15 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Male Gospel Singers Of All Time

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

Gospel music is both healing and inspirational, and these men on our list have established their names within the gospel industry in their own right and styles. They have overcome difficult situations in their lives while remaining committed to their artistry.

These men are a true inspiration, and they continue to trailblaze their way up to this day. Let’s explore the lives and careers of some of the most famous male gospel singers of our time.

Related: Check out our post on the most famous gospel singers here.

1. Kirk Franklin

The “Reigning King of Urban Gospel” Kirk Franklin led a difficult childhood, being abandoned as a baby by his birth mother. He was raised by his aunt, who encouraged him to develop his musical talents.

At only four years old, he took piano lessons and learned to read and write music, both of which came naturally. Franklin’s exceptional talent earned him a recording contract offer three years later, although his aunt turned down the offer.

It was in 1992 that he got his first big break, forming a religious choir called Kirk Franklin & The Family, along with his close friends. The following year, they released their self-titled debut album.

The album went platinum in sales and took the #1 spot for 42 consecutive weeks on the Billboard Top Gospel Albums chart. The choir would go on to collaborate with big names in other genres, such as Cheryl from Salt-n-Pepa.

After several projects and accomplishments, they eventually disbanded in 2000. A year after their disbandment, Franklin began his solo career and was met with much success. His second album, Hero, was certified Platinum, featuring the #1 hit “Looking For You.”

He went on to record four more successful albums, and also led a prolific career as a TV show host for the gospel competition Sunday’s Best. In 2021, he was inducted into the Black Music & Entertainment Walk of Fame. 

2. Jonathan McReynolds

Award-winning gospel singer Jonathan McReynolds was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, by a single mother. However, he and his mom were very much loved and supported by their church, where both of them were actively involved.

At a young age, he showed much promise in his musical abilities, being able to play multiple instruments. He shared his talents at church, although he has always been too shy to sing.

Little did he know that he would go on to become one of the best gospel singers in the US. In 2012, he released his first single while he was still in college, “No Gray.” The song became an instant chart-topper, and its album Life Music ranked #3 on the Billboard Gospel Albums chart.

Since then, he has released three additional albums and two extended plays (EPs). His third album, Make Room, made quite a splash as it earned him two Grammy nominations and eight Stellar Awards. It also made the #1 spot on the Billboard Gospel charts. 

3. Donnie McClurkin

Dubbed the “Reigning King of Urban Gospel,” Donnie McClurkin began to experience trauma very early on. At eight years old, he witnessed the death of his little brother, who was only two years old at that time. 

He is also a survivor of child sexual abuse, and he lived a turbulent home life following the death of his brother. Things began to look up after McClurkin’s aunt, who sang backup for Andrae Crouch, introduced McClurkin to the legendary gospel singer.

It was then that McClurkin would start his career after Crouch became his mentor. Crouch helped to encourage McClurkin along his journey while also becoming closer to God in the process. 

Eventually, McClurkin released his debut self-titled LP, Donnie McClurkin, in 1996. The album went gold and featured “We Fall Down” and “Stand,” which became instant hits and were played on almost every mainstream radio in the US.

McClurkin would later top the Billboard charts with three of his studio albums. He also earned a Grammy for his 2004 album Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs.

4. Marvin Sapp

Gospel singer and pastor Marvin Sapp grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he started singing gospel very early on.

He began singing at four years old at church, and by the time he was a teen, he was singing with gospel groups. 

Later in 1996, Sapp first began his journey as a professional contemporary gospel singer. It wasn’t until 2007, however, that he rose to fame with his song “Never Would Have Made It,” which was featured on his album Thirsty.

The gospel anthem made it to #14 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, as well as #1 on the Billboard Hot Gospel Songs chart, marking his crossover from gospel to R&B. In 2009, Sapp won seven Gospel Stellar awards for the album Thirsty. It’s currently a bestseller, selling over 700,000 copies.

Sapp also made history with his album Here I Am by becoming the only gospel artist to top the Billboards charts in its five-decade history. 

Sapp’s most recent album Chosen Vessel was released in 2020. His song “Thank You For It All” was later nominated in 2021 for the Top Gospel Award. 

5. Israel Houghton

Contemporary gospel singer Israel Houghton was born to a mixed race couple in 1971. His parents eventually separated because of the societal stigma back then, and his mom later on married a pastor named Henry Houghton, giving him is his current surname.

Growing up, he was hevily influenced with music by his mom, who was a concert pianist. By the time he was six years old, he was already playing drums and piano, and he was involved in the chuch choir too.

