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Best Female Musicians of All Time

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Best Female Musicians
 

There is simply no denying that women have had a significant impact on music throughout history. From Gladys Knight to Missy Elliot to Janis Joplin and beyond, we want to show our love to some of the most powerful and successful female artists that have inspired us to be better musicians throughout our lives.

Of course, there are far too many talented female artists to list them all, though we hope this list can do at least a bit of justice for those who changed the music world forever. 

Before you leave an angry comment, just know that this list is not ranking these talented singers in order. That would be an impossible task! But if you feel like there's someone that should be added to the list, please leave a comment!

 

1. Joni Mitchell 

 

Joni Mitchell created a body of work throughout her years that was so diverse, that not even The Beatles could top it. From folk to rock to jazz to classical, Joni Mitchell is easily one of the most versatile and instantly recognizable female singers and artists of all time. And on top of that, she all of the greats, like Jaco Pastorious, played on her recordings, elevating her music to exceptional heights.

 

 

Her album Blue might truly be one of my all time favorites albums, a classic as timeless as her voice. 

 

2. Tina Turner 

 

Known as the “Queen of Rock and Roll,” Tina Turner was one of history’s most formidable live acts. Not only did she make her name with the U.S. Top 5 hit, “Proud Mary,” but she also had one of the greatest comebacks in musical history with her 1984 solo album, Private Dancer.  

 

 

More than just a powerful voice, though, her dance moves and vibe made her an irresistible performer.

 

3. Stevie Nicks 

 

From her time as a notable singer and songwriter in Fleetwood Mac to her days of becoming a mega-selling solo artist, Stevie Nicks is, to this day, the only woman who has two inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.

 

 

With classics songs like Edge of 17 and Dreams, Stevie is as much a songwriter as a singer. And of course, she is also the consummate "witchy woman" with one of the most recognizable looks in rock.

 

4. Mariah Carey 

 

Since her rise to fame in 1990, Mariah Carey has been in a league of her own. From her dolphin-like whistle register to her five-octave vocal range, not many can top the highest-certified female artists in the United States and one of the most instantly recognizable vocals in pop music.

 

 

Famous for everything from R&B ballads to hip hop hits to Christmas classics, Mariah Carey has undoubtedly provide the soundtrack to many of our lives.

 

5. Lady Gaga

 

We can’t think of an artist in the modern pop world that is more left-field-thinking than Lady Gaga. From crazy costumes to off-the-wall pop to becoming the first woman to ever win an Oscar, a Grammy, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA, she is truly one of the most iconic women of all time.

 

 

Not just content to be a singer, a song-writer, or a fashion icon, she is also a full-blown actor. Lady Gaga is truly a modern talent.

 

6. Aretha Franklin 

 

Aretha Franklin is the highest-charting female singer in history, basically defining soul music as we know it today. Not only was she one of the best singers and songwriters of all time, but she was also one of the most active fighters for civil rights in the entertainment industry throughout her lifetime.

Her voice some how managed to sound effortless and flawless. Her presence commanding and controlled. But listen to a song like Respect and hear the amazing depth to her performance.

 

 

And yet it was clear that there was always so much more going on underneath, which drew the listener in to the world that she created.

 

7. Etta James 

 

From jazz to rock to rhythm and blues, Etta James touched it all. Many people refer to her as the “matriarch of the blues,” thanks to her deep and earthy vocal tone that could be felt deep in the soul. Though she faced a number of personal problems throughout her life, she lived on as one of the greatest voices of the century.

 

 

Even today, when you put an Etta James recording on, you will find yourself transported away. Her soaring delivery on songs like At Last could be pure as water.

But what makes her such a powerful singer is the way the blues could creep in at any moment, with a vengeance. Her performance of Stormy Weather hints at so much depth of feeling, for example.

 

8. Whitney Houston 

 

Whitney Houston is no doubt one of the greatest singers of all time. Her rendition of “I Will Always Love You” was number one in the Billboard Hot 100 for over 14 weeks at the time of its release. She was also the very first woman to reach the top spot with her song, “I Look To You.”

