Black male music artists caused a shift in American music in the 1920s. Before that, during the dark period when slavery was active, African Americans brought their melodies from their homelands and sang with soul while working in the fields.
After slavery was abolished and the black population became integrated into the American people, their soulful music started leaking into the American sound in the form of jazz, R&B, reggae, rock, funk, hip-hop, Motown, and doo-wop.
And in this post, we’re going to take a look at 28 of the greatest and most famous black male singers of all time.
Related: For more posts like this, check out our list of black singers here.
1. Stevie Wonder
Starting as a child prodigy, Stevie Wonder became one of the most creative musical figures of the 20th century. He was born with retinopathy because of premature birth, which led to blindness after receiving too much oxygen in an incubator.
This blindness did not stop him from achieving amazing success, with very few artists having had as profound an impact on popular music as Stevie Wonder.
Over the course of his more than 50-year career, Wonder has generated an incredible body of work that includes some of the most beloved songs of all time, like “Fingertips,” “Superstition,” and “Isn’t She Lovely.”
He has won 25 Grammy Awards, been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and received countless other honors and accolades. Simply put, Stevie Wonder is one of the most legendary and influential figures in popular music history.
Related: Next, read our list of the greatest and most famous male singers.
Next up, we have Prince, who was one of the most popular and influential musical artists of the late 20th century. He was known for his genre-defying music, flamboyant stage presence, and frequently pushing the boundaries of gender and sexuality.
Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, he released his debut album, For You, in 1978, which reached the top 40 on the Billboard 200 chart. He then went on to achieve mainstream success with a string of highly successful albums, including 1999, Purple Rain, and Sign o’ the Times.
Throughout his career, Prince had multiple #1 hits, including “When Doves Cry,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” and “Kiss.” He also won seven Grammy Awards and an Academy Award. Sadly, he died from an accidental drug overdose in April of 2016.
3. James Brown
Known as the Godfather of Soul, James Brown was an icon in funk and soul music, climbing to the top in these genres with his unique vocal and musical style.
He helped to pioneer a new style of music called funk, and his electrifying live performances made him one of the most popular entertainers in the world.
Brown’s career began in the early 1950s when he recorded a series of hit singles for the R&B market. However, it was his work in the 1960s that cemented his reputation as a true innovator with hits like “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, “I Got You (I Feel Good),” and “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”
Brown continued to evolve his sound throughout his career, influencing many artists with his music, as well as his social activism.
4. Marvin Gaye
From his humble beginnings singing in his father’s church in the Moonglows to becoming known as the Prince of Motown and Prince of Soul, Marvin Gaye left a significant imprint on the music industry.
His music career kicked off in a vocal quartet, the Marquees, in the late 1950s. Then he pursued a successful solo career as a singer-songwriter, producing his protest album What’s Going On in 1971.
Being such a hit, he wanted to take more risks musically and politically. He departed from the Motown formula, paving the way and inspiring other artists to strive for uniqueness in their music styles.
His controversy was not only political. After his last tour and struggling with substance abuse and depression, he moved back into his parents’ house. He and his father had a history of violent quarrels, one of which ended in his father shooting and killing him in 1984.
5. Lionel Richie
Starting his career as a founding member of the Commodores, Lionel Richie found success as a solo artist in the R&B industry with his #1 hit single “Truly.”
He worked with other artists such as Michael Jackson, co-writing the famine relief song “We Are the World” in 1985, and Dianna Ross, singing in the duet “Endless Love.”
Aside from these, some of his biggest hits include “Hello”, “All Night Long”, and “Say You, Say Me,” which featured in the film White Nights.
Richie is still active in music in modern times. In 2018, he was named a judge in the reboot season of American Idol.
6. Ray Charles
One of the most legendary and influential figures in American music history, Ray Charles, was nicknamed the Father of Soul. His integration of gospel, pop, R&B, jazz, blues, and country pioneered the genre of soul music, creating a unique sound that captivated audiences around the world.
Born in 1930 in Georgia, he began losing his sight at the age of seven. Despite this setback, he went on to develop his musical skills, playing both piano and other instruments.
In the 1950s, he rose to prominence with a series of hit songs and continued to enjoy success throughout his career with songs like “Unchain My Heart,” “Georgia on My Mind,” and “Hit the Road Jack.”
As you’d expect for someone as great as Charles, he won multiple Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He died in 2004 after suffering from liver failure.
7. Nat King Cole
Born in Alabama in 1919, Nat King Cole‘s smooth and velvety voice and numerous works made him one of the most beloved and successful vocalists of his time.
He was known to blend jazz, pop, and R&B elements into his music, making his songs appealing to a wide audience. Some of his most popular and enduring hits include “Unforgettable,” “Mona Lisa,” “Nature Boy,” and “The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You).”
