16 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Male Jazz Singers You Should Know

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

The age of jazz has improved the way we produce, perform, and create music. It originated in the bluesy town of New Orleans, Louisiana – home of the best gumbo and the birthplace of many jazzers. 

In this post, we’ve gathered some of the most famous male jazz singers that have shaped the world of jazz today. From Louis Armstrong to Louis Prima, here are the best of the best. Read on to learn about them all.

Related: For more, see our post on the best jazz singers of all time here.

1. Louis Armstrong

First on our list, and one of the most famous jazz artists of all time, Louis Armstrong was born in the heart of jazz music in New Orleans.

When he began his solo career, audiences realized jazz could be more than just a genre for bands. His style playing the trumpet and the cornet revolutionized how jazz artists played their instruments.

Most remember Armstrong for his legendary scat singing, which revolutionized how we sing. He had a unique way of bending lyrics that audiences loved.

This was a very significant period for audiences to enjoy the same music especially since this was during the same time as American segregation. 

He insisted on playing his tunes for as long as his body could manage. Armstrong died in 1971 after suffering a heart attack in his sleep.

His songs are remembered for the grit and passion his heart and voice delivered.

2. Frank Sinatra

Another hugely famous and successful male jazz singer, Frank Sinatra was born in Jersey to immigrant parents who stressed the value of hard work. Through their advice, he was able to successfully launch a solo career.

In 1946, Frank released his debut album but soon found the music scene a bit cutthroat. But, despite that, he decided to pursue entertainment in a new way by moving to Vegas and joining the Rat Pack.

The group awarded him much success, and he earned many trophies for his exemplary performances. However, Sinatra’s true passion lay within the music.

He began putting out tons of albums, all of which were successful.  He particularly enjoyed live performances and worked haplessly to improve his craft.

In 1988 Sinatra suffered a fatal heart attack and died in his hospital room. Today we remember Sinatra as one of the greatest singers of the 20th century.

3. Nat King Cole

Nat King Cole was born in Alabama, where he played the organ from early years after watching his mother play at church.

He sneaked away from school to watch Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines perform outside clubs as a kid. When he was 15, Cole dropped out of school to become a full-time musician.

In 1941, his trio of jazz players recorded That Ain’t Right and performed at the 1953 Calcavade of Jazz in Chicago.

In 1959, he received a Grammy Award for Best Performance By A Top 40 Artist for Midnight Flyer.

During his career, Cole recorded over 100 songs. All became hits on the pop charts. His trio became known as the model ensemble for small bands in jazz.

Every jazz group to follow would mimic the style and grace of Nat’s trio. Aside from this, he was also the first Black man to host an American television series. 

He died in 1965 after discovering a fatal tumor on his left lung. 

4. Gregory Porter

GregoryPorter was born in California where his music interest was influenced by his mother.

His music career started in Brooklyn where he worked as a chef and a performer. Aside from music, Porter also enjoyed live performances.

He was a member of the original broadway cast of It Ain’t Nothing But The Blues. The play was a hit and received many critical reviews praising his work. 

Because of skin surgeries, Porter’s signature look is a deerstalker cap with added fabric to mask his ears and chin. Porter says this is his signature look and will continue to be for a while longer. 

Today, Gregory Porter is most known for his unique voice and edgy style. He’s recorded many successful albums like Liquid Spirit, which earned him a 2014 Grammy. 

5. Mel Torme

Born in Chicago in1925, MelTorme grew up with a passion for performing. He performed for the first time at just the age of 4 to a hungry audience enjoying steaks. From there, he realized his passion for entertaining. 

He performed for radio programs, played the drums for his elementary school, and wrote his first song at 13. One of his songs became a hit for bandleader Harry James.

In 1943, Mel starred in Frank Sinatra’s movie and grew increasingly popular amongst the American audience. His fame didn’t stop there.

By 1976, he had performed over 200 shows per year and was given the Dutch version of a Grammy. He composed the music for The Christmas Song and co-wrote the lyrics with Bob Wells. 

In 1999, Mel suffered a fatal stroke and was buried in L.A. 

6. Chet Baker

Jazz singer and trumpeter, Chet Baker was born in Oklahoma to two parents with a deep appreciation for music. It’s no wonder Baker received the nickname “prince of cool”. 

His music career started in the army where he joined their band and played throughout Germany.

People loved Baker for his feminine voice and chiseled good looks. They figured he’d be more successful as a movie star, but Baker had a different passion. 

In the 50s, Baker had an addiction to heroin and the party life – many say this is what gave his music such an edge; however, his constant run-ins with the law plummeted his music career. 

He was one of the most recorded artists of his time, mainly due to his drug addiction that meant he needed the money.

In the 70s, Baker’s career surged and critics once again remembered why they loved Chet in the first place.

Sadly, in 1988, Baker fell from his hotel room window to his death.

7. Harry Connick Jr.

HarryConnick Jr. is an American singer, pianist, actor, and TV host who continued to revolutionize the age of jazz.

He sold over 20 million albums worldwide and is ranked in the top-selling male artist category by the Recording Industry Association of America. 

His best-selling album in the U.S is his album When My Heart Finds Christmas which he released in 1993.

