35 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Female Singers

Written by Laura Macmillan
Last updated

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 31 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. Rihanna

Barbadian singer Rihanna has come a long way since her debut single “Pon de Replay” hit the airwaves. Now she is considered one of the most prominent singers of the 21st century.

Born Robyn Rihanna Fenty, Rihanna was backed by some big names in the music industry such as Evan Rogers, Jay-Z, and Antonio “L.A.” Reid. They have not made a mistake signing Rihanna because now she has sold more than 250 million records worldwide.

With popular hits such as “Umbrella,” “Diamonds,” and “We Found Love,” Rihanna proved why she deserved a spot on our list. Her unique voice and versatile style set her apart from other female artists. And her songs, which span various genres such as pop, R&B, and reggae, continue to resonate with her fans and listeners.

3. Mariah Carey

Being dubbed the “Songbird Supreme” by none other than the Guinness World Records is a huge distinction an artist can ever have. That’s Mariah Carey for you. Her five-octave vocal range, melismatic singing style, and whistle register are things that will be forever associated with her.

Carey became a household name in the 1990s with her self-titled debut album. It contained chart-topping hits like “Love Takes Time” and “Vision of Love.” But this was just her beginning. More successful albums followed, including Emotions, Daydream, and The Emancipation of Mimi.

Throughout her career, Carey sold over 220 million records worldwide. In 2023, Rolling Stone ranked her the fifth greatest singer while Billboard named her the top-charting female solo artist.

Carey is also the recipient of five Grammy Awards, 15 Billboard Music Awards, 12 Guinness World Records, and 10 American Music Awards. She was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the National Recording Registry, and the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame.

4. 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 is well on her way to selling over 200 million records worldwide.

5. 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 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.

6. 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.

7. 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 over 200 million copies worldwide.

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.

8. Adele

The year 2008 was a breakthrough for Adele when her debut album, 19, was released. It spawned the successful hits “Chasing Pavements” and “Make You Feel My Love.” 19, named for her age when she wrote most of the songs, was an international success. It paved the way for Adele to be recognized worldwide.

Born Adele Laurie Blue Adkins, she became known for her powerful and soulful voice. As a songwriter, she penned emotional and heartfelt lyrics, most of which came from personal experiences such as her very first song, “Hometown Glory.”

With over 15 years in the music industry, Adele has sold more than 170 million records. She has released four albums, all of which won her a total of 16 Grammy Awards. She also won 12 Brit Awards, an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Primetime Emmy Award.

9. 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.

10. Katy Perry

At 16, Katy Perry was already a recording artist. But it wasn’t until the release of her 2008 album One of the Boys that she rose to fame.

She became one of the most recognizable artists of her generation, known for her catchy pop anthems and vibrant stage presence, as seen in “I Kissed a Girl,” “Teenage Dream,” “Firework,” “Roar” and many more.

As of this writing, Perry has six albums under her belt, selling over 143 million records worldwide. In addition, Perry has nine number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100.

She is also the recipient of five American Music Awards, four Guinness World Records, a Brit Award, 14 People’s Choice Awards, and a Juno Award.

11. 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 #1 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.

12. Nicki Minaj

Born Onika Tanya Maraj-Petty, Nicki Minaj broke into the music scene with her mixtapes released between 2007 and 2009. But her rise to fame was solidified with the release of her debut album, Pink Friday.

Minaj continued to make waves as her popularity grew, releasing songs that became hits such as “Super Bass,” “Starships,” and “Super Freaky Girl.” These songs solidified her unique style and flow in rapping, accents, and alter egos. In fact, she is dubbed the “Queen of Rap.”

Throughout her career, Minaj sold more than 100 million records, making her one of the best-selling music artists. According to Billboard, she is the greatest female rapper of all time. No surprise there, considering she has 22 top 10 songs, six of which were solo songs.

Additionally, she is the recipient of 10 Grammy nominations, three Guinness World Records, four Billboard Music Awards, and 12 BET Awards, among others. She also made her way into Time’s list of 100 most influential people in the world in 2016.

13. Pink

From an early age, Alecia Beth Moore Hart knew she was going to be a singer. She found an outlet in songwriting to let out her feelings and emotions. At 14, she was already performing in Philadelphia clubs under the name Pink.

