31 Of The Greatest And Most Famous R&B Singers 

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

Rhythm and blues, or R&B, is a unique music genre that has influenced the development of other genres and styles. The distinctive nature of R&B lies in its ability to evoke raw emotions through the seamless combination of sensual jazz, soulful blues, and uplifting gospel influences.

While earlier R&B had its roots in African-American music, it has evolved through the years and has since become a global phenomenon. Artists like Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin were among the pioneers of R&B, and more modern artists like Beyoncé and Usher have continued to shape the genre.

In this post, we’ll explore some of the best and most famous R&B singers that have graced the music world with their voices. These icons have enormously impacted the music industry and are worthy of your time and attention. Let’s start!

1. Ray Charles

Dubbed “The Genius, Ray Charles is widely regarded as one of the most influential musicians of all time. He stands among the vanguards of those who pioneered and revolutionized the soul and R&B genres, forever altering the course of popular music.

Born in 1930 in Albany, Georgia, he faced early adversity when he lost his sight, possibly due to glaucoma, at the age of seven. However, his remarkable talent paved the way for a life filled with extraordinary achievements and groundbreaking musical innovations.

His musical prowess was not confined to just R&B but spanned various genres, including gospel, blues, jazz, and country. He infused these diverse elements into his signature soulful sound. Some of his timeless hits include “Georgia On My Mind” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You”

With 18 Grammys under his belt, it’s safe to say that Charles was an extraordinary star. Many of today’s greatest R&B singers credit him as their inspiration and acknowledge his immense impact on their careers.

2. Aretha Franklin

Also known as the “Queen Of Soul,” Aretha Franklin‘s early years in her career in the late 1950s and early 1960s didn’t have much commercial success. However, it was when she joined Atlantic Records in 1966 that her career took off, and her impact on R&B began to flourish.

Her landmark hit “Respect,” originally recorded by Otis Redding, became an anthem for the civil rights and women’s rights movements, and it propelled her to mainstream success.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Aretha Franklin continued to dominate the R&B charts with a string of hits that showcased her exceptional vocal range and emotional depth. Songs like “Chain Of Fools,” “Think,” and “Natural Woman” solidified her status as a symbol of strength and inspiration for many women.

Throughout her remarkable career, Franklin won an astonishing 18 Grammy Awards and became one of the music industry’s most influential figures. Her passing in 2018 was a profound loss to the music world, but her impact endures.

3. Otis Redding

The “King Of Soul,” Otis Redding, grew up in a family with a deep passion for gospel music. His talents were evident from a young age, and he started singing in the church choir and local talent shows.

Redding’s rise to fame began in the early 1960s when he signed with the legendary Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee. His first hit, “These Arms of Mine,” was released in 1962. His distinct voice, marked by its raspy texture and soulful delivery, allowed him to infuse every song with profound emotion.

One of Redding’s most iconic and enduring contributions to R&B was his soul-stirring performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. This performance served as a turning point in his career, catapulting his popularity to a wider audience.

Tragically, Redding’s life was cut short at the peak of his career when his private plane crashed into Lake Monona in Wisconsin. His untimely death cemented his status as a musical legend, and he posthumously received a Grammy Award for “Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay.”

4. Whitney Houston

With her incredible vocal range and technique and a career spanning more than three decades, Whitney Houston is undoubtedly one of the greatest singers of all time. With a family background deeply rooted in R&B, gospel, and pop music, it’s no wonder that Houston became such a force in the music industry.

Nicknamed “The Voice,” Houston’s vocal range spanned over three octaves, allowing her to effortlessly hit both soaring high notes and soulful lows. But more than that, she was a trailblazer in the R&B genre and the music industry as a whole.

She became the first woman to debut at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart, and she made history as the first artist to simultaneously secure the #1 spot on the music charts in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

Her musical legacy speaks for itself, with a number of chart-topping hits like “I Will Always Love You,” “Greatest Love Of All,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” and “How Will I Know.”

5. Sam Cooke

Inspired by the earlier “King Of Soul” Otis Redding, Sam Cooke followed in Redding’s footsteps and earned the same moniker for his distinctive silky smooth voice and commanding stage presence.

