19 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Female Singers

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Madonna. Beyoncé. Cher. Sometimes you can be so famous that you only need one name. That’s certainly the case for several female vocalists.

There is no denying that women have made a significant impact on the music industry. From Madonna to Whitney Houston, these singers have achieved massive success and have inspired other women to pursue their dreams.

While there are too many talented female singers to list them all, here are 19 of the greatest and most famous female singers of all time. Let’s get started.

1. Madonna

From the very beginning of her career, Madonna has pushed the boundaries of conventional pop with her songs about sex, religion, and the power of women.

Born Madonna Louise Ciccone in Bay City, Michigan, she became one of the most influential cultural icons of the twentieth century, earning her the name Queen of Pop.

Her debut album, Madonna, was released in 1983 and featured the hits “Holiday” and “Lucky Star.” But her popularity exploded with the release of her second album, Like A Virgin, in 1984. The album’s title track topped the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks and cemented Madonna’s status as a pop icon.

Madonna is arguably not only the most famous female vocalist of all time, but she is certainly also the most successful. Over her career, she has sold over 300 million records, had the most number-one singles of any female artist, and is the highest-grossing solo artist of all time, with over $1.5 billion in revenue from her concert tours.

2. Beyoncé

Born in Houston, Texas, Beyoncé Giselle Knowles had her first taste of fame as the lead singer of the best-selling girl group Destiny’s Child in the late ’90s. 

Influenced by megastars like Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, and Madonna, Beyoncé parlayed her early success into a solo career that would see her become a cultural icon. 

Some of her biggest hits include “Crazy In Love,” “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It),” and “Formation.” These songs have all topped the charts and helped to cement Beyoncé’s place as a world-renowned superstar.

Over the course of her career, Beyoncé has sold more than 200 million records worldwide and has won dozens of Grammys and MTV Music Video Awards, and she shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

3. Cher

Only one recording artist has had a number-one hit in six consecutive decades, and her name is Cher. 

Cherilyn Sarkisian was born in El Centro, California, in 1946. She married Sonny Bono at the age of 18, and they would have a number-one hit in 1965 with their song “I Got You, Babe.” 

But Cher has also enjoyed a long and successful solo career since then. With hits like “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves,” “If I Could Turn Back Time,” and “Believe,” she has sold more than 100 million records and helped inspire generations of female artists, including Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Pink.

Now in her seventh decade, Cher was still performing to sold-out audiences at a residency in Las Vegas before being derailed by the pandemic. 

4. Whitney Houston

Next, we have the legend Whitney Houston, whose powerfully beautiful vocals would earn her the nickname the Voice.

Born in Newark, New Jersey, Houston is the only artist to have had seven consecutive number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100.

Thanks to hits like “Saving All My Love For You” and “I Will Always Love You,” Houston sold over 200 million records and won numerous awards, including six Grammy Awards.

Aside from singing, she had also appeared on the big screen, starring opposite Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard.

Sadly, Houston had struggled with drug addiction leading up to her untimely death. She was found unresponsive in a bathtub at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills on the eve of producer Clive Davis’s pre-Grammy party at the same hotel. 

5. Aretha Franklin

Dubbed the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1942. As a child, she would sing gospel in the church where her father was the minister.

Franklin signed with Atlantic Records in 1966, and from there, she rose to prominence with hit releases such as “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You),” “Respect,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” She would amass 20 number-one R&B singles. 

Franklin would go on to win 18 Grammy Awards and become the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

6. Dolly Parton

Born in Pittman Center, Tennessee, Dolly Parton was one of 12 children and, in her words, was “dirt poor.” However, she rose to become one of the most successful and beloved country music stars of all time, composing over 3,000 songs in her illustrious career.

With hits like “Jolene,” “9-5,” and “I Will Always Love You,” she has also carved out a successful career as an actress, starring in several movies including 1980’s 9 to 5 and The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas

She is also the co-owner of the theme park Dollywood, celebrating her life and music. It is visited by more than three million people annually!

7. Tina Turner

Known as the Queen of Rock and Roll, Tina Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock in Brownsville, Tennessee. She would form a successful duo with Ike Turner, who would become her husband in 1962. 