 

 

Unfortunately, the later part of her life was marred by tragedy. 

However, the spark of light and joy her songs brought people still rings as true today as when she first sang the songs. I mean, how can you not listen to  "I wanna Dance with Somebody" and not feel her voice radiating through the speakers?

 

9. Taylor Swift 

 

This pop-country crossover artist has won 11 Grammy awards since her first album was released back in 2006. She is also the only female solo artist to have won the Grammy for Album of the Year three times. 

A true songwriting talent, Taylor has been writing music since she was just a kid. Which is why she inspires her legions of fans with her relatable lyrics, catchy choruses, and outsider vibe. 

 

 

Even cooler, though, she has inspired a generation of young women to pick up the guitar. So we have a whole new wave of Taylor Swifts to look forward to! 

Actually, I think the breakout success of Olivia Rodrigo's Sour may be the first of these. I can't wait to see who comes next!

 

10. Ella Fitzgerald 

 

Few artists names are so synonymous with excellence as Ella Fitzgerald. Ella Fitzgerald is known as the “First Lady of Song,” as she pretty much singlehandedly invented scatting and changed the way singers thought of improvisation.

In other words, she created modern jazz singing.

 

 

Throughout her time, she sold over 40 million albums, won 13 Grammys, and crafted some of the most legendary jazz songs of all time. 

And the craziest thing is that she is also one of the most humble singers I've ever seen, despite been one of the greatest. Watch some recordings of her playing with jazz greats, and it's shocking to see how reserved she can be while having so much talent.

 

11. Patti Smith 

 

Patti Smith fused poetry with punk rock to become one of the most interesting and iconic female artists of the 20th century, especially with her hit song, “Horses.” Her intense and boundary-shattering approach to music had an incredible influence on artists like Garbage, Madonna, and R.E.M.

 

 

12. Carole King 

 

Carole King rose to fame with her 1971 release, “Tapestry” and is one of the most iconic songwriters and pianists of all time. She was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

 

 

However, she had her first hits as a ground breaking songwriter behind the scenes before she started performing under her own name. The Shirelles performance of her song Will You Love me Tomorrow, was the first number one hit by a black girl group.

And Aretha's rendition of "(You Make me Feel Like) a Natural Woman" is perhaps the perfect epitome of the way that these women on this list inspired and helped each other.

 

13. Billie Holiday 

 

Billie Holiday was a pioneer in the jazz world with unique improvisational skills and an innovative vocal tone. Though she lived a demanding and controversial life, her voice has always been and will always be one of the most moving female voices of all time.

 

 

14. Diana Ross 

 

Diana Ross started her career in The Supremes, an all-girl Motown group before she embarked on a solo career in 1970. Some of her hit songs include “Endless Love” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Many say she’s had the best disco songs of all time.

 

 

And then she teamed up with the incredible Nile Rogers and Bernie Edwards and released the classic album Diana, which contains perhaps her most iconic hit of all time: I'm Coming Out.

 

15. Barbra Streisand 

 

Throughout her 50-year career, Barbara Streisand has won Grammy, Emmy, Oscar, and Tony awards. She has also sold more than 65 million albums in the U.S., and some of her most popular songs include “Memory,” “Woman In Love,” and “The Way We Were.”

 

 

16. Fiona Apple 

 

Fiona Apple rose to prominence with her first album, Tidal, which won a Grammy for Bes Female Rock Vocal performance. She is best known for using the piano and her sweet voice to explore the most personal of emotions and experiences. 

 

 

With the support of her loyal fans, even today she is still breaking new ground. For example, her 2020 album Fetch the Bolt Cutters recently won the Grammy Award (though it wasn't my favorite).

 

17. Lauryn Hill 

 

Lauryn Hill broke boundaries as a rapper and dominated the R&B and hip-hop world for quite some time, starting out with The Fugees and eventually blossoming into one of the most influential solo artists EVER. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is one of the best-selling albums of all time.

 

Just put it on and you'll get why.