His rise to fame began in the late 1950s when Cooke decided to expand his musical horizons beyond gospel and venture into the secular music world. Cooke’s breakthrough in the R&B realm came with his debut single “You Send Me” in 1957. The song was an instant hit, topping both the R&B and pop charts.

One of the remarkable aspects of Cooke’s music was his ability to address serious social issues while maintaining a smooth and uplifting sound. His song “A Change Is Gonna Come,” released in 1964, became an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement.

Tragically, Sam Cooke’s life was cut short when he was fatally shot at the age of 33 on December 11, 1964, under circumstances that remain controversial and mysterious. His untimely death robbed the world of a true musical pioneer, but his legacy continues to live on.

6. Michael Jackson

Renowned as one of the greatest artists ever, Michael Jackson holds an unparalleled position in the history of music as The King of Pop. Fondly nicknamed MJ, he began his career at a young age as a member of the Jackson 5, a Motown group formed with his older siblings.

Performing since the tender age of 5, MJ’s solo career took off when he was 14 with his debut album, Got To Be There. It was not until his fifth album, Off The Wall, released in 1979, that truly launched him into solo stardom. The album was a fusion of R&B, disco, and pop, and it showcased MJ’s incredible vocal range.

While mostly creating songs falling under disco, funk, and pop, MJ’s music often transcends genres. His songs “Billie Jean” and “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” are fan favorites that weave elements of R&B, and the latter song even won the Favorite Soul/R&B Single award.

Sadly, on June 25, 2009, the world lost this iconic figure when MJ passed away at the age of 50. He remains an enduring symbol of talent, creativity, and the power of music to unite people across the globe.

7. Stevie Wonder

A child prodigy who earned a record deal at the age of 11, Stevland Hardaway Judkins earned the nickname “Little Stevie Wonder” for his remarkable talent. His early hits, such as “Fingertips,” showcased his vocal abilities and energetic performances, earning him considerable success during his teenage years.

Stevie Wonder‘s breakthrough came during the late 1960s and early 1970s when he asserted creative control over his music. Albums like Talking Book and Songs In The Key Of Life are considered masterpieces of soul and R&B, incorporating elements of funk, jazz, and gospel.

His tracks “Sir Duke,” “I Wish,” “Higher Ground,” and “Superstition” all topped the charts and won him accolades such as Best Rhythm & Blues Song and Best R&B Vocal Performance.

Despite being blind since infancy, Wonder’s remarkable journey from a child prodigy to an international music icon is a testament to the power of resilience, creativity, and the ability to overcome adversity.

8. James Brown

With a career spanning over five decades, James Brown‘s impact on the development of various music genres, including funk, soul, and R&B, earned him several monikers such as “Mr. Dynamite,” “Godfather Of Soul,” and “Soul Brother No. 1.”

But, his career started off in quite a strange way. In his teenage years, he was sent to juvenile prison for robbery. It was there that he encountered other talented young musicians, including the R&B singer Bobby Byrd, and they formed a gospel quartet together.

In the late 1950s, Brown’s career began to gain momentum. He formed a vocal group called The Famous Flames, and together, they recorded their first hit single, “Please, Please, Please.” The song’s success marked the beginning of Brown’s rise to fame, eventually earning him the title “The Godfather Of Soul.”

As his career flourished, Brown went on to release a remarkable 17 songs that topped the Billboard R&B charts, including “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good).” His contributions to the genre also earned him a spot in the Rhythm & Blues Music Hall Of Fame.

9. Pati LaBelle

The Godmother Of Soul, Patricia Louise Holt, used the stage name Pati LaBelle and was first known as the frontwoman for the all-girl R&B group Pati LaBelle And The Bluebelles. Unknown to many, Pati LaBelle And The Bluebelles were the first to popularize the hit song “Lady Marmalade” in 1974.

In the 1980s, LaBelle released a string of hit tracks, including “Love, Need, and Want You,” “If You Asked Me To,” and “If Only You Knew.” Throughout the decades, she consistently delivered soulful and passionate performances, earning her the nickname “The Godmother Of Soul.”

