The 200 Greatest Singers of All Time (2023)

Aretha Franklin described her mission as a singer like this: “Me with my handoutstretched, hoping someone will take it.” That kind of deep, empathetic bond between artist and listener is the most elemental connection in music. And you can think of our list of the 200 Greatest Singers of All Time as a celebration of that bond. These are the vocalists that have shaped history and defined our lives — from smooth operators to raw shouters, from gospel to punk, from Sinatra to Selena to SZA.

When Rolling Stone first published its list of the 100 Greatest Singers in 2008, we used an elaborate voting process that included input from well-known musicians. The results skewed toward classic rock and singers from the Sixties and Seventies. This new list was compiled our staff and key contributors, and it encompasses 100 years of pop music as an ongoing global conversation, where iconic Indian playback singer Lata Mangeshkar lands between Amy Winehouse and Johnny Cash, and salsa queen Celia Cruz is up there in the rankings with Prince and Marvin Gaye. You might notice that, say, there isn’t any opera on our list — that’s because our purview is pop music writ large, meaning that almost all the artists on this list had significant careers as crossover stars making popular music for the masses.

Before you start scrolling (and commenting), keep in mind that this is the Greatest Singers list, not the Greatest Voices List. Talent is impressive; genius is transcendent. Sure, many of the people here were born with massive pipes, perfect pitch, and boundless range. Others have rougher, stranger, or more delicate instruments. As our write-up for the man who ended up at Number 112 notes, “Ozzy Osbourne doesn’t have what most people would call a good voice, but boy does he have a great one.” That could apply to more than a few people here.

In all cases, what mattered most to us was originality, influence, the depth of an artist’s catalog, and the breadth of their musical legacy. A voice can be gorgeous like Mariah Carey’s, rugged like Toots Hibbert’s, understated like Willie Nelson’s, slippery and sumptuous like D’Angelo’s, or bracing like Bob Dylan’s. But in the end, the singers behind it are here for one reason: They can remake the world just by opening their mouths.

  • Rosalía

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    When Rosalía sings, it feels as if she’s pulling out decades of history from her throat and resurrecting them into thin air. Her vocal tone, the intuitive melismas and rhythmic accents of which were built from training in flamenco for more than a decade, possesses a crystalline nature that in turn awakens emotions deep in the hearts of listeners. With her 2018 breakthrough album, El Mal Querer, she started heavily incorporating Auto-Tune — not to mask her voice, but to instead emphasize the nuanced texture of her performance, which fluidly shifts from ferocity to playfulness to sorrow. Continuing to bring tradition into a new future, she pushed harder into experimentalism with 2022’s Motomami. —M.K.

  • Glenn Danzig

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    While his hardcore-punk contemporaries were ranting about alienation and social ills, the Misfits frontman was crooning about Astro Zombies, infanticide, and teenagers from Mars in a rich, defiantly melodic voice that harked back to his heroes Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison, and Roy Orbison (one of the legends he would later write for, along with Johnny Cash). Later on, with his eponymous band, he kept heavy metal firmly connected to the roots of rock & roll with a range that could comfortably tackle earthy blues and haunted torch songs, while adding in a chilling occult aura and a penchant for rafter-rattling howls. “Growing up, just singing in bands, I didn’t have the same kind of voice as everyone else,” the singer said in 2015. “I had more of a deep, howling, kind of beastier voice. —H.S.

  • Billie Eilish

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    Opting for subtlety instead of force or volume, Billie Eilish’s restraint makes the big emotions in her writing all the more intense. After revealing her soul-inflected tone at 14 with “Ocean Eyes,” she’s since mastered the technical elements that now comprise her signature style: controlled slides, delicate vibrato, and breathy texture that has inspired a new generation of pop singers to emulate. Though she leaned into an ASMR-like deadpan for her spooky 2019 debut album, she played with the timeless sorrow of 1950s jazz and contemporary pop on her sophomore effort, Happier Than Ever, which also saw her releasing a cathartic belt on its title track. —M.K.