When My Heart Finds Christmas
  • Audio CD – Audiobook
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 06/05/2007 (Publication Date) - Legacy Recordings (Publisher)

Since his debut, he’s won 3 Grammy awards and two Emmys. He’s also well-known as an actor from his star performance as Leo Markus from NBC sitcom Will & Grace.

In ‘97, he began touring throughout the U.S and Europe with a full orchestra in tow. Today you can find Harry in several movies including a voiceover he did for the animated movie The Iron Giant. 

8. Ray Charles

RayCharles was an American pianist, singer, songwriter, and composer. During his childhood, Charles was blinded, but this didn’t stop him from pioneering soul music.

Charles was born in Georgia but attended the Florida School for the Death & Blind after slowly losing his vision at the age of 6. He originally learned how to compose music in Braille. 

At the age of 16 while in Chicago, Ray met his best friend Quincy Jones who he would later collaborate with for the rest of his life.

By 1953, Charles landed a deal with Atlantic Records where he celebrated his first hit R&B single, “Mess Around.” 

He integrated many genres including R&B, gospel, pop, and country to create hits like “Unchain My Heart.” 

In 2004, he died in his home from liver disease. 

9. Dean Martin

Dino Paul Crocetti was born in Ohio and began his show career business at the age of 17. Sammy Watkins discovered him and later inspired him to change his name to Dean Martin.

During the 50s he was performing in several entertainment sectors but his passion was singing. He began teaming up with the Rat Pack, which at the time consisted of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford. 

Fans loved to see Martin so much that he later began hosting a top-rated talk show showcasing Dean’s talents called The Dean Martin Show.

Audiences also appreciated his easy-going demeanor and regularly tuned in to his celebrity roasts. 

10. Kurt Elling

Born in Chicago, Kurt Elling discovered his love for jazz as a student at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota. He pursued a career in jazz shortly after. 

He specialized in “scat singing” and improv. He had a longtime collaboration with pianist Laurence Hobgood, where together they led a quartet that toured around the world. 

As time went on, Elling began performing for TV specials and several jazz series. In the late 1990s, he recorded a demo and was signed by Blue Note Records. 

Since the start of his career, Elling has earned over 7 Grammy Awards.

11. Joe Williams

Born in 1918, Joe Williams was an American jazz singer and actor.

He performed with large bands including the Count Basie Orchestra and the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, while also performing for several movie performances. 

Williams had a very successful career as a soloist after leaving the orchestras. He performed at many festivals, in many clubs, and on many TV specials. 

Williams eventually won the Best Jazz Vocal Performance Grammy Award for Nothin’ But The Blues in 1984. 

12. Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett started his career with Columbia Records after leaving the military. He wanted to perfect his skill in jazz and was determined to do so. 

The age of rock halted some of his success, but he never gave up. With passion and grit, Tony Bennet went on to collaborate with several big artists including Lady Gaga.

And using his status, Bennet began advocating for the legalization of drugs following the death of Whitney Houston. 

Tony Bennett is also known for founding the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts

13. Jon Hendricks

Jon was an American jazz lyricist and singer. He is one of the founding fathers of vocalese, a music style that replaces instruments with vocalists.

Many recognize Hendricks as the greatest jazz singer of all time. 

He was born in Ohio but didn’t spend most of his childhood there. He and his siblings moved around a lot which inspired him to get a job at an early age.

As a teenager, he made good money performing with The Swing Buddies. By the end of his career, Hendricks was recognized with an NEA Jazz Master award. 

14. Michael Bublé

MichaelBublé is a Canadian singer, songwriter, and record producer known for his jazz and pop singing.

His jazz hits have been on the UK and US charts many times including his 2009 album Crazy Love which made number one for several weeks. 

He’s won numerous awards including 4 Grammys and several Juno awards. He’s also appeared on national television a couple of times. 

Although still young,Bublé has proven that he will take Jazz to the next level. One of his most successful albums of all time is his 2011 Christmas album that Canadian and American audiences adored.

15. Sammy Davis Jr.

Born in1925, Sammy Davis Jr. was an American jazz singer and comedian.

His music career began when he left the military, becoming an overnight sensation after performing at Circo’s in West Hollywood. 

He performed on many stages with his dad and Will to form a jazz trio. 

Notably one of the most interesting facts about Davis’ career was that he left his left eye in a car accident and then converted to Judaism several years later.

It’s unknown if the two occurrences share an origin, but during his time as a performer, he often worked with religion and politics to understand the oppression between African Americans and Jews. 

16. Louis Prima

Louis Prima was an American singer and trumpeter whose name you probably don’t recognize but whose music you’ve almost certainly heard.

In the 20s he led a band that helped to popularize jazz across the country.  He often combined Italian music into his songs to create a new sound.

At the time, minority music was very white-washed, but Prima never failed to execute his Italian flair in his music. 

Aside from his successful career as a musician, Prima also lent his voice to several animated characters including the orangutan king in The Jungle Book. 

Prima died in ‘78 in his hometown in New Orleans. 

Summing Up Our List Of The Greatest Male Jazz Singers 

As jazz migrated across the country, it also began influencing artists across the world, thus birthing its timeless popularity.

Since the music has been remastered in many ways but has never lost its humble roots. 

Thanks for reading!

Photo of author

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.