Her big break came with her debut album, Can’t Take Me Home, which RIAA certified double platinum for selling two million units in the US alone. One of the singles, “There You Go,” was released months ahead and peaked at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100.

But Pink was just starting. With songs such as “Get the Party Started,” “Just Like a Pill,” and “Raise Your Glass,” Pink became known for her powerful singing abilities and for breaking boundaries.

All in all, she released nine studio albums in more than two decades in the industry. With more than 100 million records sold, she is one of the best-selling music artists.

14. Britney Spears

She was only 15 when Britney 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, Baby One More Time (1999) and Oops!… I Did It Again (2000). Both albums approached 30 million record sales and received various accolades.

Her successful and popular singles include “…Baby One More Time,” which was one of the best-selling singles of all time, “Oops!… I Did It Again,” “Womanizer,” and “I’m a Slave 4 U.”

Throughout her career, Spears released nine albums and sold more than 100 million records worldwide. She had gone through numerous personal and legal challenges, but she remains an influential figure due to her impact on pop music.

15. Shania Twain

Canadian singer-songwriter Shania Twain is one of the most successful female artists in country music, selling over 100 million records worldwide. Her success led to her being dubbed “Queen of Country Pop.” She became known for her powerful vocals and became an icon in the country music genre.

Born Eilleen Regina Twain, she first gained prominence in the mid-1990s with the release of her second album, The Woman in Me. It won her her first Grammy Award and spawned the critically successful single “Any Man of Mine.”

Aside from that, she also released “You’re Still the One,” “From this Moment On,” and “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” which won Twain four Grammy Awards.

16. 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 halftime 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.

17. Cher

Only one recording artist has had a #1 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 #1 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.

18. Gloria Estefan

Cuban-American singer-songwriter Gloria Estefan enjoyed success as the lead singer of Miami Latin Boys (later named Miami Sound Machine). Her fame solidified when she went on a solo career that lasted more than three decades.

Some of her international hits include “Don’t Wanna Lose You,” “Heaven’s What I Feel,” and “Get On Your Feet.” Throughout her career, she released 15 albums and sold more than 100 million records worldwide. This gave her the distinction as one of the best-selling female singers of all time.

With eight Grammy Awards, Estefan broke down barriers and led the way for fellow Latin musicians such as Ricky Martin and Shakira.

19. 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 #1 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.

20. 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. She starred 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!

21. 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 #1 singles as a solo artist, in a duet, as a member of a trio, and in an ensemble.

Throughout her long career, Ross released successful singles including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” and “Endless Love”, a duet with Lionel Richie. With 25 studio albums, compilations, and singles, she sold more than 100 million records worldwide.

22. Shakira

Up next is the “Queen of Latin Music,” Shakira. Born Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll, this Colombian artist is known as one of the most influential Latin artists of all time.

What sets Shakira apart from other music artists is her distinctive voice and the unique combination of Latin, pop, and rock sounds. Her first English language album, Laundry Service, helped Shakira be known in the mainstream North American market. It also established her as the biggest Latin female crossover artist in the world.

Some of her most successful singles include “Underneath Your Clothes,” Hips Don’t Lie,” and “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa).” Thanks to her success, Shakira opened the doors for other Latino singers such as Paulina Rubio, Maluma, and J Balvin.

With 11 studio albums and commercially successful singles, Shakira has sold more than 95 million records worldwide.

23. Alicia Keys

In an industry where female artists are told to lose weight, wear sexy clothes, and have flowing hair, Alicia Keys is a breath of fresh air. She decided to be herself, putting the focus on her piano skills and soulful voice.

Born Alicia Augello Cook, Keys signed with a recording company when she was 15. But it wasn’t until 2001 that her debut single, “Fallin’,” was released to critical acclaim. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 for six consecutive weeks, catapulting Keys to fame. The song won her three Grammy Awards.

In her career, Keys won 15 Grammy Awards, nine Billboard Music Awards, and seven BET Awards. She also received various accolades as a songwriter. Some of her notable hits include “No One,” “If I Ain’t Got You,” and “Empire State of Mind.” Keys is one of the most influential figures in the music industry, selling over 90 million records worldwide.