  • Burna Boy

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    A Nigerian cultural giant, Burna Boy is the ambassador of Afrobeats as a global movement that can feel equally at home climbing the European charts and maintaining a subtle emotional connection with past African genres like highlife. Burna’s voice is sweet like caramel, but it can also soar on slickly produced tracks like his recent megahit “Last Last,” or the 2019 gem “Anybody,” amped up by deep bass accents and insanely sophisticated polyrhythms. His vocal lines find inspiration in everything from hip-hop and R&B to hooky pop and dancehall — the world is his playground. —E.L.

  • Paul Westerberg

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    The Replacements frontman had a barbaric yap to match any musclebound hardcore psycho — but his ability to bring wit, deprecation, irony, and intimacy into that chaos made him the greatest Midwestern rock singer of the 1980s. The man who wrote “Fuck School” and “Gary’s Got a Boner” saved his real firepower for heart-wrecking ballads like “Unsatisfied” and “Within Your Reach,” where you could hear every cigarette he ever smoked as he seemed to dig deeper and deeper with each verse. In an era when lots of indie-rock guys were trying to channel heartland disaffection by singing like they’d lived through the Dust Bowl, Westerberg put no distance at all between his own voice and the world of broken suburban kids he ached to redeem. —J.D.

  • Poly Styrene

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    Poly Styrene, the lead singer of Londoners X-Ray Spex, was a heckler-as-crooner. A tiny, biracial dynamo who wore braces and delivered her brainy lyrics about consumerist self-delusion in a gleefully unholy screech, Styrene was perhaps the most instantly arresting vocalist of Seventies punk. When she went solo with the lost 1980 classic Translucence, she proved just as startling, and even more personable, while singing something closer to lullabies. “Poly lit the way for me as a female singer who wanted to sing about ideas,” Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna wrote when Styrene died in 2011. “She had one of the best, most original voices ever.” —M.M.

    (Video) Top 200 Singers of All Time?!

  • Kelly Clarkson

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    If you need proof of Kelly Clarkson’s vocal prowess, just turn on your TV on a weekday afternoon. There, you’ll see theAmerican Idolwinner turned talk-show host perform “Kellyoke,” her daily gift to the cover-song gods. Her choices run the gamut — “Dog Days Are Over,” “Rolling in the Deep,” “What a Fool Believes” — and she nails even the trickiest ones both in notes hit and emotional wallop. Her 2004 smash “Since U Been Gone” showed that Clarkson could wail with the best of them; nearly two decades later, she’s proving that her power hasn’t waned while her versatility has only gotten deeper. —M.J.

  • Brandy

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    Brandy Norwood made the transition from Nineties teen queen — America’s sweetheart on the sitcom Moesha — to sophisticated adult R&B stylist. She grew up singing in church, graduating to prime pop bangers like “I Wanna Be Down” and “Sittin’ Up in My Room.” She hit Number One at the height of the TRL era with her Monica duet “The Boy Is Mine.” Brandy aimed for a more adult tone in her Coldplay-influenced 2004 Afrodisiac and a duet with her brother Ray J on the Phil Collins remake “Another Day in Paradise.” She also sang in a classic Verzuz battle in 2020, going up against her old rival (and friend) Monica. —R.S.

  • Anohni

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    Since the mid-Nineties, Anohni has possessed a singular place in pop music, placing her soulful, smooth wail amid lush-yet-agitated avant-pop as the leader of Antony and the Johnsons and in collaborations with the likes of Yoko Ono and Bryce Dessner. In 2016, when Anohni publicly came out as trans, she released Hopelessness, a protest album that garners its strength from the stark contrast between her supple voice and its confrontational lyrics (“I wanna see this world, I wanna see it boil,” she wails amid the crushing drums and blown-out synth brass on the apocalyptic “4 Degrees”). Her voice’s unblemished beauty adds crushing weight to the words she sings. —M.J.

  • Jung Kook

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    Jung Kook, the multifaceted youngest member of BTS, boasts a long list of talents — he’s a strong performer, written several songs, and is known to be extremely hardworking and humble despite the success he’s experienced at such an early age. He’s also an extremely gifted singer. In 2022, when his track with Charlie Puth, “Left and Right” became the fastest song by a Korean soloist to surpass 400 million streams on Spotify, Puth referred to him as one of the only artists “to have ever sent me perfect vocals.” He hits high notes with ease and harmonizes with his members effortlessly, always giving his audience new ad-libs and unexpected vocal riffs to keep things interesting, from his official solo tracks like “Euphoria” to the covers he uploads for fans on BTS’ SoundCloud. —K.K.