 

18. Janis Joplin 

 

Janis Joplin was a queen of rock-and-roll at a time when the industry was pretty much dominated by men. In the 60s, she was one of the most iconic voices on Earth, drawing heavy influence from her time spent in San Francisco. “Piece of My Heart” is an absolute must-listen.

 

 

And her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company was just righteously awesome. 

Unfortunately, her short-lived life was cut tragically short, leaving us with not nearly enough music. But what she left behind is an amazing legacy that is worth listening to over and over again.

 

19. Debbie Harry 

 

Without Debbie Harry, the New York new wave scene would have never crystallized the way it did. With a mixture of punk, funk, reggae, and electronica, she and the rest of Blondie became quick icons of their generation. To this day, “Heart of Glass” transports listeners to a unique space and time. 

 

 

She was coooool.

Like the coolest.

And she also played a major role in helping to bring rap to white audiences. And she was a model. 

 

20. Annie Lennox 

 

At one point, Annie Lennox had the world questioning what was normal, from music to sexuality to fashion and beyond. From her work with Eurhythmics to her stunning solo career, everything she made was a conceptual and pantheonic hit. “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” is certainly one of her most impactful stamps on music.

 

 

21. Celine Dion 

 

Celine Dion has recorded more than 27 albums in her lifetime, both in French and English. She is best known for her song, “My Heart Will Go On,” which was the theme song for Titanic. Her Las Vegas residency was the top-earning show in 2011.

 

 

Though her life has had a lot of tragedy, her soaring voice and passionate delivery help her connect with the listener and elevate her music even higher.

 

22. Nina Simone 

 

Nina Simone got put on the map with her 1965 single, “I Put A Spell On You.” From blues to jazz to classical, this singer and civil rights activist had one of the most diverse careers of the 20th century, becoming an inspiration for singers like Lauryn Hill and Alicia Keys. 

 

 

23. Katy Perry 

 

When Katy Perry came out with Teenage Dream in 2010, the pop world changed. The album would spawn five #1 singles, which led her to become one of the highest-paid female artists in the business and the performer on the most-watched Super Bowl halftime shows ever. 

And she gave us gave us the Left Shark. Who can forget?

 

24. Mary J. Blige 

 

Mary J. Blige is often referred to as the “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.” She has won nine Grammy awards throughout her career and has been nominated for two Golden Globes and two Academy Awards. Blige has worked closely with many of the world’s biggest artists, including Beyonce, Adele, Taylor Swift, and more. 

 

 

25. Amy Winehouse 

 

Amy Winehouse was a naturally-gifted singer with a very traumatic and tragic life, very much like Billie Holiday. With a fusion of 21st-century pop, jazz, and soul, she showcased an unbelievable voice that still remains one of history’s greatest.

 

 

And, like many greats, she passed all too soon at the age of 27.

 

26. Ariana Grande 

 

Ariana Grande got her start on Nickelodeon’s Victorious before becoming one of the industry’s most successful female artists. She won the Grammy for Best Vocal Pop Album in 2019 and has broken 20 music-related Guinness World Records throughout her time performing and recording.

 

 

Despite her pint-sized stature, she possesses a powerful voice similar to Mariah Carey's. When paired with her proven song writing chops, Ariana Grande's reign at the top of the charts is certain to continue for years to come.

 

27. Joan Jett 

 

Joan Jett is often given the title “The Queen of Rock and Roll,” as this all-American badass had one of the most influential rock careers of any woman ever, going multi-platinum with her band and influencing punk bands for many decades to come. 

 

 

28. Pat Benatar 

 

Pat Benetar broke through with her 1979 debut album, In The Heat Of The Night, which birthed hits like “Heartbreaker” and “We Live For Love.” Of course, Crimes of Passion was this rock goddess’ most successful work, with the single, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” 

 

 

29. Adele 

 

Adele has been wearing her “Queen of Heartbreak” crown very well for the past decade. Her sophomore album, 21, only ranked below Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as the U.K.’s top-selling album of all time. It’s clear that she is one of the greatest singers of all time. 