He got his start in the gospel industry when he formed his ministry band, New Breed, in 1995. The group was later renamed to Israel & New Breed when they released their debut album two years later, Whisper It Loud.

Their group was quite successul, releasing several albums that always ranked on the Billboard charts. Years later, Houghton would release his solo album in 2009, The Power of One. The following year in 2010, the album received multiple Grammy awards.

His latest projects include Feels Like Home Vol. 1 & 2 released in 2021. He was also notably known for producing Michael Gungor’s bestselling worship album Bigger Than My Imagination.

6. Fred Hammond

Best known for this versatility in music, Fred Hammond first came onto the gospel scene as a bassist in a gospel group called The Winans. He was among six of the original members.

The group later became known as The Commissioned, and eventually, Hammond left to go solo. During this time, he was a part of the Radical for Christ church group.

The group sold millions of copies; however, Hammond made his way back to The Commissioned in 2002. The group recorded a reunion album, and this led Hammond working with big names in R&B, including Kenny Lattimore, Chante Moore, and Sean Combs. 

Known as the “Father Of Urban Gospel,” Hammond was known to mix different types of music styles onto his gospel songs, adding a unique mix. Some of his most notabl songs as “I Will Trust,” “No Weapon,” and “We’re Blessed.”

7. Sam Cooke

Initially born in Mississippi, Sam Cooke moved to Chicago when he was only two years old. It was there that he began singing in the choir at his father’s church.

When he turned six, he began singing gospel in a group with three of his siblings called The Singing Children. He also became a lead singer for another gospel group, Highway QC, during his teens.

In 1950, he would later join a top gospel group called the Soul Stirrers. It was with the group that he established himself as one of the best singers in the gospel industry, belting out hit songs like “Jesus Gave Me Water” and “Peace In the Valley.”

Six years later, Cooke decided to venture outside of the gospel genre. This led to him being dropped from the Soul Stirrers and their own record label altogether.

After that, however, Cooke made quite a name for himself as a solo artist. From 1957 to 1964, Cooke managed to have 30 of his songs reach the top 40 hits list. He also managed to establish his record label and a publishing company during that time.

His top hits include the songs “Cupid,” “Wonderful World,” “You Send Me,” and “Chain Gang.”

Related: Check out our list of famous male soul singers here

8. BeBe Winans

Benjamin Winans, popularly known as BeBe Winans, was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, and comes from the infamous Winans family with whom most are notable gospel singers.

Bebe first became involved in gospel music in 1982 when he and his sister CeCe Winans became a gospel duo.

Years later, in 1997, Winans finally began his journey as a solo artist. During this time he crossed over into R&B and released his self-titled debut album, BeBe Winans. His hit single featured on the album, “I Wanna Be The Only One” made it to the top of the UK Singles Chart the same year. 

This led to Winans working with notable artists like Brian McKnight, Stevie Wonder, and Warryn Campbell, who all had a hand in Winan’s album in 2000, Love & Freedom. Three years later in 2003, BeBe started his record label.

Outside of the music world, Winans had a radio show and starred in “The Color Purple” on Broadway. 

Related: Read more about his sister in our article on famous female gospel singers here.

9. Travis Greene

Gospel singer and pastor Travis Greene was born in Delaware, Texas, and faced tribulations the moment he was born.

Greene was thought to be stillborn, but he was brought back to life and credited this to his parents’ praying. Four years later, he had another brush with death, falling from a four-story building, but was fortunately resuciated.

Greene’s desire to sing gospel was due to what he went through early in life and his home environment. His mother was the choir director and an avid gospel music lover. This led Greene to begin his career in gospel music. 

In 2007, he released his first single, “The More.” Three years later, he launched his first album, Stretching Out, which would become his first Billboard-charting album. In 2015, he would release his second album, Intentional, and it topped the Billboard charts once again, coming in at #3 this time.

He has been nominated several times, but it was only in 2017 that he had landslide wins: a Grammy Award for Top Gospel Song for his single “Made A Way” and seven Stellar Awards — all in a span of one year.

10. William McDowell

Gospel musician William McDowell first began playing piano at the tender age of five.

By the time he was 13, he was already playing the drums and was actively participating in their church music ministry. At 18, he learned to play the organ and was taking the lead during their worships, heralding his future profession as a musician and pastor.

After opening a recording studio in 2003, he would later release his first album in 2009, As We Worship. The album took the #3 spot on the Billboard Gospel Albums charts. 

In 2011, McDowell would top the Billboard charts again with his live recorded album, Arise. Just two years later, he would make the top 30 on the Billboard 200 charts. To date, his most successful work was his 2016 album, Sounds Of Revival, which included hits like “It Is So” and “Life.”