  • Frank Ocean

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    Often touted as a voice of his micro-generation, Frank Ocean also has one of the most recognizable on-record voices in modern R&B — even when he shrouds it in distortion, as he does on theBlondestandout “Nikes,” his timbre and the way he sustains long vowels are unmistakable. Whether using his airy falsetto on the shyly vulnerable “Thinkin’ Bout You” or turning his voice into a rhythmic fulcrum for the sparse “Ivy,” Ocean brings his whole self into his vocal performances, making his innovative vision of soul even more compelling. —M.J.

  • Joan Baez

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    Before Baez, the masters of folk and country sang their mournful ballads with craggy or imperfect voices. That only made Baez’s mighty, vibrato-laced soprano all the more imposing and exceptional when she fully arrived in the early Sixties. Her voice, so pure and unwavering, would lead to plenty of parodies, from National Lampoon to Saturday Night Live. But the way it conveyed both sorrow and undeniable resilience and strength was impossible to deny. “Her voice was like that of a siren from off some Greek island,” Baez’s onetime paramour, Bob Dylan, wrote about her. “Just the sound of it could put you into a spell.” —D.B.

  • Fela Kuti

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    Fela Kuti’s iconic songs of the 1970s and 1980s are sprawling orchestral instrumentals, an innovative swirl of African highlife, American soul, and jazz.Through his music, he shared an anti-colonialist, Pan-African vision and challenged Nigeria’s corrupt military government, which routinely subjected him and those around him to immense harm.Yet it wasn’t just Fela’s lyrical rebellion that makes him so important — it’s the way his voice carried his vision; the way he sang, his tone commanding and direct, plain and firm. His stern but conversational melodies made his movement more accessible. On 1986’s“Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense,” where he tackles whitewashed education and failed governments, he coos, “I say, I sing, I beg everyone to join my song.” And he performed in such a way that they could. —M.C.

  • Bonnie Raitt

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    “When I’m happy I live it, I don’t sing it, but when I feel pain, the only way I can get that out is to sing it,” Bonnie Raitt explained to an interviewer in 1975. Yet her sly, world-weary tone — already in place from her first album, in 1971, cut when she was only 21 — is just as full of good times and good humor as downhearted blues. “Something to Talk About” works so well on the radio because of the lived-in way she sings it; her definitive reading of John Prine’s “Angel of Montgomery” convincingly inhabited the persona of an old woman hoping for a better life. —M.M.

  • Ofra Haza

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    Like a call to prayer, the opening phrase of Ofra Haza’s 1984 song “Im Nin’alu” is instantly transportive, sweeping the listener up in her expressive, fluttery mezzo-soprano. And when U.K. production duo Coldcut sampled that passage on their landmark 1987 remix of Eric B. & Rakim’s “Paid in Full,” it was a cross-cultural masterstroke that helped bring the Israeli singer’s unmistakable voice to the pop mainstream. Inspired by her Yemeni-Jewish ancestry, Haza combined traditional vocal conventions with modern technique to create something that felt at once ancient and ahead of its time. On albums like 1984’sShirei Teiman, 1988’sShaday,and 1992’sKirya, her unprecedented splash in the U.S. pop market cemented her status as “The Madonna of the Middle East.” —I.W.

  • Alicia Keys

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    Alicia Keys was initially touted as a piano and songwriting prodigy, with pop impresario Clive Davis getting fully behind her when she was in her teens. Over the years, her voice only got stronger, and songs like the head-over-heels “No One” and the plush yet bruised “You Don’t Know My Name” were given extra potency by the nuanced, yet technically impressive vocal performances Keys offered. The soaring chorus of “Empire State of Mind” wouldn’t be half as memorable without Keys’ wide-eyed vocal, which captures the starry-eyed thrill of realizing New York’s limitless potential in a way that even Liza would envy. —M.J.