 

 

30. Alicia Keys 

 

Alicia Keys is one of the most popular R&B singers of the 21st century, rising to prominence with her 2001 album, Songs In A Minor. She has since won 15 Grammy awards and has appeared in films such as Smokin’ Aces and Nanny Diaries. 

 

 

31. Beyonce 

 

Beyonce, otherwise known as Queen Bey, is one of the most successful female artists of all time. She has won 22 Grammy awards and has the most nominations for the award in history. Many consider her album Lemonade to be the best of all time. 

 

 

32. Cher 

 

Cher has long stood for female independence, leaving audiences in awe with her contralto voice, jet-black hair, and out-of-this-world attire. While she’s been on the scene for many decades, it was her 1998 hit, “Believe,” which truly stood the test of time. It was also the first song to feature auto-tune! 

 

 

From Sonny and Cher, to a TV show, to becoming a total icon of the digital age, Cher has had tremendous staying power for four decades. With that type of cultural influence, there's no denying Cher's greatness.

 

33. Gwen Stefani 

 

Fashion icon. Punk legend. Rock star. Gwen Stefani got her start with the ska-pop-punk band No Doubt, who's breakthrough album Tragic Kingdom took the world by storm with songs like Spiderwebs and I'm Just a Girl.

 

 

After more hits with No Doubt, she went solo and the results were bananas. Since then, she's gotten married, hosted shows, and continued to be a total rock star.

 

34. Shakira 

 

Shakira, one of the most popular names to come out of Colombia, rose to fame with her fourth studio album, Laundry Service. Beyond her fame as a hip-shaker and pop singer, she also started the Pies Descalzos Foundation to help children receive an education in Colombia.

 

 

Now truly a global phenomenon, she's even gone on to be part of the Super Bowl half-time show!

 

35. Lizzo 

 

Though Lizzo is a relative newcomer, she has broken through to icon status with her positive and uplifting music. Her radical message of self-love is the cherry on top of her powerful vocals and instantly recognizable rapping style. 

 

 

She's also a flute player, which creates some really cool and unique moments in her music. She is truly a unique person out there just being herself and making music to make people feel great.

 

36. Rihanna 

 

Rihanna rose to fame in 2005 with her release of Music of the Sun. One of her biggest accomplishments is as the “best-selling digital artist of time.” She was also named the Harvard Humanitarian of the Year in 2017.

 

 

37. Billie Eilish 

 

Billie Eilish was certified platinum with her song, “Ocean Eyes.” She was the youngest artist to get nominations for all four of the biggest Billboard Grammy Awards. She has also won five Grammy awards, including Album of the Year and Best New Artist. 

 

38. Dorothy Ashby

 

Dorothy Ashby was an American jazz harpist and composer known for bringing the harp into the world of jazz. Today, she has become somewhat of a counter-culture icon, being one of the few people throughout history to show what was capable of such a unique instrument. 

 

 

39. Kate Bush 

 

Kate Bush was only a teenager when she released her first single ever, “Wuthering Heights.” Since then, her unstoppable creativity and iconic soprano voice have captured listeners and inspired many great singers since, including St. Vincent, Bjork, and Florence Welch, cementing her place in experimental pop history. 

 

 

40. Emmylou Harris 

 

Emmylou Harris is an icon in the worlds of country, folk, and Americana music. Throughout her life, she was consistently able to provide fresh takes on these genres, becoming one of the most powerful and prominent artists in the country world. 

 

 

Her duets with Graham Parsons are some of the loveliest things you'll ever hear, a perfect blend of sweet and sour.

 

41. Carly Simon 

 

Carly Simon came out with the hit song “You’re So Vain” in 1970, which catapulted her to fame. Not only was Simon one of history’s most brilliant songwriters, but she was also a muse to many famous men, including James Taylor and Cat Stevens.

 

 

42. Janet Jackson 

 

Janet Jackson is one of the world’s best-selling female artists. Many say that she pioneered the sound of techno-soul in the 1980s, which would become most of what we’re hearing on commercial airwaves today. From choreographed dance troupes to elaborate music videos, a lot can be owed to Janet.