Turner’s powerful vocals would see her dominate the music charts throughout the 1980s. At the age of 44, she became the oldest female solo artist to have a number-one single. 

Turner was both the first black artist and the first female to be featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. She is considered one of the best-selling recording artists of all time, collecting 12 Grammy Awards on her way to selling over 100 million records worldwide.

Related: Check out our list of great women rock singers here.

8. Taylor Swift

While she is still in her thirties, Taylor Swift has already had a lifetime’s worth of accolades.

Born in West Reading, Pennsylvania, Taylor Alison Swift was named after singer-songwriter James Taylor. To help achieve her musical ambitions, Swift’s family moved to Tennessee when she was 14.

In 2006, Swift’s self-titled debut album was a major success, staying on the Billboard 200 for an unprecedented 157 weeks. Her songwriting abilities have led to eight number-one singles, 11 Grammy Awards, and three Albums of the Year. She was named Artist of the 2010s Decade by the American Music Awards. 

Currently, Swift is still going strong in her career and well on her way to selling over 200 million records worldwide.

9. Britney Spears  

Britney Jean Spears was born in McComb, Mississippi, and began singing in the Baptist church choir as a child. At the age of 15, Spears signed her first record deal. By the time she was 18, she was the Princess of Pop.

She would become the best-selling teenage artist of all time with her first two studio albums, 1999’s Baby One More Time and Oops!… I Did It Again in 2000. Both albums approached 30 million record sales. 

Spears recently won a long-running legal battle to remove her father from a court-imposed conservatorship and has finally gained control of her own business and finances. 

10. Barbra Streisand

A multi-talented singer, actress, and filmmaker, Barbra Streisand belongs to the exclusive EGOT club, having won Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards.

Born Barbara Joan Streisand in New York City, she rose to fame quickly with the release of her eponymous debut album, which won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1963. She would go on to exceed more than 150 million record sales over her career.

Aside from music awards, Streisand won the Academy Award for Best Actress for the critically acclaimed Funny Girl in 1968. She also starred in 1976’s A Star Is Born and became the first woman to win an Oscar for composing Best Original Score.  

11. Janet Jackson

In Gary, Indiana, Janet Jackson was the tenth child born into one of pop music’s most famous families. At a young age, she was introduced to show business. 

Choreography has always been at the forefront of Jackson’s elaborate stage shows, following the lead of her famous brother Michael. Her sexually provocative songs and videos dominated MTV throughout the ’80s and ’90s.

Jackson was involved in one of the more controversial Super Bowl halftimes shows in history. Performing with Justin Timberlake in 2004, Jackson suffered what was labeled a “wardrobe malfunction,” exposing her bare breast to 140 million viewers.

Despite the backslash of the event, this Empress of Pop is considered by Billboard as #7 in its Hot 100 All-Time Top Artists list.

12. Céline Dion

Born in Charlemagne, Quebec, Canada, Céline Dion was the youngest of 14 children. She was often bullied at school for her skinny frame and crooked teeth, but that didn’t stop her from following her dream to sing.

She first came to prominence in the 1980s, when she released a series of French-language albums that were commercially successful in Quebec. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that she emerged as one of the most popular singers in the world, with a series of English-language albums that sold millions of copies.

Her hit “My Heart Will Go On” was used in the film Titanic, which made her a household name.

In recent years, she is still performing and has the highest-grossing concert residency ever at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, cementing her status as one of the most popular entertainers in the world.

13. Ella Fitzgerald

First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald, was one of the great singers who mastered many different styles of music, including jazz, swing, bebop, pop, blues, soul, doo-wop, and rock and roll.

Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Virginia, in 1917 and started out singing on the streets of Harlem. In 1934, at the age of 17, she sang on Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater and won first prize.

She became a civil rights activist, breaking racial barriers with her incredible talent. The Queen of Jazz received many accolades in her career, including fourteen Grammy Awards and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

14. Diana Ross

Born in Detroit, Michigan, Diana Ross grew up in the same neighborhood as Smokey Robinson. 