  • Karen O

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    Karen O strutted her way into history with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a New York goth-punk diva in a swirl of beer, lipstick, and fishnets. But she’s always had her own unique vocal style of soul-on-fire passion. As a Korean-American kid who grew up idolizing Sam Cooke, Karen sings classics like “Maps” like a mix of Sam and Siouxsie. As one of her era’s only female rock voices, she sparked a rising generation of rebel girls. (Mannequin Pussy’s Marisa Dabice told Rolling Stone, “I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have Karen O to look up to.”) As Karen says, “The wave against my surfboard is people saying, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ You think I can’t do that? I’ll fucking do this in your face, motherfucker.” —R.S.

    (Video) The 200 Greatest Singers of All Time (According to Rolling Stone)

  • Solomon Burke

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    Solomon Burke, who scored only a handful of Top 10 R&B hits in the Sixties but enjoyed 21st-century acclaim as an Americana star, liked to perform what he called sermonettes — singing of heartache like he was in church, then speaking/preaching a gospel of the power of love, then back to the song. Few soul singers have ever been so thrillingly melismatic while so precisely enunciating their message. On 1962’s “Just Out of Reach,” his voice glides gracefully from a burbling baritone to bracing gospel imprecations, then on up the scale to an inimitable country-soul croon. —D.C.

  • Jazmine Sullivan

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    Philadelphia-born Jazmine Sullivan first turned heads with 2008’s “Bust Your Windows,” a vengeful anthem for the dumped that got extra heat from her smoldering vocal performance. Over the years, her lyrics have become more crystalline in their depictions of love’s ups and downs; her powerful alto magnifies their emotions, making her truth-telling hit even harder. Songs like the spitefully pithy “Pick Up Your Feelings” and the frustrated “The Other Side,” both from her 2021 romantic treatiseHeaux Tales, could only be delivered by Sullivan’s knowing, raw wail. —M.J.

  • Bob Seger

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    Bob Seger came from the Detroit tradition of “Old Time Rock & Roll,” but he didn’t use his mighty voice to boast or strut — he specialized in tales of hard-luck losers and dreamers, with a grown-up hurt in his growl. When he scored his massive national breakthrough with “Night Moves” in 1976, he became the first major rock star whose voice had never sounded young. His gritty warmth is there in rugged ballads like “Turn the Page,” “Mainstreet,” and “The Famous Final Scene,” but most of all in the 9-minute Live Bullet medley of “Travelin’ Man”/“Beautiful Loser,” where he’s barely in his thirties, but already looking back at a life of blown chances. —R.S.

  • SZA

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    In late 2022, SZA — Solána Rowe, the girl from New Jersey who loved dirty shoes and dirty men and weaved such idiosyncrasies into music that laid the foundation for the popularity of “alternative R&B” — scored her first Number One album with her sophomore project,SOS. This brilliant LP showed the ways her voice had evolved since her 2017 debut album,CRTL. Her syllables are more pronounced, but her words retain the swirls and curves that can make them run together and occasionally become alluringly hard to decipher. But that’s just one part of the magic of a voice that is powerful, compelling, and utterly, completely her own. —M.C.

  • Martha Wash

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    The Queen of Clubland first earned fame as a backup singer for disco king Sylvester and as half of the Weather Girls, whose “It’s Raining Men” remains a camp classic. In the 1990s, her booming, powerhouse vocals propelled the world’s most ubiquitous dance songs, including Black Box’s “Strike It Up” and “Everybody Everybody” and C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat.” But Wash frequently saw other, skinnier women lip-sync her vocals in videos and appear on album covers without her knowledge, and she eventually sued multiple record labels for fraud. As a result, labels began assigning proper vocal credit for all albums and music videos and Wash became an unwitting industry pioneer. “She takes it to church every time she sings,” Paul Shaffer, who co-wrote “It’s Raining Men,” told Rolling Stone in 2014. “She’s just a pure musical spirit.” —J.N.

