15 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Female Soul Singers

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There’s no doubt that soul music is one of the most powerful and emotional genres of music in the world. From its roots in gospel music to its popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, soul has always been about conveying strong messages and stirring up emotion in listeners.

And while there have been many male soul singers over the years who have achieved legendary status, today, we’re going to be focusing on the ladies.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at 15 of the greatest and most famous female soul singers of all time. Let’s get started.

Related: Check out our list of the most famous soul singers here.

1. Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin was an American singer, civil rights activist, songwriter, civil rights activist, actress, and pianist. She started her career at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan. Her father was the minister there, and she sang gospel. 

When Aretha turned 18, she began to pursue a secular career. She landed a record deal recording for Columbia Records but only achieved modest success. 

She later got signed to Atlantic Records in 1967. Her first commercial success and acclaim came with the release of the hit songs such as “Respect,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Spanish Harlem,” and “Think.” 

These songs helped her gain the title of The Queen of Soul by the end of the 1960s decade. 

Franklin received numerous honors during her career, including 18 Grammy Awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the National Medal of Arts. 

Aretha was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. She died of pancreatic cancer in 2018.

Related: Read our list of the most famous female gospel singers here

2. Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston was an American singer who later got into acting as well. She was one of the world’s best-selling music artists, with 200 million records sold worldwide.

Her crossover appeal on various music charts inspired other African-American female artists to follow in her footsteps.

Before she died from a drug-related accidental drowning in 2012, Whitney released seven studio albums and two soundtrack albums. All of them were certified gold, platinum, multi-platinum, or diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). 

Whitney Houston is the only artist with seven consecutive No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hits. She is tied with Mariah Carey for the most No. 1s by a female artist on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the Nielsen SoundScan era (1992-present).

Related: Check out our list of the best male soul singers here.

3. Diana Ross

Diana Ross is an American singer, record producer, and actress. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Ross rose to fame as the lead singer of the vocal group The Supremes.

They became one of the best-selling groups of all time with their hit singles “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love,” and “Come See About Me.”

As a solo artist, Ross has released hit songs such as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Don’t Stop Believin’,” and “Upside Down.” 

She has also starred in three films; Lady Sings the Blues (1972), Mahogany (1975), and The Wiz (1978).

Ross has received numerous awards throughout her career, including an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, 12 American Music Awards, 25 Billboard Music Awards, 18 Grammy Awards, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center.

4. Roberta Flack

Roberta Flack is an American singer, musician, and songwriter. She started her musical career in the late 1960s with her debut album, First Take (1969). 

The album brought her commercial success, spawning the hit singles “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and “Killing Me Softly with His Song.” 

Flack has gone on to release 19 studio albums, including Quiet Fire (1971), Feel Like Makin’ Love (1975), and Blue Lights in the Basement (1997). Roberta appeared in films such as Roots (1977) and Round Midnight (1986).

Flack has won five Grammy Awards, including Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” in 1973.

5. Etta James

Etta James was an American singer who performed in various genres, including blues, jazz, soul, R&B, and rock ‘n’ roll. Her career started in the 1950s with hits such as “The Wallflower (Roll With Me Henry)” and “At Last.” 

James went on to release a string of successful albums, including At Last! (1961), Tell Mama (1968), and Love Songs (1973). Etta James starred in films such as The Rose (1979) and Cadillac Records (2008). 

James was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. She won four Grammy Awards, including Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for “At Last.”

6. Tina Turner

Tina Turner is an American-born Swiss dancer, actress, and singer-songwriter. Her career has spanned more than 50 years, during which she has won 11 Grammy Awards and sold over 200 million records worldwide, making her one of the best-selling music artists of all time. 

Before recording hit singles both with him and as a solo artist, Turner began her career with Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm. 

Her album Private Dancer (1984) became one of the world’s best-selling albums, selling more than 20 million copies worldwide, and spawned hits such as “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” and “Better Be Good to Me.” 

As a solo artist, Turner has also had success with her albums Foreign Affair (1989), Wildest Dreams (1996), and Twenty Four Seven (1999).

Tina also appeared in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) and Last Action Hero (1993). Turner has been married to German record producer Erwin Bach since 2013.

7. Chaka Khan

8. Chaka Khan is an American singer-songwriter, actress, and activist. She got her start with the funk band Rufus in the 1970s as the lead singer. Together, they recorded hit songs such as “Tell Me Something Good,” “Ain’t Nobody,” and “Sweet Thing.” 

Khan has released hit songs such as “I Feel for You” and “Through the Fire” as a solo artist. Chaka Khan also got to star in a few films, such as The Blues Brothers (1980) and Revival (2018).

Khan has been nominated for 10 Grammy Awards, winning two, and has received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the BET Lifetime Achievement Award.