In addition to her music career, Patti LaBelle has dabbled in acting. She appeared in various television shows and movies, including the film A Soldier’s Story and TV sitcoms Out All Night and A Different World.

As a testament to LaBelle’s enduring impact on the music industry, she has received numerous accolades and honors. This includes several Emmy and Grammy awards, a range of Lifetime Achievement awards, and inductions into the Grammy Hall Of Fame and Hollywood Walk Of Fame.

10. Etta James

Named one of the greatest R&B artists of all time by Billboard in 2015, Etta James‘ stage name was coined by record producer Johnny Otis. Born Jamesetta Hawkins, James’ career took off in 1955 with the hit song “The Wallflower,” topping Billboard‘s Hot Rhythm & Blues Tracks chart.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, she churned out several R&B hits, including “Good Rockin’ Daddy,” “All I Could Do Was Cry,” “I’d Rather Go Blind,” and “At Last,” which is perhaps her most famous and enduring song.

In the 1970s through the 1990s, James’ career saw a resurgence as she continued to captivate new generations of listeners. She earned several Grammy Awards, including one for her 1994 jazz album Mystery Lady, a tribute to the legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday.

Though she sadly passed away in 2012, James leaves an enduring legacy that will forever be cherished. She will always be remembered as an artist who broke barriers and paved the way for future artists, including Diana Ross, Christina Aguilera, and Adele, who cited her as an influence on their music.

11. Marvin Gaye

Next up, we have Marvin Gaye, who began his musical journey at only four years old when he sang in his church’s gospel choir. In the 1960s, he initially gained recognition as a session drummer and vocalist at Motown Records, where he found early success with duet recordings alongside Mary Wells and Kim Weston.

It was during the 1970s that Marvin Gaye’s artistry truly blossomed. His 1971 album What’s Going On showed his ability to tackle societal issues, and the title track of the same name became an anthem for the turbulent times of the era.

Gaye’s romantic ballads also became staples of his repertoire, earning him the nickname “The Prince of Soul.” Hits like “Let’s Get It On” and “Sexual Healing” remain timeless classics, combining the appeal of both R&B and soul.

Tragically, his life was cut short on April 1, 1984, when he was shot and killed by his own father, Marvin Gaye Sr., following an altercation.

12. Diana Ross

Dubbed The Queen Of Motown, Diana Ross first rose to fame as the lead vocalist of The Supremes. They became the most successful female group of the 1960s, earning a string of chart-topping hits like “Baby Love,” “Stop! In the Name Of Love,” and “You Can’t Hurry Love.”

In 1970, Ross pursued a solo career, and her transition was met with enormous success. She released a series of successful albums, including Diana Ross and Everything Is Everything, which featured some of her biggest solo hits like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “I’m Still Waiting.”

Beyond her musical accomplishments, Ross also established herself as a versatile actress. She received a Golden Globe Award for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in the biopic Lady Sings The Blues. The accompanying soundtrack, recorded by Ross, also topped the US Billboard 200 chart.

As a testament to her immense talent, Ross was designated as one of the Five Mighty Pop Divas Of The Sixties, alongside other iconic female vocalists of that era, including Aretha Franklin.

13. Lionel Richie

Renowned for his soulful voice, Lionel Richie began his music career as a saxophonist and vocalist for the funk and soul group Commodores. The band quickly gained popularity in the 1970s with hits like “Easy,” “Three Times a Lady,” and “Brick House.”

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Richie embarked on a solo career that catapulted him to international fame. His self-titled debut album, released in 1982, featured the mega-hits “Truly” and “You Are,” both of which topped the charts.

Aside from his solo career, Richie has collaborated with numerous artists over the years, contributing to the success of songs like “We Are the World” (co-written with Michael Jackson) and “Endless Love” (a duet with Diana Ross).

A true music artist, Richie often wrote his own songs. His 1985 song “Say You, Say Me” won Best Original Song for both the Golden Globe and Academy awards, cementing his status as a gifted songwriter. He also wrote the lyrics for “Endless Love,” which is among the most famous R&B duets of all time.