  • Tabu Ley Rochereau

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    The Voice of Lightness is the name of the two-volume, five-hour overview of the Congo’s most beloved vocalist and bandleader from the Sixties to the Nineties; that title is an apt appellation for a tenor whose notes seem to float hypnotically in the air. His voice was almost startlingly sweet — but he sang with so much pure transport he never cloyed. Tabu Ley was also deeply funky — see his 1973 masterpiece “Aon Aon,” whose title translated to “Wah-Wah”: Yep, it’s about the guitar pedal, used here to bewitching effect. Rochereau doesn’t just match its effortless glide, he outdoes it vocally. It’s an absolute joy. —M.M.

  • Patty Loveless

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    From the late 1980s through the Garth-and-Shania 1990s, Loveless scored with catchy modern country hits like “Chains” and “Timber, I’m Falling in Love,” even as her plaintive cry kept the genre in conversation with inspirations George Jones and Ralph Stanley. In the 21st century, the hits stopped, but Loveless got even better, cutting a series of bluegrass albums of limits and loss where her stoicism somehow conveyed the deepest passions. She famously voiced grief and comfort simultaneously at Jones’ televised funeral and recently broke a public silence by bringing down the house at the CMA Awards. Best country singer alive. —D.C.

  • Iggy Pop

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    Even if he didn’t have that very-Sinatra baritone croon up his sleeve, the Detroit wild man born James Osterberg would have been one of the most attention-getting vocalists ever, thanks to his ready-for-anything, scenery-eating yowl. Iggy’s full-bodied screech was the musical embodiment of his dead-end-kid persona, a rock & roll essential, and the model for punk singing to come. As Lenny Kaye put it in his Rolling Stone review of Iggy and the Stooges’ 1973 classic Raw Power, Ig’s “double and even triple-tracked . . . voice cover[s] a range of frequencies only an (I wanna be your) dog could properly appreciate.” —M.M.

  • Lana Del Rey

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    When Lana Del Rey’s breakout song “Video Games” started circulating the internet in 2011, the haunting melancholy lingering in the lower register of her voice stood miles apart from the bright pop hits of the time. Her style hovers between glamor and candidness, her words at times delivered casually to emphasize that there’s a banality behind the melodrama. Throughout her prolific discography, she pushes hard in both directions, as on 2014’s “Brooklyn Baby,” when she plays a coquettish character with her tone of feigned innocence, or 2021’s “White Dress,” on which she reveals all the scratches and imperfections of her airy head voice. —M.K.

  • Buddy Holly

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    Hiccupping and choking up, rushing the delivery here and slowly pumping the brakes on a syllable there, Buddy Holly’s singing style was as unpredictable and exciting as the young form of rock & roll itself. His career was tragically brief — Holly was only 22 when he died in the plane crash that, among other things, inspired Don McLean’s “American Pie” — but from the forthright growl of the rocker “Oh, Boy!” to the discreetly carnal swoops of the ballad “Raining in My Heart,” Holly’s singing matured in leaps. There’s a lot of it for the hearing; he recorded incessantly between 1956 and 1959. —M.M.

  • Marianne Faithfull

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    Faithfull began her career as a Rolling Stones affiliate in the Sixties and early Seventies. Her singing in those days — described by critic Greil Marcus as “sweet, quavering, well-bred” — was just a prelude to the stylist she became. Beginning with 1979’s Broken English, Faithfull’s voice had grown weathered and cracked — and full of immense character: “the perfect classic Woman Wronged voice,” in the NME’s words. She’s become a rock version of a great character actress, creating fascinating albums such as 2021’s She Walks in Beauty, on which she performed spellbinding renditions of Romantic poems. —M.M.

    (Video) 200 Greatest Singers of All Time by Rolling Stone

  • Juan Gabriel

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    Juan Gabriel’s sass, charisma, and innate ability to channel the worst of the worst heartbreaks into his singing and songwriting made him one of the most beloved artists for generations of Mexican music lovers. His flamboyant persona, colorful capes, and pompadour immediately made a splash, and the strokes of Mexican patriotism in his songwriting gave everything he did a sense of grander purpose. Gabriel, who mixed pop songs with banda and ranchera music, had massive hits with emotionally wrenching ballads like 1978’s “Adios, Amor, Te Vas” and 1984’s “Querida.” But as a gay artist who rose to fame in the Seventies and Eighties, there was always a sense of pain underlying his performances. When asked about his sexuality, he inspired the LGBTQ community with the brilliant and treasured answer: “You don’t need to ask about what you can already see.” —T.M.

