Music is a universal language that connects people across cultures. Throughout history, Black female artists have significantly contributed to the music industry, overcoming adversity and breaking down barriers. Their talents have enriched music genres like R&B, soul, jazz, hip-hop, pop, and more.

From trailblazing vocalists like Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross to contemporary hitmakers like Beyoncé and Rihanna, Black women have pushed creative boundaries with their signature sounds. Their meaningful lyrics and empowering messages inspire and uplift listeners worldwide.

This article highlights 41 influential Black female artists from around the world. It provides background on their upbringing, musical styles, notable achievements, and impact. While not comprehensive, it showcases the remarkable diversity found among these gifted musicians.

Female Artists Worldwide

1. Aretha Franklin

Known as the “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin was a musical genius with a powerful four-octave vocal range. Born in Memphis in 1942, she signed her first record deal at age 14 and went on to record hit singles like “Respect” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” Franklin won 18 Grammy Awards during her legendary career. She passed away in 2018, leaving behind an unmatched musical legacy.

2. Beyoncé

One of the best-selling music artists ever, Beyoncé has sold over 100 million records worldwide. Born in Houston in 1981, she first found fame with the group Destiny’s Child before launching a hugely successful solo career. Her innovative albums contain themes of feminism, race, and empowerment. She is also known for her show-stopping live performances. Beyoncé has won 28 Grammy Awards to date.

3. Diana Ross

Diana Ross rose to fame in the 1960s as the Motown group The Supremes lead singer before embarking on an acclaimed solo career. Born in Detroit in 1944, Ross has an iconic singing voice and stage presence. She recorded timeless hits like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “I’m Coming Out.” Ross has won seven American Music Awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and a Kennedy Center Honor.

4. Nina Simone

Nina Simone was a pioneering singer, songwriter, and activist. Born as Eunice Waymon in North Carolina in 1933, she fused musical genres like jazz, blues, and folk. Her famous songs “Feeling Good” and “Mississippi Goddam” delivered messages about Black empowerment. Simone’s fiery activism and innovative artistry cemented her reputation as the “High Priestess of Soul.”

5. Whitney Houston

With her incredible vocal range, Whitney Houston is one of the best-selling recording artists ever. Born in Newark in 1963, she broke into the industry with back-to-back chart-topping albums in the mid-1980s. Houston recorded enduring songs like “I Will Always Love You” while starring in movies like The Bodyguard. Though her life was cut short at age 48, her soaring vocals and pop diva charisma made her a legend.

6. Mary J. Blige

Queen of hip-hop soul Mary J. Blige is renowned for her passionate vocals and candid songwriting. Born in New York City in 1971, she overcame a strict upbringing to achieve stardom in the 1990s. Hit singles like “Family Affair” fused hip-hop beats with soulful melodies and lyrics about her struggles. To date, Blige has earned 9 Grammy Awards in a career spanning over 25 years.

7. Ella Fitzgerald

Nicknamed the “First Lady of Song,” Ella Fitzgerald recorded over 200 albums and won 13 Grammy Awards. Born in Virginia in 1917, she started at amateur nights in Harlem. Fitzgerald became famous for her light, pure voice, impressive scat singing, and interpretive skills. Songs like “Summertime” and “Dream a Little Dream of Me” solidified her reputation as one of the greatest jazz vocalists ever.

8. Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson is an iconic singer, songwriter, dancer, and actress. Born in Indiana in 1966, she is the youngest sister of music legend Michael Jackson. She has sold over 100 million records featuring innovative pop, R&B, funk, and hip-hop blends. Some of her best-known hits include “Nasty,” “Rhythm Nation,” and “That’s the Way Love Goes.” Jackson is considered one of the most influential artists of the MTV generation.

9. Toni Braxton

Soulful songstress Toni Braxton has sold over 70 million records worldwide. Born in Maryland in 1967, she broke through with her multi-platinum 1993 debut album. Braxton’s smoky, distinctive voice shines on singles like “Un-break My Heart” and “He Wasn’t Man Enough.” She has earned 7 Grammy Awards while also building an acting career. Despite health issues like Lupus, Braxton releases quality music showcasing her vocal prowess.

10. Mariah Carey

Pop diva Mariah Carey holds the record for most Billboard Hot 100 number-one singles by a solo artist. She was born in New York in 1969 and possesses a remarkable five-octave vocal range. Carey stormed the charts in the 1990s with love ballads like “Vision of Love” and festive hits like “All I Want for Christmas is You.” She is the best-selling female artist with 19 chart-topping singles and over 200 million records sold.