Music aside, he was the first African American performer to host a television variety show, The Nat King Cole Show, which aired from 1956 to 1957. Despite facing racial discrimination and backlash, he broke barriers and paved the way for future African American artists in the entertainment industry.
Cole’s contributions to music earned him many accolades, including Best Performance by a “Top 40” Artist Grammy. In 2000, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
8. John Legend
A more contemporary artist than those we have just discussed, John Legend captured the world with “Ordinary People” back in 2005. With his soulful voice, he has become one of the most acclaimed and popular artists of his generation.
Over the years, he’s continued delivering memorable songs and albums, but the most notable is Love in the Future, in 2013, which spawned the international hit “All of Me” and received the Record of the Year Soul Train Music Award.
In addition to his solo career, Legend has made significant contributions to soundtracks. His song “Glory” features in the 2014 film Selma, which earned him a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
9. Smokey Robinson
The King of Motown, Smokey Robinson, is credited with 4,000 songs, being second only to Berry Gordy in the sound of Motown.
He had humble beginnings growing up in a rough neighborhood in Michigan and singing in local groups. In the 1950s, he formed the Matadors, who later became the world-famous group the Miracles. In 1960, “Shop Around” became their first big hit and developed quite a following.
Robinson went solo in 1972 and has 37 top 40 hits, including “Tears of a Clown,” “Love Machine,” and “Tracks of My Tears.” He struggled with a drug addiction in the mid-1980s but later credited his recovery from substance abuse to his faith in his autobiography.
10. Sam Cooke
Called the King of Soul, Sam Cooke’s talent doesn’t disappoint. He rose to prominence in the 1950s and 1960s as one of the pioneering artists of soul music.
Cooke possessed a smooth and expressive voice that entranced listeners. His irresistible sound—a beautiful blend of gospel, R&B, and pop—influenced so many during his time and onward.
Some of his most well-known songs, like “A Change Is Gonna Come,” “Wonderful World,” and “You Send Me,” have become classics fans still love.
As an African American artist during the civil rights era, Cooke faced considerable discrimination. Despite this, Cooke’s talent and determination helped him become one of the first African American artists to achieve mainstream success and crossover appeal.
Sadly, Cooke’s life was tragically cut short at the age of 33. He was fatally shot under controversial circumstances in December 1964. His untimely death was a significant loss to the music world and left fans mourning the loss of a remarkable talent.
11. Chuck Berry
Up next is the Father of Rock and Roll, Chuck Berry, whose music embodied the energy, rebellion, and vitality of the emerging genre in the 1950s. His songs, such as “Johnny B. Goode,” “Maybellene,” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” became hits of a generation and laid the foundation for rock and roll’s future success.
Berry’s guitar playing was characterized by his signature “duck walk” and his innovative use of double-string bends and rapid guitar solos. His guitar style influenced countless musicians who followed in his footsteps, including the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and Jimi Hendrix.
While Berry achieved significant success as a musician, he faced his share of challenges and setbacks. As with many African American artists of the time, he encountered racial discrimination. Nevertheless, with his works, he helped break down those barriers and paved the way for future generations of musicians.
12. Little Richard
Richard Wayne Penniman, best known as Little Richard, widely regarded as one of the pioneers of rock and roll, is known for his raspy vocals and flamboyant style. Blending elements of rhythm and blues, gospel, and boogie-woogie, he created a sound that would influence generations of musicians.
In the 1950s, Little Richard achieved significant success with the song “Tutti Frutti” in 1955, becoming a crossover hit. He followed this up with several more high-charting songs like “Long Tall Sally,” “Lucille,” and “Good Golly, Miss Molly.”
While his success waned in the late 1950s, Little Richard made a comeback in the 1960s and continued to perform and record music throughout his career. He remained an influential figure in the rock and roll community, receiving numerous honors, including induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
13. Al Green
From Forrest City, Arkansas, we have legendary singer-songwriter and record producer Al Green. Since his start in 1967, Green became one of the most influential artists in the realms of soul and rhythm and blues music.
In the 1970s, Green enjoyed a string of hits that cemented his status as a soul music icon. Songs like “Let’s Stay Together,” “You Ought to Be with Me,” and “Tired of Being Alone” became timeless classics that continue to be beloved by fans of all generations.
Despite his immense success, Green experienced a personal and spiritual transformation in the mid-1970s. He became ordained as a pastor and dedicated himself to gospel music and preaching. While his musical output shifted towards gospel, he remained a highly respected figure in the music industry.
14. Bill Withers
After being on tour in the US Navy, Bill Withers first became interested in singing and songwriting at the age of 17. He moved to Los Angeles, California, after being discharged from the Navy to pursue a career in music.
