Opinion: Top 10 female vocalists of all time

This post has been saved in my drafts for a few months now, but the passing of the talented Etta James has prompted me to finally finish and post it.

There are ballads, there are songs, and there are voices. The voices that I’ve selected here are truly enchanting and full of not only talent, but zest. These are women who are (or were) completely devoted to their passion, and there’s more than just a pretty voice that echoes through when you hear them. 

Disclaimer: This list is limited to the genre of popular music and consists only of English-speaking chanteuses. It is also a personal selection. 

10. Celine Dion

She’s been criticized for not having enough involvement in the production component of her musicand she’s been parodied and impersonated countless times. But love her or hate her, she’s got talent.

Signature song: ‘My Heart Will Go On’
Voice: Nasal
Best decade: The 1990s saw Celine’s rise to fame and commercial success. She became popular in the English market with ‘Where Does My Heart Beat Now’ and continued with several albums including Falling Into You which had a number of hits. 

Listen to Celine’s rendition of ‘Ave Maria’: 

9. Tina Turner

Quite possibly an odd choice for this list and maybe more fitting for a ‘Top 10 Performers’ list, but either way, I just couldn’t leave Tina and her powerful voice off. 

Signature song: ‘The Best’
Voice: Throaty
Best decade: Tina doesn’t stop. Her career has spanned over 50 years but her greatest success came in the 1980s with hits ‘The Best’, ‘Private Dancer’, ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ and ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero’.

Listen to Tina in her earlier days with ‘River Deep, Mountain High’, which was covered by Celine Dion in the 90s.

8. Ella Fitzgerald

With a wide-ranging, pitch-perfect and ageless voice, Ella Fitzgerald was one of the most popular jazz singers in the USA. Her 1956 album Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook is on the National Recording Registry

Signature song: ‘Summertime’
Voice: Rich
Best decade: Ella is best known for the tracks she released in the mid 50s to mid 60s, but she was very active again from around the mid 70s to mid 80s. 

Listen to Ella performing scat singing in 1969

7. Barbra Streisand

Like Celine, Barbra has also been the subject of much ridicule and impersonation, but you can’t deny her skill. Not only an excellent singer, she’s also won awards for her acting, as well. 

Signature song: ‘Woman in Love’
Voice: Finely-tuned
Best decade: The 70s were very prosperous for Barbra, but she had her greatest commercial musical success in the 1980s, in particular with the album Guilty.

Listen to ‘Woman in Love’, and at the same time have a giggle at the very 80s music video:

6. Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin is also known as “The Queen of Soul” and in 1987 she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Her voice is powerful, energetic and assertive.

Signature song: ‘Respect’
Voice: Strong
Best decade: 1960s 

Listen to ‘Respect’, 1967

5. Etta James

As mentioned at the start of this post, Etta James passed away today (20th of January in the USA). She had a beautiful, sultry voice that featured on the tracks of many romance albums. Her version of ‘At Last’ was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. 

Signature song: ‘At Last’
Voice: Soulful
Best decade: 1960s 

Listen to Etta James’ ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’

4. Eva Cassidy

Like many young talents, Eva Cassidy was taken from this world too soon. She was only 33 years old when cancer claimed her life. Her voice was really something else.

Signature song: ‘Songbird’
Voice: Effortless 
Best decade: Eva was most active in the 80s and early 90s, but much commercial success has come posthumously.  

Listen to Eva Cassidy’s ‘Songbird’:

3. Mariah Carey

Mariah’s vocal range is simply amazing. Both her and one of her influencers, Whitney Houston use melisma as part of their singing styles.  A melisma is “a group of notes sung to one syllable of text.” 

Signature song: ‘Hero’
Voice: Wide-ranging
Best decade: 1990s 

Listen to Mariah Carey’s ‘Without You’:

2. Whitney Houston

Another singer with an incredible vocal range, she has been a source of inspiration and influence for countless chanteuses. 

Signature song: ‘I Will Always Love You’ (which was written and originally sung by Dolly Parton)
Voice: Huge 
Best decade: Mid-80s to mid-90s

Listen to ‘I Will Always Love You’:

1. Karen Carpenter

Karen Carpenter was another talent who was taken too soon. At just 32 years of age complications from anorexia claimed her life. Her voice was crisp and clean, and she had an extraordinary ability to hold long, low notes. For me she epitomises the art and purity of singing. 

Signature song: ‘Close To You’
Voice: Pure
Best decade: 1970s

Listen to The Carpenters’ ‘Superstar’ in 1971:

There are many other beautiful voices that I would add to a longer list: Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick, Cass Elliot, Billie Holiday, Stevie Nicks and Roberta Flack to name a few.

Who would be in your top 10?



2 thoughts on “Opinion: Top 10 female vocalists of all time

  1. patrice bickham says:

    This list is wrong and you should have left it where you had it. Celine dione is the best female singer in her genre. Her voice is pure power and control still to this day. Sandi patty is number two. She may be a christian singer but her voice is powerful and she has great control of it just like celine.

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