14. Luther Vandross

Nicknamed the Velvet Voice, Luther Vandross first gained recognition as a backing vocalist in the 1970s, lending his vocals to artists like Diana Ross, Roberta Flack, David Bowie, and Barbra Streisand.

At the beginning of the ’80s, Vandross finally stepped into the spotlight as a solo artist. His debut album, Never Too Much, became an instant success, and the title track (“Never Too Much”) reached #1 on the R&B charts.

Aside from his vocal prowess, Vandross was renowned for his songwriting skills. Diana Ross’s “It’s Hard For Me To Say” and Whitney Houston’s “Who Do You Love” are just some of the songs that showcase his ability to craft emotionally charged lyrics.

One of his signature songs, “Dance With My Father,” was also a piece he penned himself. He drew inspiration from his fond memories of his father, who died when Vandross was only eight. In 2005, Vandross passed away at the age of 54 after suffering a stroke.

15. Tina Turner

Anna Mae Bullock, popularly known as Tina Turner, lived a rough childhood yet found solace in music. She was a choir singer as a young girl and performed alongside her sisters at nightclubs when she got older.

During one of her nightclub performances, she was scouted by musician Ike Turner, who would later on become Tina’s husband. She debuted her stage name Tina in 1960 with her single “A Fool In Love,” which charted at #2 on the Hot R&B Sides chart.

After the success of “A Fool In Love,” the band Ike and Tina Turner Revue was formed. The group achieved their breakthrough hit in 1971 with the cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary,” which earned them a Grammy Award.

However, Tina’s personal life was marked by abuse at the hands of Ike, leading her to leave the marriage and the group in the mid-1970s. Her debut solo album Private Dancer was a turning point in her career. The album’s lead single, “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” topped both the R&B singles and the Billboard Hot 100.

16. Chaka Khan

The Queen Of Funk, Chaka Khan, was the first ever R&B artist who successfully crossed over to rap. Born Yvette Marie Stevens, Khan adopted the African name “Chaka,” which was one of the names given to her by a Yoruba priest, which means “woman of fire.” And indeed, Khan is a woman with a fiery passion for her craft.

Khan’s career began in the early 1970s when she joined the funk band Rufus as their lead vocalist. Her talent and charisma quickly garnered attention, and she soon became the face of the group.

In the late 1970s, Khan embarked on a solo career. Her work showcased her incredible vocal range, blending elements of R&B, funk, soul, and jazz, making her a dominant force in the music scene.

With a career spanning over five decades, Khan has received numerous accolades, including an induction to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame for Musical Excellence Award. Some of her most famous hits to date include “Ain’t Nobody,” “Through The Fire,” “I Feel For You,” and “I’m Every Woman.”

17. Beyoncé

Regarded as Queen Bey, Beyoncé‘s record-breaking 31 top-ten hits on the Billboard Hot 100 have made her an iconic figure worldwide. At the age of eight, she was scouted to audition for an all-girl group, Girl’s Tyme, which would eventually become the R&B group Destiny’s Child.

It was with Destiny’s Child that Beyoncé first gained international fame, with tracks like “Say My Name,” “Independent Woman,” and “Bootylicious.” In the early 2000s, Beyoncé explored solo endeavors, and her debut album’s lead single, “Crazy In Love” (featuring Jay-Z), became a chart-topping hit.

Beyoncé’s artistry and versatility know no bounds. Throughout her career, she has effortlessly crossed various genres, including R&B, pop, hip-hop, and even experimented with elements of rock and country music.

Today, Beyoncé continues to maintain an invincible status across all age brackets. With hits like “Halo,” “Who Run The World (Girls),” and “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” in her discography, it’s not hard to see why she’s the ultimate superstar. 

18. Mariah Carey

The Songbird Supreme Mariah Carey‘s vocal abilities are nothing short of extraordinary. With a five-octave vocal range and a remarkable ability to hit high notes with precision and control, she has been praised by critics and fans alike for her impressive vocal prowess.