At 15, she joined a female singing group called Primettes. While in this group, Ross caught the attention of Motown producer Berry Gordy. In 1961, the group later changed their name to The Supremes, and they would become Motown’s most successful act of the 1960s and one of the best-selling girl groups of all time.

After embarking on a solo career in 1970, Ross can boast of being the only female artist to have had number-one singles as a solo artist, in a duet, as a member of a trio, and in an ensemble. 

15. Stevie Nicks

Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Stevie Nicks worked as a waitress while writing songs. When she and her boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham joined Fleetwood Mac in 1975, the band shot to superstardom. A couple of years later, she would have songs on one of the best-selling records of all time, Rumours. The album went Platinum in the US 20 times over.

In 1981, Nicks would embark on a successful solo career. Her first release, Bella Donna, reached #1 on the Billboard 200 and achieved Platinum status. 

Nicks is the first woman to have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice—once as a member of Fleetwood Mac in 1998 and again as a solo artist in 2019.

16. Billie Holiday

Next up we have Billie Holiday. Born Eleanora Fagan in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, she grew up singing jazz and swing in Harlem nightclubs. 

Holiday’s smoky voice and unique tempo made her popular throughout the ’30s and ’40s with some success. Her biggest hit, “God Bless The Child,” sold over 1 million copies. 

However, drug abuse and legal troubles would cut her life short. Holiday died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1959 at the age of 44. In 2021, her latest biographical film, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, was released, exploring the life of the legendary singer.

17. Lady Gaga

Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta—Lady Gaga—is known for her many different personas, flamboyant costumes, and outlandish stunts—who can forget her meat dress at the 2010 MTV Music Awards?

This talented singer exploded on the scene with her debut studio album, The Fame, with the megahits “Just Dance” and “Poker Face.”

Gaga is a tremendously versatile artist, reinventing herself at will. She released the well-received jazz album Cheek To Cheek with Tony Bennett in 2014 and starred in the critically acclaimed film A Star Is Born in 2018 opposite Bradley Cooper. 

Gaga’s song “Shallow” became the number-one single from the film’s soundtrack. It would make her the first woman to ever win an Oscar, Grammy, Golden Globe, and BAFTA Award in the same year. 

18. Janis Joplin

Our penultimate singer, Janis Joplin, was born in Port Arthur, Texas. She moved to San Francisco in the mid-seventies and got immersed in hippie culture. She quickly became popular with her band Big Brother and the Holding Company, and her powerful, bluesy vocals blew people away.

Joplin found fame at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, her first appearance in front of a large crowd, and she also appeared at Woodstock two years later.

Sadly, Joplin’s drug habit caught up to her in 1970 when she died of a heroin overdose, just three weeks after the death of Jimi Hendrix. They would both be immortalized in the “27-Club.”

Her cover of “Me And Bobby McGee” and her second album, Pearl, reached number-one on Billboard, both released posthumously in 1971.

19. Joni Mitchell

And finally, starting out singing in cafés and nightclubs across Canada, Joni Mitchell became one of the most important singer-songwriters in the 1960s and ’70s. 

Born Roberta Joan Anderson in Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada, Mitchell moved to Laurel Canyon outside Los Angeles in 1967, in a peaceful community of artists.

There she would paint and write some of the most hauntingly beautiful yet socially important songs of the times, including “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Woodstock.” 

Mitchell wrote many of her songs on the piano but would play them on the acoustic guitar with her own open tuning technique. Her masterpiece is her 1971 album Blue that Rolling Stone Top 500 Albums (2020) ranked #3 of all time. 

Summing Up Our List Of Famous Female Vocalists

That wraps up our article on famous female vocalists. We hope you enjoyed reading it. However, this list just scratches the surface of amazing women singers, and there are too many to list in one blog post.

So many different genres of music—from jazz, soul, R&B, pop, folk, country, rock and roll, and more—have all produced their own stars. 

Whether their music is inspired by social or political times, a romantic breakup, or intended strictly to get you up and dancing, great female singers of all styles have contributed to shaping musical history. 

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Written by Laura Macmillan
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.