In recent years, McDowell has collaborated with other prominent gospel artists such as Yolanda Adams, Travis Greene, and Nathaniel Bassey.

11. James Cleveland

Nicknamed the “King Of Gospel,” James Cleveland discovered his gift of music very early on. He learned to play piano after creating one, as his parents couldn’t afford to purchase the instrument. Cleveland also sang as a soprano at his church when he was a little boy.

He continued to sing in church until his teenage years, and in doing so, he strained his vocal cords. However, this didn’t hinder his music career but rather made it more distinct, as he became known for his raspy singing voice.

Later in 1950, Cleveland joined a gospel group named The Gospelaires. After the bank broke up Cleveland, he found his musical footing with his hit rendition of “Peace Be Still. 

Cleveland went on to work with gospel starlet Albertina Walker, who also happened to be a childhood friend of Cleveland’s. The two worked together for some time, and in 1977, Albertina’s hit record Please Be Patient With Me went gold thanks to Cleveland’s influence. 

12. Deitrick Haddon

Multitalented gospel artist Deitrick Haddon was introduced to the world of gospel at a young age. His mother and father are both pastors, leading Deitrick to begin preaching at only 11. 

He began his music career as part of a gospel group, Voices Of Unity, in 1995. Together, they earned much success and received numerous awards, including New Artist of the Year and Album of the Year.

In 2002, Haddon went solo and landed on the Billboard charts with his debut album, Lost & Found. It even reached #1 on the Billboard Gospel hits. Haddon went on to help produce albums for other gospel artists and worked with the likes of Mary Mary and Ruben Studdard. 

He topped the Billboard charts yet again in 2012 with his album, Church On The Moon. It came in at #65 on the Billboard 200 and #1 on the Billboard Top Gospel Charts. 

Currently, Haddon is focusing on his career as an actor, as well as a Senior Pastor for the Founders/Senior Pastors of Hill City Church.

13. Hezekiah Walker

Sometimes called the “Hip-Hop Pastor,” Hezekiah Walker grew up in the projects of Brooklyn in a strict household. His parents were very much into religion, disallowing Walker to engage in certain activities like dancing.

Music, however, was a passion for him, and so his journey began. Against his parents’ wishes, Walker started a choir in 1985 called the Love Fellowship Crusade Choir (LFCC). Tragedy struck shortly after and resulted in the loss of his mother.

Walker turned the tragedy into triumph as he channeled the pain into his and LFCC’s hit, “I’ll Make It.” Their first album was released in 1986. Years later, in 1995, Walker and LFCC won a Grammy for their album, Live In Atlanta At Morehouse College.

Currently, the LFCC choir has 200 plus members, when before they only started at 12, and has worked with star-studded gospel names throughout the years. 

14. Tye Tribbett

Tyrone Tribbett, better known by his nickname Tye, was born in New Jersey to a pastor father and a mother who was a choir director at his father’s church.

Before he turned five, Tribbett had already begun playing piano and singing in the choir. Years later, he got his start in the gospel industry after his brother and friends formed a gospel group, Greater Anointing. From there, they performed and won competitions.

It wasn’t until 2010 Tribbett went solo and released his debut album, Fresh. He went on to release his second album in 2013, Greater Than, from which he won two Grammy awards.

He is dubbed as the “Elvis Of Gospel,” as he is known for his energetic and soulful performances and stage presence.

He currently preaches alongside his wife at their Florida church.

15. Walter Hawkins

Consecrated bishop Walter Hawkins was born in Oakland, California, and had seven siblings. It was because of his brother that he got a start in music after he joined their chorale, Northern California State Youth Choir, in 1968.

The group recorded an album with one of the songs, “Oh Happy Day,” garnering attention. Their popularity led them to rename themselves the Edwin Hawkins Singers.

Hawkins later left the group in the ’70s and instead opened the Love Center Church. There, he formed the Love Center Choir, and together, they amassed success.

They recorded an album, Love Alive, which from the ’70s to the ’90s sold well over a million copies. The following album Love Alive lV hit the Billboard charts at No. 1 for 33 weeks.

He led a fairly successful career for five decades before his untimely death in 2010 due to pancreatic cancer. He was 61 years old.

Wrapping Up Our List Of Best Male Gospel Music Artists

Gospel music has left an indelible mark on the music industry, and these artists on our list have made their contributions in taking the genre to the mainstream media.

They have all added their distinct styles into their craft, from traditional gospel to urban contemporary, pop, and even hip-hop. Truly, gospel music is just as versatile as other music genres, and we’re looking forward to what the future generation of gospel singers will offer.

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.