  • Odetta

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    Trained in opera and raised on folk, Odetta’s powerful alto influenced the likes of Bob Dylan and Nick Cave, and led to her being crowned the “queen of American folk music.” She could tackle jazz, the blues, and her great 1970 album Odetta Sings featured re-imaginings of tunes by Paul McCartney, Randy Newman, the Rolling Stones and others. Odetta’s prowess was as rooted in her voice’s force and resolve as it was in her interpretative skill, which forced listeners to pay close attention to every syllable that she sang. “Few … possess that fine understanding of a song’s meaning which transforms it from a melody into a dramatic experience,” Harry Belafonte wrote in the liner notes for her 1959 album My Eyes Have Seen. —M.J.

  • Chris Stapleton

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    Though he calls country music home, Chris Stapleton has more in common, vocally speaking, with Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin than George Jones or Hank Williams. The Kentucky native’s growling, raspy tone is amplified by control and power, allowing him to transform the country chestnut “Tennessee Whiskey” into an easy-sipping R&B ballad or sprinkle dazzling runs all over “Sometimes I Cry.” “He can take something so recognizable and turn it into something totally different where it’s almost unrecognizable, in the best way possible,” his wife and singing partner, Morgane, told Rolling Stone. He can certainly wail and shout with the best, but Stapleton is just as good when he pulls back and sings softly. Even when he’s not trying to blow out the windows, Stapleton imbues his work with deep-down feeling — like any good soul singer should. —J.F.

  • Sylvester

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    Sylvester James, who died of AIDS in 1988, was a trailblazer in every way — an out gay man at a time when even Elton John would cop only to bisexuality, a Black innovator whose Seventies and Eighties dance hits are among the first in the all-synthesized, “high-energy” disco style. Most importantly, Sylvester was disco’s most preternaturally gifted male vocalist — from surprisingly husky spoken-word passages to a tweeter-shattering falsetto that humanized all those synths. And the church never, ever left his phrasing — whether he was straight-up praising Jesus on the ecstatic “I Need You” or riffing with his backing vocalists (“Got yourself a friend”) on the 12-inch version of “Over and Over.” —M.M.

  • Debbie Harry

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    The effortless cool that exudes from photos of Deborah Harry in her Blondie prime — and even now — is matched only by hearing her come to life on record. She made it sound easy, though it wasn’t — the first two Blondie albums are winning but tentative, and so’s the singing. But by 1978’s Parallel Lines, Harry became a sharpie for the ages, whether airily kissing someone off on “Heart of Glass” or iterating the phrase “I can’t control myself” in “Hanging on the Telephone” three entirely different, fabulously controlled ways. Even when she tried her hand at rapping on “Rapture” in 1980, her Noo Yawk charm was irresistible. —M.M.

  • Marc Anthony

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    It was “Vivir Lo Nuestro,” a smoldering 1994 duet with La India, that heralded Nuyorican sonero Marc Anthony as the poster child for the end-of-the-century salsa revival. Antony felt equally at home in the syrupy romántica style — he croons like a drama prince on “Hasta Ayer” — and sharing the stage with Celia Cruz. He crossed over to the pop mainstream in 1999, but remained stubbornly faithful to his salsa roots. 2013’s “Vivir Mi Vida” — a tropical reinvention of a hit by Algerian star Khaled — found him at the top of his game, while the rugged title track of his 2022 album, Pa’llá Voy, confirms him as one of the most distinctive and expressive vocalists in the Afro-Caribbean spectrum. —E.L.

  • Morrissey

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    If all Morrissey aspired to be was the voice of Eighties teen misery, he would’ve sealed the deal in the early days of the Smiths. But he wanted more. He quickly bloomed into one of pop’s most emotionally articulate singers, flaunting his wit in classics like “Cemetry Gates” and “Suedehead,” sending high notes to heaven with an ironic kiss. Moz grew up a literary recluse in Northern England, worshipping female singers like Dusty Springfield and Joan Armatrading, but punk rock led him to his own voice. Nobody can top Morrissey when it comes to flamboyantly melancholy ballads, in the grandeur of “I Know It’s Over,” “Now My Heart Is Full,” or his signature song, “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.” —R.S.