11. Etta James

Etta James was a blues and R&B legend distinguished by her earthy, heartfelt vocals. Born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles in 1938, she started singing as a teenager in the 1950s. Her signature songs, “At Last” and “I’d Rather Go Blind,” demonstrate her gift for conveying raw emotion. James overcame drug addiction and influenced generations of artists before she died in 2012. She received six Grammy Awards over her decades-long career.

12. Gladys Knight

The “Empress of Soul,” Gladys Knight, has recorded hit after hit since the 1960s. Born in Georgia in 1944, she signed with Motown’s The Pips and recorded classics like “Midnight Train to Georgia.” Her rich, expressive voice set her apart from her peers. A seven-time Grammy winner, Knight has acted on television and continues performing live into her 70s. In 2022, she sang the national anthem at the Super Bowl at age 77.

13. Rihanna

Pop icon Rihanna was born as Robyn Fenty in Barbados in 1988. She has earned 14 number-one Billboard singles, making her the fastest solo artist to achieve this milestone. Rihanna successfully reinvented her sound on albums like Anti, showing off her versatile singing and rapping skills. She is also a fashion mogul and philanthropist who runs charitable foundations. With sales of over 250 million records, Rihanna reigns as a cultural force worldwide.

14. Donna Summer

Donna Summer became famous in the 1970s as the “Queen of Disco” with an endless string of dance floor hits. Born LaDonna Gaines in Boston in 1948, her soaring vocals and uptempo songs like “Last Dance” and “Hot Stuff” defined the disco genre. Summer won five Grammy Awards while crossing over into pop, R&B, and rock stylings later in her career. She passed away from cancer in 2012.

15. Billie Holiday

Jazz legend Billie Holiday mesmerized audiences with her melancholy, soulful voice. Born Eleanora Fagan in Philadelphia in 1915, she started singing in Harlem nightclubs in the 1930s. Nicknamed “Lady Day,” her songs like “God Bless the Child” and “Strange Fruit” reflected the pain and oppression experienced by Black Americans. Her emotional intensity and innovative phrasing made Holiday one of the greatest jazz vocalists ever.

16. Lauryn Hill

Singer, rapper, and songwriter Lauryn Hill became famous in the late 1990s with her group The Fugees and later solo work. Born in New Jersey in 1975, she rapped and sang equally, fusing hip hop with reggae and soul. Her album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill won five Grammy Awards and broke new ground in hip hop. After some struggles with the spotlight, Hill continues to record and perform live shows today.

17. Roberta Flack

The timeless music of Roberta Flack combines jazz, folk, and soul elements. Born in North Carolina in 1937, her biggest hits, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and “Killing Me Softly,” showcase her refined voice and interpretive skills. Beyond numerous Grammy wins, Flack is renowned for her philanthropic work supporting social justice, the environment, and education. She continues recording thoughtful music and performing live into her 80s.

18. Ruth Brown

Ruth Brown was a pioneering R&B singer and actress who helped propel the early rock ‘n’ roll era. Nicknamed “Miss Rhythm,” she was born in Virginia in 1928 and signed with Atlantic Records. There, she recorded upbeat, bluesy singles like “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean” and “Lucky Lips.” Her powerful voice and charisma broke down racial barriers. Brown later became involved in musicians’ rights causes, too.

19. Celia Cruz

“The Queen of Salsa” Celia Cruz was a Cuban-American singer revered for her captivating voice and exuberant style. Born in Havana in 1925, she fled the Cuban Revolution for America, where she popularized salsa music. Cruz recorded hit songs like “La Vida Es Un Carnaval” with her signature shout “¡Azúcar!” She won two Grammy Awards and a National Medal of Arts. Cruz died in 2003 but remains an icon in Latin music.

20. Anita Baker

Sultry singer Anita Baker became an R&B sensation in the 1980s known for silky smooth tracks like “Sweet Love” and “Giving You the Best That I Got.” Born in Ohio in 1958, her ballads about romance established her as one of the premiere artists of the Quiet Storm period. Baker took a long hiatus from music before returning in the early 2000s. She remains admired for her flawless vocal technique and timeless songs.

21. Chaka Khan

The “Queen of Funk,” Chaka Khan, first hit the charts with the funk band Rufus before launching an illustrious solo career. Born Yvette Stevens in Chicago in 1953, her fiery vocals brought hits like “I’m Every Woman” and the Prince cover “I Feel For You.” Khan has won 10 Grammy Awards spanning R&B, rock, pop, and gospel genres. She continues to release new music while also singing jazz and classical music.

22. Gladys Knight

Dubbed the “Empress of Soul,” Gladys Knight recorded hit after hit with The Pips before becoming a solo superstar. Born in Georgia in 1944, she gave us classics like “Midnight Train to Georgia” and “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.” Knight possessed emotional depth and technical mastery. She toured extensively for decades while acting and doing charity work. Knight sang the national anthem at age 77 at the 2022 Super Bowl.

