as well as smoking too much, were factors in the deeper tone of her voice.
Whatever the reason for this new deep, husky sound she has, Miley Cyrus is still the talented singer we all know and love, and she continues to send out amazing music despite these experiences.
Related: Check out our list of other famous Sagittarius singers here.
12. Shania Twain
Similar to Miley Cyrus, Shania Twain started out a mezzo-soprano belting out country hits like “You’re Still the One” and “From This Moment On.”
Since 1993, she’s released chart-topping album after album with songs so memorable that Twain was soon called the Queen of Country Pop.
However, the singer was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2003 to the point she could no longer sing. After this and an open-throat surgery in 2012, her voice changed to a deeper, huskier tone akin to a contralto.
After fully recovering, she jumped back into the limelight. Her latest single, “Waking Up Dreaming” (2022), tells us that low voice or not, Shania Twain is still the one.
There are probably very few people who haven’t twerked their hips to the tunes of Shakira. The Colombian singer-songwriter has been charting songs since the early 1990s.
Described as a coloratura alto, Shakira’s powerfully deep voice is unique in that she can also reach a high range and can perfectly blend melisma and yodeling in her singing.
Listen to her early English-language songs like “Whenever, Wherever,” “Hips Don’t Lie,” and “Underneath Your Clothes,” and you’ll understand the extent of her talent.
14. Norah Jones
If you want to relax at the end of a hard, tiring day, the sweet, low voice of Norah Jones‘s jazz-inspired songs is the perfect thing to listen to wind down.
Her quiet alto is the opposite of the others here, whose songs are often fast and sung at a higher note. Perfect examples are the songs from her debut album in 2002, Come Away with Me, particularly “Don’t Know Why” and the title track.
The year after, the album earned Jones five Grammys, including Best New Artist, Album of the Year, and Best Pop Vocal Album. Jones has since released seven more albums for us to enjoy.
15. Lana Del Rey
And lastly, let us discuss the low, soulful voice of Lana Del Rey. The dream pop singer has a vocal range of three octaves. Most of the time, she sings in the alto range, but every now and then, you’ll sometimes hear her going high to mezzo-soprano.
One song she recorded in 2014, however, hits tones so low you can practically hear the chest vibrations. We mean “Once Upon a Dream,” she sang for Disney’s Maleficent, an eerie, hypnotic siren song we recommend listening to.
Other songs you should check out by Del Rey are “Young and Beautiful” and “Summertime Sadness.” Both are deep with dark themes of tragic romance.
Summing Up Our List Of Low-Voiced Female Singers
Having a low voice doesn’t necessarily mean you sound like a man—though contraltos might sometimes have this trait. Vocal ranges can be high, too, and still keep the low chesty timbre.
These ladies we’ve listed show just that and more. With varied genres, their songs can make us sing, dance, or maybe even lull us to sleep.
However, with so many low-voiced singers out there, we’re bound to have missed some. Let us know who they are, and we’ll add them!