8. Anita Baker

Anita Baker is an American singer-songwriter. Her career started in the early 1980s, releasing her debut album, The Songstress, in 1983. 

Baker went on to release a string of platinum-selling albums, including Rapture (1986), Giving You the Best That I Got (1988), and Compositions (1990). Her hits include “Sweet Love,” “Giving You the Best That I Got,” and “Body and Soul.” 

Baker has won eight Grammy Awards, including Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, for four consecutive years from 1986 to 1989.

She has been nominated for five American Music Awards, winning two, and has received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

9. Gladys Knight

Gladys Knight is an American actress, singer, and songwriter. She is best known as the lead singer of the Motown group Gladys Knight & the Pips, with whom she recorded hits such as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “If I Were Your Woman,” and “Midnight Train to Georgia.” 

Knight has released hit songs such as “That’s What Friends Are For” and “License to Kill” as a solo artist. She has also starred in The Bodyguard (1992). 

Knight has won seven Grammy Awards, including Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for “That’s What Friends Are For.” She has also been nominated for an Academy Award, a Tony Award, and an Emmy Award.

10. Phyllis Hyman

Phyllis Hyman was an American singer, and songwriter. She started her career back in the 1970s, releasing her debut album, Phyllis Hyman, in 1977. 

Hyman went on to release eight studio albums, including Somewhere in My Lifetime (1978), You Know How to Love Me (1979), Can’t We Fall in Love Again (1981), and Living All Alone (1987). 

Her hits include “The Answer Is No,” “Don’t Wanna Change the World,” “Old Friend,” and “Living All Alone.” Hyman won a Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1980.

She was nominated for five American Music Awards and four NAACP Image Awards. Hyman died by suicide in 1995.

11. Patti LaBelle

Patti LaBelle is an American singer, songwriter, cook, and actress. She began her career in the 1960s as a member of the girl group Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles. The group released hit songs such as “Lady Marmalade” and “On My Own.” 

LaBelle went on to have a successful solo career, releasing hits such as “If Only You Knew,” “New Attitude,” and “Stir It Up.”

She has also appeared in films such as Unnatural Causes (1986), Santa Baby (2001), and Parker Cane (1990). 

LaBelle has won three Grammy Awards, including Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for “On My Own.” Patti also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the BET Lifetime Achievement Award.

12. Sade

Sade is a Nigerian-born British singer, songwriter, and actress. She began her career in the 1980s as the lead singer of the band Sade, with whom she released hit songs such as “Your Love Is King,” “Smooth Operator,” and “The Sweetest Taboo.” 

As a solo artist, Sade has released hits such as “No Ordinary Love,” “By Your Side,” and “Soldier of Love.” She appeared in films such as The Mighty Quinn (1989), Mousehunt (1997), and Passion of Mind (2000).

Sade has won four Grammy Awards and has been nominated for an Academy Award.

13. Jill Scott

Jill Scott is an American singer, songwriter, and actress. She began her career in the early 2000s with her debut album, Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1 (2000). 

The album was a major success, spawning the hit single “A Long Walk.” Scott has gone on to release five studio albums, including Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Vol. 2 (2004), The Light of the Sun (2011), and Woman (2015). 

Jill has also starred in well-known movies such as Why Did I Get Married? (2007), Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion (2006), and Baggage Claim (2013). Scott has won three Grammy Awards, including Best R&B Album for The Light of the Sun.

14. Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys is an American singer, songwriter, and actress. She rose to prominence in the early 2000s with her debut album, Songs in A Minor (2001). The album catapulted her success, spawning “Fallin'” and “A Woman’s Worth” hit singles. 

Keys has gone on to release six studio albums, including The Diary of Alicia Keys (2003), As I Am (2007), and Girl on Fire (2012). Alicia has also starred in films such as Smokin’ Aces (2006) and The Nanny Diaries (2007). 

Keys has won 15 Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist in 2002 and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for “Fallin'” in 2002.

15. Ledisi

Ledisi is an American singer, songwriter, and actress. She began her career in the early 2000s with her debut album, Soulful (2000). The album was a critical and commercial success, spawning the hit single “Alright.”

Ledisi has gone on to release seven studio albums, including Lost & Found (2007), Turn Me Loose (2009), and Pieces of Me (2014). Ledisi has starred in Black Nativity (2013) and All About the Benjamins (2002).

She has won two Grammy Awards, including Best R&B Album for Turn Me Loose.

Summing Up Our List Of Famous Women Soul Vocalists

That wraps up our list of women soul singers, we hope you enjoyed reading it!

But, these are only a few of the great female soul singers out there. Many more have made significant contributions to the genre and have carved out successful careers for themselves.

These women have shown that soul music is not just for women to enjoy but for everyone. 

Who did we miss off our list? Let us know, and we’ll add them in!

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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.