Her career began in the late 1980s when she was discovered by Tommy Mottola, the head of Columbia Records. Her self-titled debut album was released in 1990 and became an instant success, yielding four consecutive #1 singles, including “Vision Of Love” and “Love Takes Time.”

Boasting an impressive musical career spanning three decades, Carey has released numerous chart-topping hits, including “Always Be My Baby,” “Hero,” “One Sweet Day,” and “Fantasy.”

Apart from her music, Carey has also ventured into acting. She made her film debut in 1999 in the movie The Bachelor and later starred in Glitter in 2001, which also featured the soundtrack album of the same name.

19. Alicia Keys

Award-winning artist Alicia Keys‘ musical journey began when she started playing the piano at the age of seven. Recognizing her prodigious talent, she was enrolled in the Professional Performing Arts School in Manhattan, where she honed her skills and became classically trained.

Keys’ breakthrough came in the early 2000s when she signed with Clive Davis’ J Records. In 2001, she released her debut studio album, Songs In A Minor. The album was an instant success, catapulting her to stardom and earning her five Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist and Song Of The Year for “Fallin’.”

Her sophomore album, The Diary of Alicia Keys, solidified her position as a prominent R&B and soul artist. The album featured hit singles like “You Don’t Know My Name” and “If I Ain’t Got You.”

She continued to release more hit tracks in the coming years, including “My Boo” (featuring Usher), “Empire State Of Mind” (in collaboration with Jay-Z), “Girl On Fire,” and “Best Of Me.”

20. Janet Jackson 

Born into the legendary Jackson family, Janet Jackson‘s journey in the limelight began at a young age. She appeared on various television shows along with her siblings during the 1970s, particularly on The Jacksons and Good Times.

In 1982, Janet began her music career, and her self-titled album got into the Billboard 200 at #63. The release of her subsequent albums, Control and Rhythm Nation 1814, marked a new era for her. These albums allowed her to break away from her family’s musical legacy and take control of her own artistic direction.

Both albums not only delivered chart-topping hits such as “Control,” “Rhythm Nation,” and “Escapade” but also tackled critical social issues like racial prejudice, domestic violence, and societal inequality.

Janet’s career reached even greater heights in the 1990s with the release of her 1993 album Janet, which included hits like “That’s The Way Love Goes” and “Together Again.” This album showcased her versatility as an artist, blending various genres like R&B, pop, and hip-hop.

21. Aaliyah

The Princess Of R&B, Aaliyah first gained national recognition at age 10 by performing on the TV show Star Search. Her exceptional talent caught the attention of R&B singer R. Kelly, who became her mentor and producer.

At 15, Aaliyah released her debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number, produced by R. Kelly. The album’s singles, including “Back And Forth” and “At Your Best (You Are Love),” achieved significant success on the charts, marking the beginning of Aaliyah’s rise to stardom.

Aaliyah’s collaboration with producer Timbaland and rapper Missy Elliott for her second album was a game-changer for R&B music. They crafted a fresh, futuristic sound that incorporated elements of electronic, hip-hop, and soul, paving the way for a new era in contemporary R&B.

Hits like “If Your Girl Only Knew,” “One in a Million,” and “4-Page Letter” solidified her status as one of the most promising young artists in the industry. Tragically, Aaliyah’s life was cut short in 2001, at the young age of 22, when the plane she was traveling on crashed shortly after takeoff in the Bahamas.

22. Mary J. Blige

Now we go onto the Queen Of R&B and the Queen Of Hip-Hop Soul, Mary J. Blige. In the late 1980s, she recorded a demo in a recording booth at a local mall, catching the attention of Uptown Records’ executive Andre Harrell. This encounter marked the beginning of her music career.

In 1992, at the age of 21, Blige released her debut album, What’s The 411? The album was a massive success, blending hip-hop beats with soulful vocals. The seminal album included hit singles like “Real Love” and “You Remind Me.”

It was her subsequent release, My Life, that was considered her breakthrough album. It topped the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and ranked #7 on the Billboard 200, featuring hit songs like “Mary Jane (All Night Long)” and “You Bring Me Joy.”