 

 

43. Madonna 

 

Madonna is the “Queen of Pop,” having sold more than 300 million albums throughout her lifetime. Not only was she one of the most iconic singers of the 1980s, but her 2005 world tour became the highest-grossing tour from a female artist of all time. 

 

 

44. Sade 

 

Sade came into fame with the release of her 1984 debut album, Diamond Life. Not only has she won many Grammys and developed the sexiest voice in music history, but she also became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2002 for her service to music.

 

 

45. Mavis Staples

 

Mavis Staples was a true 60s icon, coming out of the Gospel industry with her band, God’s Greatest Hitmakers. During her time, her family band recorded a number of hits, including “Let’s Do It Again” and “I’ll Take You There.” 

 

 

46. Carmen McRae    

 

Carmen McRae is considered one of the top ten female vocalists of all time and is well-renowned for her contributions to jazz music. She was noted for her unique phrasing that hung back on the beat, as well as her witty and often acerbic lyrical style. 

 

 

If you only listen to one of the videos in this article, listen to her performance of What are you Doing for the Rest of Your Life with Joe Pass. It is hair-raisingly beautiful.

                

47. Sharon Jones

 

Sharon Jones was an American funk and soul vocalist and the lead singer of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. She recorded her very first album when she was 40 years old, though she was nominated for a Grammy in the Best R&B Album category. 

 

 

48. Gal Costa 

 

There is no doubt that Gai Costa was born to enrapture listeners around the world with her brilliant Brazilian vocals and compositions. With her distinct perfect pitch and her alluring stage presence, many say she had a hand in the beginnings of the movement that would one day form into Tropicalia. 

 

 

49. Liz Phair 

 

In the early 90s, Liz Phair became the leading lady in the feminist alternative rock movement. Her five albums have gained her critical acclaim, and her lyrics, which leave nothing to the imagination, changed the stylings of indie and rock music of the 21st century. 

 

 

50. Phoebe Bridgers

 

Phoebe Bridgers took over the industry in 2020 with the release of her album, Punisher. With a murky mish-mash of emo rock and folk, she is able to convey the deepest and most treacherous emotions. Her brutal insight and honesty will certainly be with us for decades to come. 

 

 

51. Neko Case 

 

It can be difficult to put Neko Case’s powerful vocals and arresting lyricism into words. From her harsh upbringing, she has crafted some of the most honest and heart-wrenching songs with her indie rock fit, The New Pornographers. 

 

 

52. Courtney Barnett

 

Many say Courtney Barnett brought women playing guitar back into the mainstream. With her nonchalant attitude to her uncompromising lyrics and style, she is one of the most iconic independent musicians in Australia today. 

 

 

53. Kacey Musgraves

 

Kacey Musgraves is known for “going there” when others won’t, and her creative freedom and southern-tinged self-expression were what catapulted this now-country-pop icon to fame. Musgraves was recently included on TIME’s “Women of the Year” list. 

 

 

54. Melina Duterte

 

Melina Duterte, otherwise known as Jay Som, is a new counter-culture icon. Growing up in Los Angeles, CA, she became a producer and multi-instrumentalist and quickly gained attention as a bedroom pop and dream-pop producer and songwriter. 

 

 

55. Nina Persson 

 

Without Nina Persson, The Cardigans would have never had their sugary pop name. With “Lovefool,” this whispery-voiced Swedish singer-songwriter catapulted the band to fame. Even beyond her work with the band, she has released two solo albums under the name A Camp. 

 

56. Nicki Minaj 

 

With her quick wit and aggressive rap style, Nick Minaj once held the crown as the biggest female star in hip-hop. Since the release of “Pink Friday” over a decade ago, she has become a household name and has worked with many of the biggest artists in the world. 