24. Avril Lavigne

Many female artists have started young, including Canadian singer-songwriter Avril Lavigne. She was only 17 when her debut album, Let Go, was released and propelled her to fame. The songs in this album showed Lavigne’s skate punk persona, earning her the name “Pop-Punk Queen.”

Between Let Go and Love Sux, Lavigne sold over 90 million records worldwide, earning her a spot on our list. Her popular and successful singles include “Complicated,” Sk8er Boi,” and “Girlfriend.” Her music video for “Girlfriend” enabled her to be the first person to reach 100 million views on Youtube.

Lavigne made significant contributions to the development of pop-punk music, with some seeing her as a pioneer for female-driven, punk-influenced pop music in the 2000s. Her success landed her more than a hundred awards and numerous nominations.

25. Reba McEntire

“The Queen of Country,” Reba McEntire, or simply Reba, graces our list. Her career spans several decades and consists of 33 studio albums and numerous hit singles.

Although she began singing at a young age, it wasn’t an easy start for Reba in the music industry. Several of her songs at the beginning of her career failed to chart and bring her success.

That is, until her breakthrough came with the release of her eighth album, My Kind of Country. Two of its songs, “How Blue” and “Somebody Should Leave,” reached the top of the Country Singles chart.

All in all, Reba has sold over 90 million records, solidifying her status as a successful country music artist.

26. Christina Aguilera

Grammy Award-winning Christina Aguilera has sold more than 90 million albums worldwide. She had her career beginnings in the early 1990s when she joined The All-New Mickey Mouse Club alongside Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake.

Her music career took off in 1999 with the release of her debut album, Christina Aguilera. It reached the top spot on the Billboard 200 and brought Aguilera fame. The album spawned the successful singles “Genie in a Bottle,” “What a Girl Wants,” and “I Turn To You.”

What set Aguilera apart from other singers is her powerful and versatile voice. It enabled her to stay in the industry for three decades, where she enjoyed fame and tremendous success.

27. Ariana Grande

Born Ariana Grande-Butera, Grande is considered a successful and influential artist in contemporary popular music. She is a pop icon possessing a four-octave vocal range and whistle register, which brought her acclaim.

With 377 million followers on Instagram alone and with numerous hit singles, it’s easy to see why she is one of the biggest pop stars of our time. She has sold more than 90 million records worldwide from her six studio albums.

Some of the songs that helped establish her career include “Yours Truly,” “Dangerous Woman,” “Thank U, Next,” and “7 Rings.” The fusion of pop, R&B, and hip-hop seem to be the perfect combination that resonated with her fans.

28. Enya

Up next on our list is the Irish singer-songwriter Eithne Pádraigín Ní Bhraonáin. Known as Enya, she is considered the best-selling Irish solo artist.

Enya entered the music scene armed with her ethereal voice and captivating compositions. These were a hit among listeners worldwide. Her self-titled debut album showcased her distinctive musical style, a fusion of folk melodies and classical motifs. Her music is distinctive in that it features a serene and mystical atmosphere.

Arguably her most popular song is “Orinoco Flow,” released in 1988. It opened the doors to a wider audience and gave her a permanent place in music history. Throughout her career, Enya sold more than 75 million records, making her one of the best-selling female artists.

29. 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. Selling more than 75 million records worldwide, she definitely deserves this spot on our list.

30. Carole King

If there’s something we can attribute to Carole King, it’s her soulful voice and excellent songwriting. Born Carol Joan Klein in 1942, she has been active in the music industry for more than six decades.

And with that long career, King has achieved tremendous success. Out of 25 albums, Tapestry is considered one of her most influential. It dominated the top of the charts for 15 consecutive weeks, which was a record for King.

Some of her most successful singles include “It’s Too Late” and “I Feel the Earth Move.” She also penned equally successful songs for various artists, such as “You’ve Got a Friend” (James Taylor), “Where You Lead” (Barbra Streisand), and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” All in all, King sold more than 75 million records worldwide.

31. Ella Fitzgerald

There’s quite no one like the First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald. She is 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. Throughout her career, she sold more than 40 million albums. 

32. 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.

33. 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.

34. 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.

35. 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.

Photo of author

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.