Her most popular song to date, “Family Affair,” was released in 2001 and became one of the songs that defined that era. It was Blige’s first and only song that topped the Billboard Hot 100, remaining at #1 for six consecutive weeks.

23. Toni Braxton

Known for her iconic song “Un-Break My Heart,” Toni Braxton grew up in a musically inclined family, where she was exposed to various genres and styles of music from an early age.

Her music career began as part of the music group that she and her sisters created, The Braxtons. They were eventually signed to a record label and released their debut single but didn’t receive commercial success. This, however, paved the way for Braxton’s solo career.

Braxton gained recognition after signing with LaFace Records, a label co-founded by music industry heavyweights LA Reid and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. Her self-titled debut album was released in 1993 and was an instant hit.

Following the tremendous success of her first album, Braxton released her sophomore effort, Secrets. This album featured the iconic hit single “Un-Break My Heart,” which became her signature song and one of the best-selling singles of all time.

24. John Legend

Popularly known as John Legend, John Roger Stephens is a true legend with his soulful voice and masterful piano skills. It was during his time at the University of Pennsylvania that he became heavily involved in the music scene. This was also the period that he adopted the stage name “John Legend.”

In 2004, Legend launched his debut studio album, Get Lifted, which spurred hits like “Ordinary People” and “Used To Love You.” The album was an immense commercial success, even winning the Grammy Award For Best R&B Album.

Legend’s future album releases were also commercially successful, but it was his 2013 studio album, Love In The Future, that boosted his popularity even more. The album featured one of his signature songs, “All Of Me,” which is among the best-selling digital singles. It also peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Aside from his solo ventures, Legend is also known as a songwriter. He has collaborated with many of the biggest names in the music industry, including Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Fergie, Jay Z, and will.i.am.

25. Chris Brown

Considered the King Of R&B in modern times, Chris Brown is often compared to the legendary Michael Jackson due to his charismatic stage presence. As a child, he showcased his dancing and singing talents in local talent shows and church choirs.

Not soon after, his talents were discovered by Hitmission Records, which led to Brown’s voice coaching and adopting the stage name “C. Sizzle.” A high school student at that time, it wasn’t until 2005 that Brown released his self-titled debut album through Jive Records.

His sophomore album Graffiti was heavily inspired by the style of Michael Jackson and Prince, further solidifying his promising career in R&B. His subsequent albums were met with much success, featuring hit tracks like “With You,” “Say Goodbye,” “Under The Influence,” and “Forever.”

Brown is also known for his collaborations with other artists, such as T-Pain, Jordin Sparks, Lil Wayne, Tyga, and Justin Bieber. These songs, such as “Next 2 You,” “No Air,” and “Look At Me Now,” all showcased Brown’s versatility to seamlessly blend his style with different genres and vocal talents.

26. Usher

Mononymously known as Usher, Usher Raymond IV is another artist that’s often referred to as the King Of R&B. His music career began as early as age 10, when he joined the local R&B group NuBeginnings. Three years later, Usher was scouted to perform on the TV show Star Search.

Usher made his debut in 1994 with his eponymous first album, showcasing tracks like “The Many Ways” and “Can You Get Wit It.” At just 15 years old during its release, the album drew some criticism due to its sexually themed lyrics.

In spite of this, Usher’s popularity soared. His second album, My Way, produced several hit singles, including “You Make Me Wanna…” and “Nice & Slow.” The success of My Way established Usher as a leading figure in the contemporary R&B scene.

It was his 2004 album, Confessions, that became a massive commercial success, selling over 10 million copies in the United States alone and earning him several Grammy Awards. Hit singles like “Yeah!” and “Burn” dominated the charts and are still considered some of his most iconic songs.

27. Ne-Yo

Born Shaffer Chimere Smith, Ne-Yo first gained recognition for writing the hit song “Let Me Love You” for R&B singer Mario. This caught the attention of Jay-Z, who was the president of Def Jam Recordings back then.

Coming from a musical family, Ne-Yo joined the R&B group Envy and adopted the stage name Go-Go. After the group disbanded, he began his foray into a songwriting career. His current moniker Ne-Yo was given to him by producer Big D Evans, inspired by the Matrix character Neo.