 

 

57. Cardi B 

 

Cardi B, an N.Y.C. rapper, earned her worldwide fan base with her controversial tracks and unapologetic style. She is the only female rapper to have a #1 single in two decades, including “I Like It” and Bodak Yellow,” and her song, “W.A.P.,” ignited one of the biggest global dance crazes of all time. 

 

 

58. Dua Lipa 

 

When “New Rules” hit the airwaves, Dua Lipa was catapulted into fame. Since then, she has been a must for just about any party playlist. Of course, what truly made her such a unique artist was the 180 she did on her second album, Future Nostalgia, which tackled themes of intimacy, inequality, and female empowerment, with hints of disco and cosmic pop.

 

 

59. Shania Twain

 

For most of the 90s and 2000s, Shania Twain’s country-pop anthems could be heard on the radio. Winning the 1999 American Country Music Awards Artist of the Year distinction and five Grammy awards makes her one of the most successful crossover artists of all time.

 

 

60. Missy Elliot 

 

With more than 30 million albums sold worldwide, Missy Elliott is one of the most successful female rappers of all time. Every female rapper in the world can thank this 90s star for breaking through to the industry and inviting us all into an abstract, out-of-this-world hip-hop universe. 

 

 

61. Gloria Estefan

 

Gloria Estefan is one of the most decorated crossover artists in the Latin music world, with her undeniable sex appeal and her ultra-catchy tunes. When “Don’t Wanna Lose You” hit the charts in 1989, everyone had a crush on this Miami Sound Machine lead singer. 

 

62. Tori Amos

 

There are few artists we can think of that have been able to maintain such a loyal and rabid fanbase as Tori Amos. With her Baroque style, unapologetic attitude, and glorious piano skills, Tori Amos is one of the most iconic American musicians of the 20th and 21st centuries. 

 

63. Bonnie Raitt 

 

Bonnie Raitt is the Queen of Americana music and was ranked not only as one of the Greatest Singers of All Time by Rolling Stone but also one of the Top 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Even with her ten Grammy awards, she’s still going strong today.

 

 

64. Patti La Belle 

 

Pattie LaBelle had an extensive music career and was best known for her hit, “Lady Marmalade,” which won the 1992 Grammy for best album. She also broke boundaries with her African-American female vocal group, becoming the first in that category to get on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1985. 

 

 

65. Shirley Bassey 

 

Shirley Bassey’s 1964 “Goldfinger” theme might be one of the coolest things ever recorded. This Wales-born singer provided the sound for pop and soul in the 1960s and became one of the U.K.’s most legendary artists.

 

 

65. Dione Warwick

 

Dionne Warwick is the second-most charting female artist ever. Warwick grew up in a gospel family, recorded early soul hits like “I Say A Little Prayer” and “Walk On By, and eventually became a catalyst for soul singers for many generations to come. 

 

 

67. Lil Kim 

 

Lil Kim was discovered by Notorious B.I.G. in 1994 and released her first studio album, Hard Core, in 1996. She is the only female rapper besides Nicki Minaj and Missy Elliott to have three platinum-certified albums. Her work with Junior M.A.F.I.A left an undeniable mark on hip-hop.

 

 

68. Gladys Knight

 

Gladys Knight, otherwise known as the “Empress of Soul, is a seven-time Grammy award winner who crafted hits throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s with her group The Pips and as a solo artist. She has been ranked by Rolling Stone as one of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.

 

 

69. Ma Rainey

 

Ma Rainey is considered to be the “Mother of The Blues,” with an incredible stage presence and booming voice. She is most notable for combining what she had worked on vaudeville stylings with down-home southern blues. The call-and-response style was a descendant of West Africa. She was critical to the birth of Jazz and the Blues in the 1920s.

 

Click here to see the 17 Best Jazz Musicians of the 1920s.

 

70. Bessie Smith

 

Bessie Smith massive personality helped define jazz in the 1920s. Her famous hollering voice enabled her to sing from stage without ever ever needing a microphone. People that watched her live said that she would make people in the balconies feel like they were sitting up front. And aside from being a captivating performer, she pioneered females jazz vocals in the 1920s.

 

 

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