He started by recording demos before signing with Susses Records label in 1970. His debut album, Just As I Am, was released in 1971, with the hit single “Ain’t No Sunshine,” which reached #3 on R&B radio. He later received a Grammy Award for this song as the Best Rhythm & Blues Song.
In 2006, Withers was the recipient of the ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Heritage Award before his death in 2020 from heart complications.
15. Louis Armstrong
From New Orleans, Louisiana, Louis Armstrong came to prominence in the 1920s as a jazz trumpeter, singer, and bandleader. He is most known for his songs “Hello, Dolly,” “What a Wonderful World,” “Star Dust,” and “La Vie En Rose.”
His unique vocals and daring trumpet style inspired countless musicians. His charismatic stage presence impressed not only the jazz world but all of the popular music at the time.
Heart and kidney problems finally caught up to Armstrong in 1968. They forced him to stop performing. However, he was allowed to perform publicly again in 1970 in Las Vegas. He died just one year later in his sleep.
16. Otis Redding
Known as the King of Soul, Otis Redding was discovered after recording “These Arms of Mine.” His sound, inspired by gospel music, was a blend of soul and rhythm and blues, and his emotional, sincere delivery of lyrics amplified it.
He debuted with the song “These Arms of Mine” in 1962, followed by his first studio album, Pain in My Heart, in 1964. Two years later, Redding released his first #1 hit, “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.”
Redding’s musical career took off after these releases. Sadly, on the way to a concert in 1967, he died tragically when the plane he was in crashed shortly after takeoff.
17. Luther Vandross
Because of his smooth style and voice, Luther Vandross led the charts with romantic ballads. At the start, he was a backup singer for various artists before becoming the lead vocalist for the post-disco group Change.
After separating from Change, Vandross released his first solo album, Never Too Much, in 1981, which sold more than a million copies. Even though he was an R&B phenomenon at the time, it was not until the 1990s that he became an icon in pop.
He won his first Grammy for “Here and Now” in 1991 and two more in 1992 for “Power of Love.” Then in 1997, he won his fourth Grammy for “Your Secret Love.” Later on in his career, Vandross would win four more Grammys, for a total of eight.
18. Michael Jackson
Dubbed the King of Pop, Michael Jackson was one of the most recognized performers ever to live. He was renowned amongst fellow artists and fans alike for his incredible work ethic, impeccable vocal skills, and complex dance routines.
As a child, he was the lead singer in his family’s Motown group, the Jackson 5. He went on to enjoy a very successful solo career, releasing Thriller in 1982, which was one of the best-selling albums in history. His albums Off the Wall and Bad also delivered #1 hits, astonishing the world with his success.
However, his remarkable career was marred by allegations of child molestation. Sadly, the multi-talented musical entertainer died of cardiac arrest due to a deadly combination of prescription medications.
19. Bob Marley
One cannot discuss great black singers without mentioning Bob Marley. This iconic figure in music history is widely recognized as one of the greatest and most influential reggae musicians of all time.
Marley’s musical journey began in the late 1960s as a member of the band The Wailers. He went solo in the 1970s, releasing a series of groundbreaking albums that propelled reggae into the global spotlight.
Albums like Catch a Fire, Burnin’ , and Exodus showcased his extraordinary talent and featured timeless hits such as “No Woman, No Cry,” “Redemption Song,” and “Jamming.”
Marley’s impact on popular culture extends far beyond his music. He became an emblem of the Rastafari movement, embodying its principles of spirituality, peace, and love. His signature look, with his trademark dreadlocks and vibrant stage presence, became a symbol of reggae and Jamaican culture.
Tragically, Marley’s life was cut short when he succumbed to cancer in 1981; he was only 36. However, his legacy lives on through his music, which continues to inspire and uplift generations.
20. Barry White
Fans of romantic soul ballads will be familiar with the deep, velvety voice of Barry White. With his distinctive style and smooth delivery, he became an iconic figure in the realms of R&B, soul, and disco music.
His songs explored themes of love, romance, and sensuality, captivating listeners with their intimate and seductive nature. White’s music became synonymous with romantic encounters and earned him the moniker The Maestro of Love.
In the 1970s, White rose to prominence with hits like “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe,” “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything,” and “Just the Way You Are.”
These chart-topping singles showcased the irresistible charm of his music. White’s songs often incorporated spoken intros or monologues, adding a distinctive touch that became his signature.
Sadly, White passed away on July 4, 2003, at the age of 58. However, his contributions to the music industry and his influence on the genre of soul and R&B remain influential and timeless.
21. Jackie Wilson
Known as Mr. Excitement, Jackie Wilson first joined the group Billy Ward and His Dominoes in 1953. After four years in the group, he branched off to become a solo artist through the 1950s and 1960s and helped pave the way for generations of African Americans artists in the genres of R&B and pop.