23. Tracy Chapman

Singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman found worldwide fame with her 1988 self-titled debut album. Born in Cleveland in 1964, her folk-rock sounds on “Fast Car” and “Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution” resonated with audiences. Chapman’s insightful lyrics address heavy themes like poverty and domestic abuse. She helped inspire the 1990s folk resurgence before taking an extended hiatus from music. Chapman remains a multi-Grammy winner despite a low-key lifestyle.

24. Sade

Nigerian-British singer Sade brought sophistication to 1980s soul music with her band, Sade. Born Helen Folasade Adu in Ibadan, Nigeria, in 1959, her stylish image and smoky vocals attracted a global following. Iconic singles like “Smooth Operator” and “By Your Side” fuse soul with jazz and Latin elements. After some time off, Sade made a quiet but well-received comeback in 2010. She retains an aura of mystique and artistic integrity.

25. India.Arie

Singer-songwriter India. Arie broke through in 2001 with her empowering hit “Video.” Born in Denver in 1975, she fuses soul, R&B, folk, and hip-hop in her music. Spiritual lyrics promoting self-love made her a self-esteem anthem for women. Arie plays guitar, writes poetry, and advocates for social causes like health awareness. She runs a label focused on artist empowerment while recording Grammy-nominated albums.

26. Erykah Badu

Avant-garde R&B artist Erykah Badu emerged in the 1990s as a progressive soul iconoclast. Born Erica Wright in Dallas in 1971, her mystical vibe and cerebral lyrics stretched the boundaries of neo-soul. Debut album Baduizm went triple platinum, powered by the hit “On & On.” She won a Grammy for the funk experiment “Bag Lady.” After some acting roles, Badu returned to music with a string of experimental, socially conscious releases.

27. Natalie Cole

The daughter of Nat King Cole, Natalie Cole carved out her success by fusing jazz, soul, and pop. Born in Los Angeles in 1950, her early R&B hits like “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” transitioned to more mature work. 1991 she recorded “Unforgettable,” an interactive duet with her late father. Cole won nine Grammy Awards during her eclectic career, including Album of the Year for her cover set Unforgettable…With Love.

28. Marian Anderson

Contralto Marian Anderson was the first African American to sing at the Metropolitan Opera. Born in Pennsylvania in 1897, she initially faced racism and discrimination in her career. Anderson advocated for civil rights while becoming a distinguished opera, lieder, and spiritual singer. 1955 she broke the color barrier at the Met in Verdi’s Masked Ball. Anderson received many honors, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

29. Irma Thomas

Soul queen Irma Thomas recorded classics like “Time Is on My Side” and “It’s Raining” in the 1960s. Born in Louisiana in 1941, her powerful, flexible voice earned her the nickname “The Soul Queen of New Orleans.” Thomas overcame label trouble but became popular after singing on the Katrina fundraising album Our New Orleans. She won a Grammy 2007 for After the Rain, produced by bluesman Scott Billington.

30. Miriam Makeba

Known as “Mama Africa,” Miriam Makeba brought the music of South Africa to world audiences. Born in Johannesburg in 1932, the apartheid regime exiled her from her homeland for decades. Makeba popularized African music in America during the 1960s. She testified against apartheid before the United Nations and won a Grammy before returning home after apartheid ended. She continued performing until she died in 2008.

31. Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a trailblazing guitarist who influenced early rock music with her swinging boogie style. Born in Arkansas in 1915, she was a gospel star who performed bluesy, rhythmic music on electric guitar. With hit songs like “Strange Things Happening Every Day,” she crossed over to secular audiences in the 1930s and 1940s. Her fearless individuality made her a role model for future rock stars. She died in 1973.

32. M.I.A.

M.I.A. is a British hip-hop artist and activist of Sri Lankan descent. Named Mathangi Arulpragasam, she was born in London in 1975. M.I.A.’s provocative songs like “Paper Planes” blend world music with rap, dance, and alternative. Outspoken about humanitarian issues, she has controversially criticized war and oppression. Despite clashes with critics, M.I.A.’s experimental hybrid sound makes her one of the 2000s’ most groundbreaking artists.

33. Amy Winehouse

British retro-soul singer Amy Winehouse found fame with her acclaimed 2006 album Back to Black before her tragic death at 27. Born in London in 1983, her tumultuous personal life fueled painfully authentic songs about substance abuse and failed romance. Winehouse’s beehive hair and tattoos became iconic as hits like “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good” showcased her deep, jazz-tinged vocals. She left an enduring legacy as a singular soul-pop talent.

34. Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker was a pioneering African American entertainer who found fame in Paris during the Jazz Age. Born in St. Louis in 1906, she danced on Broadway before moving to France. Baker starred in risqué cabarets wearing her famous banana skirt. She also spied against the Nazis, participated in the Civil Rights Movement, and adopted 12 children from around the world. This barrier-breaking artist was ahead of her time.

35. Judy Mowatt

As a member of the iconic reggae group The I-Threes, Judy Mowatt’s powerhouse vocals backed up Bob Marley. Born in Jamaica in 1952, she blazed a trail for women in the male-dominated genre. Her solo career produced acclaimed albums like Black Woman. She also advocates for women’s advancement in the Caribbean music industry. Mowatt combines musically and spiritually uplifting messages in her work.

36. Betty Wright

Soul and R&B singer Betty Wright influenced later funk artists with early hits like “Clean Up Woman.” Born Bessie Regina Norris in 1953 in Miami, she started recording as a teenager backed by future stars like guitarist Ray Parker Jr. Wright produced her Grammy-winning 1988 album Mother Wit before becoming an in-demand backup singer. She mentored younger artists in the music business until she died in 2020.

37. Corinne Bailey Rae

British singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae emerged in 2006 with her breezy, acoustic soul debut album. Born in Leeds in 1979, her mellow hit “Put Your Records On” evokes ’70s R&B and established her as a neo-soul star. After the death of her husband, she released darker, experimental albums, The Sea and The Heart Speaks in Whispers. Bailey Rae remains a popular festival act and also composes music for film and T.V.

38. Sister Nancy

Jamaican dancehall deejay Sister Nancy was one of few women in 1980s ragga music. Born Ophlin Russell in Kingston in 1962, her bold lyrics and vocal style influenced rap and contemporary R&B. Her 1982 single “Bam Bam” was later heavily sampled by hip-hop artists like Lauryn Hill and Kanye West. Though she stopped recording in the 1990s, Sister Nancy’s foundational role in dancehall reggae is undisputed.

39. Kelela

Avant-R&B singer Kelela is known for her atmospheric, experimental mix of electronica, jazz, and R&B. Born Kelela Mizanekristos in Washington D.C. in 1983, she got her start in the L.A. beat music scene. Her 2013 mixtape Cut 4 Me demonstrated her sultry and inventive vocals and landed her a record deal. After some high-profile collaborations, she released her critically praised debut album, Take Me Apart, in 2017. Kelela continues to push R&B into exciting new sonic territory.

40. Estelle

British R&B singer-songwriter Estelle scored an international hit with her melodic 2008 anthem “American Boy” featuring Kanye West. Born Estelle Swaray in London in 1980, she combines diverse musical elements like reggae, soul, hip-hop, and dance-pop. Estelle’s outspoken lyrics address serious issues like domestic violence. She has also acted in film and theater. Her soulful yet edgy sound helped introduce the British R&B/soul invasion to America.

41. Cassandra Wilson

Jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson creatively incorporates blues, pop, folk, and country into her music. Born in Mississippi in 1955, she started singing traditional jazz before developing her distinctive style. Wilson’s covers of songs like “Fever” and “Time After Time” display her sultry timbre and wide vocal range. She’s earned two Grammys interpreting the American songbook in her thought-provoking way. Wilson remains dedicated to creating genre-crossing jazz.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Who was the first African American woman to sing at the Metropolitan Opera?

A: Marian Anderson was the first African American singer to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in 1955. Her appearance marked the breaking of the Met’s color barrier.

Q: Which Black female artist is the top-selling of all time?

A: With over 200 million records sold, Mariah Carey is the best-selling female artist worldwide across all genres.

Q: Who is considered the “Queen of Soul”?

A: Aretha Franklin earned the title “Queen of Soul” during her legendary career stretching from the 1960s through the 2000s. Her powerful, expressive voice and hit songs like “Respect” defined soul music.

Q: What Black female artist sang at the Super Bowl at age 77?

A: The “Empress of Soul,” Gladys Knight, delivered an acclaimed national anthem performance at Super Bowl LIII in 2019 at age 77.

Q: Which Black female deejay pioneered dancehall reggae in the 1980s?

A: Sister Nancy was among few female deejays in 1980s Jamaican dancehall music. Her hit “Bam Bam” brought her international acclaim and influenced later musicians.


From Aretha Franklin to Beyonce and beyond, Black female artists have enormously impacted music worldwide. They have overcome racism, sexism, and other barriers to share their incredible talents. Their empowering messages and virtuosic skills have enriched so many musical genres.

This article only scratches the surface of the countless influential Black female musicians past and present. But it provides a sample of some of the most acclaimed artists, Easy ways to boost user experience  highlighting their backgrounds, versatility, and cultural importance. Their determination and excellence have opened doors for future generations of Black women in the music industry.

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