After penning several hit songs for various artists, including Mario, Mary J. Blige, and Rihanna, Ne-Yo got a record deal. In 2006, his debut album, In My Own Words, featured tracks like “So Sick,” “Sexy Love,” and “Because Of You.”

His subsequent albums were a smashing success as well and earned him several accolades. His successful streak continued for years, with hits like “Closer,” “Miss Independent,” and “Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself).”

28. Monica

Simply known as Monica, Monica Denise Arnold rose to fame in the 1990s with a string of chart-topping hits. But before that, she had her humble beginnings as a gospel choir singer when she was a child.

At only 11, she caught the attention of music industry legend Dallas Austin, who helped her secure a recording contract with Arista Records. Her debut album, Miss Thang, immediately garnered attention, producing three top-ten singles, including the chart-topper “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days).”

Building on her early success, Monica’s second album, The Boy Is Mine, dropped in 1998. The title track, a duet with fellow R&B sensation Brandy, became one of the best-selling singles of all time.

Monica’s impressive career was marked by numerous chart-topping tracks such as “So Gone,” “Everything To Me,” and “The First Night.” Some of her other songs were also staples in the 1990s and early 2000s radio music, such as “For You I Will” and “Angel Of Mine.”

29. R. Kelly

Dubbed the Pied Piper Of R&B, R. Kelly is among the most influential figures in the genre, also earning him the monikers King Of R&B and King Of Pop-Soul.

His professional music career began in 1989 when he formed the R&B group MGM (Musically Gifted Men or Mentally Gifted Men). He gained widespread recognition with his 1993 solo debut album, 12 Play, which featured hits like “Bump N’ Grind” and “Your Body’s Callin’.”

Over the years, R. Kelly released a string of successful albums and songs, including the soundtrack for the film Space Jam, “I Believe I Can Fly,” which won three Grammy Awards.

Apart from his singing and rapping skills, Kelly is also a renowned music producer and songwriter, collaborating with popular artists such as Janet Jackson, Aaliyah, and Michael Jackson. However, Kelly’s musical accomplishments were often overshadowed by his personal controversies, leading him to serve time in prison.

30. The Weeknd

Abel Makkonen Tesfaye first gained attention in 2009 when he anonymously uploaded several songs to YouTube under the username The Weeknd. Not soon after, media outlets like The New York Times began to take notice of The Weeknd’s content.

Despite his rising popularity, he initially chose to remain anonymous. However, after the release of his debut mixtape in 2011, House Of Balloons, he settled with the stage name The Weeknd.

The Weeknd’s career continued to soar with his subsequent releases. But it wasn’t until his 2015 album, Beauty Behind the Madness, that propelled him to international superstardom. The album featured massive hits like “Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills,” earning him multiple Grammy nominations.

His immense talent, unique style, and catchy tunes have earned him numerous accolades, including four Grammys and 20 Billboard Music Awards. Some of his most notable hits include “Starboy,” “Blinding Lights,” and “Earned It.”

31. Brandy

Referred to as the Vocal Bible, Brandy is known for her rich, soulful voice and her ability to effortlessly execute intricate vocal runs and melismatic passages. Born Brandy Rayana Norwood, she started as a backup vocalist for the R&B band Immature.

Brandy’s breakthrough came in the early 1990s when she released her self-titled debut album in 1994. The album was a massive success, producing hit singles like “I Wanna Be Down” and “Baby.”

In 1996, Brandy achieved even greater success with her second album, Never Say Never, which featured collaborations with the likes of Monica and Boyz II Men’s Wanya Morris.

The album’s lead single, “The Boy Is Mine,” a duet with Monica, became one of the best-selling singles of all time, earning them a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group.

Summing Up Our List Of Great R&B Singers

So that ends our extensive list of the greatest and most popular R&B singers of all time!

From Ray Charles to Whitney Houston, down to modern singers like Ne-Yo and The Weekend, each of these artists brought a unique blend of soulful vocals and heartfelt lyrics to the forefront of the R&B landscape.

If there are more R&B artists that we missed, let us know, and we’ll add them in!

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.