His first major hit was “Lonely Teardrops,” which was released in 1958. He had more successful songs later released, including “Night,” “Baby Workout,” and “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.”
Wilson suddenly collapsed on stage in 1975 and spent the rest of his life in a coma, finally passing away in 1984. For his works, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
British singer-songwriter Seal captivated fans with his fusion of R&B, soul, and pop since 1987. He gained widespread recognition with his breakthrough hit single “Crazy” in 1991, which reached the top of the charts in several countries.
One of Seal’s most loved and popular songs is “Kiss from a Rose,” released in 1994 as part of the soundtrack for the film Batman Forever. The song became an international success and earned him multiple Grammy Awards, including Song of the Year and Record of the Year.
Seal’s remarkable career has been adorned with numerous accolades, showcasing his exceptional talent and artistry. Among his many achievements, he proudly holds three coveted Brit Awards, including the esteemed title of Best British Male in 1992.
23. Snoop Dogg
Being discovered by Dr. Dre in the early 1990s, Snoop Dogg has evolved into a West Coast rapper with millions in record sales and a career in acting in movies and TV.
As a young child, he was musically inclined and played piano and sang at his Baptist church. He started rapping in the sixth grade and later came to global fame.
His first solo album, Doggystyle, was released in 1993 and climbed its way to the top of Billboard’s hip-hop and Hot 200 charts. His next album, The Doggfather, which was produced without Dr. Dre, still had great success after its release in 1996.
Aside from music and acting, Snoop Dogg has his own cannabis business called Leafs by Snoop. He is the first A-list celebrity who launched a brand line of cannabis products.
24. R. Kelly
Being acclaimed as the King of R&B, R. Kelly has not always been in the best light in his professional career due to a number of controversies.
The Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter gained notoriety due to the child-pornography charges and being arrested multiple times in 2019 for aggravated criminal sexual abuse and sex trafficking charges.
Purely looking at this music career; however, he had great success on the music charts. His highly sexualized lyrics and gospel-tinged vocals gave him an edge over other rappers at the time, with more top 40 hits than any other male solo artist in the 1990s.
“Yeah!” and “Burn” singer Usher started his music career when he was only 15. He landed a recording contract with LaFace Records, where he released his first album.
He dominated the airwaves for years, with album releases such as Confessions in 2004 and Looking 4 Myself in 2012. Confessions sold more than 1 million copies in its first week of being released.
He has had songs in the number 1 spot on Billboard’s album chart multiple times, like “U Remind Me” and “U Got It Bad,” as well as several People’s Choice and Grammy Awards.
Along with music, Usher is also a film and stage actor. He’s lent his talent as a judge/coach on the popular singing competition series The Voice.
Rapper and singer Drake started his career in the Canadian soap Degrassi: The Next Generation, where he played a wheelchair-bound character by the name of Jimmy Brooks. After seven years, he left the show and became one of the biggest rappers in the world.
In 2007, he released his second mixtape, Comeback Season, which took off with his hit single “Replacement Girl.” His first full studio album came in 2010, titled Thank Me Later. It debuted at #1 on both Canadian and American album charts.
Drake won his first Grammy for the best rap album in 2013 with his second full studio album, Take Care. He’s gone on to win three more Grammys as well as numerous other awards.
27. Curtis Mayfield
Making his first recordings in 1958, Curtis Mayfield was a member of the Impressions, a Chicago Soul/R&B group. He was strictly a backup singer in the group.
After leaving the group in the 1960s, he started his solo career, having critical and commercial success with his third studio album, Super Fly, which was also the soundtrack to the film of the same name.
After almost four decades as a producer, artist, and composer, Mayfield was paralyzed after an on-stage accident. This did not stop him from continuing his craft—he would lie on his back, singing one line at a time. His last recording as a solo artist was in 1996 with New World Order.
28. Chris Brown
Grammy Award-winning Chris Brown came into the music limelight in 2004 with his eponymous debut album. Its single “Run It!” topped the Billboard 100 chart.
He went on to release nine more studio albums, which all ranked within the top 10, while his fourth, fifth, and ninth albums—F.A.M.E., Fortune, and Indigo—reached #1.
And though Brown’s reputation for music-making was gold, he did no always have a good reputation in the spotlight. After assaulting former girlfriend Rihanna, he found his songs being dropped from the radio, and he continued to receive headline attention for brushing with the law.
Summing Up Our List Of Famous Black Male Vocalists
As you can see from the list above, black male singers have had a large impact on the music industry. Many are regarded as the princes and kings of their respective genres, and rightfully so.
From their daring lyrics to innovative music styles, they have produced some of the greatest hits ever and attracted millions of listeners worldwide.
Do you think we missed someone off the list? Let us know, and we’ll add them.