  • Ronnie James Dio

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    Ronnie James Dio’s late-Sixties and early-Seventies work with Elf revealed him as a sturdy blues-rock shouter, but something clicked once he joined ex–Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, the band where the singer hit upon the combination of fiery belting and fantastical themes that would make him into a heavy-metal icon. On epics like “Stargazer,” he brought an Arthurian grandeur to the genre with a delivery that perfectly balanced soaring melody and wrenching grit. He then joined Black Sabbath, helping them regain their early glory in the wake of their split from Ozzy Osbourne on 1980’s classic Heaven and Hell. At his best, his voice always a conveyed a rare mix of passion, wonder, and hellbent determination. —H.S.

  • Sandy Denny

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    Denny’s buttery, mystical croon is so timeless that it sounds centuries older than the Sixties folk revival, making her the perfect choice to appear on a song about Middle-earth (and take home the award for Led Zeppelin’s only guest vocalist, on “The Battle of Evermore”). In both Fairport Convention and her solo work, she commanded a sense of longing with her phrasing and feathery register that gave her an ethereal quality on par with other tragic folk icons like Nick Drake and Judee Sill. She died in 1978 at just 31, making her obscurity all the more alluring to those who stumble upon her catalog.“What you heard was a kind of awe at the contingency of human life and the beauty of the world,” Greil Marcus wrote in herRolling Stoneobituary. “A certain reverence for the past, and a steady determination to take her place in the long story she was telling.” —A.M.

  • Bobby “Blue” Bland

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    Bobby “Blue” Bland didn’t earn his nickname lightly. Listen to how he opens his 1959 classic “I’ll Take Care of You” — “I know you’ve been hurt . . . by someone else/I can tell by the way . . . you carry yourself,” every pause infused with a lifetime of observation and regret; it’s a vocal masterclass. Bland’s catalog teems with similarly perfect readings, from his unearthly moan to his bird-like squeal; everybody from Otis Redding to Van Morrison to Bonnie Raitt has learned from him. “It’s a one-of-a-kind voice,” said Gregg Allman. “I wonder how many people tore up their throats trying to imitate that shout.” —M.M.

  • Françoise Hardy

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    Françoise Hardy epitomized French cool and Gallic heat simultaneously, with a breathy, deadpan alto that wafted like Gauloises smoke. Her words enhanced her tone: Writing her own material, unusual in the early mid-Sixties, especially for women, she also recorded work by masters like Serge Gainsbourg, and her take on Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” may be the most evocative ever recorded, his included. Dylan was so struck by her artistry, he addressed her in a poem on the back of Another Side of Bob Dylan (on their first meeting, he also serenaded her unsubtly — and unsuccessfully — with “I Want You”). Hardy recorded in English, German, and Italian, becoming an international superstar. But her magic was most pronounced in her mother tongue, as she proved on dozens of releases that still make existentialism sound impossibly elegant. —W.H.


  • Brenda Lee

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    Lee’s legacy as the first woman to be inducted into both the Country Music and Rock & Roll Halls of Fame speaks for itself. As an 11-year-old, in 1956, she tore into Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” showing off an already-polished blend of bubblegum sweetness and growling intensity that she’d channel into early hits like “That’s All You Gotta Do” and “Dum Dum.” Her deep songbook is a testament to the stunning versatility of her voice, which adapted perfectly to both the timeless holiday cheer of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and the soul-deep ache of “Emotions.” Lee’s many admirers include Dolly Parton, Elton John and Taylor Swift, who once described her as “the singer who mastered the sound of heartbreak so flawlessly that she made audiences not only identify with her but believe her.” —H.S.

  • Mercedes Sosa

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    Hailing from the Argentine province of Tucumán, Mercedes Sosa embodied the soulful idealism of leftist politics, which she expressed as leader of thenueva canciónmovement through a rich repertoire seeped in folk and militant protest songs. Her delicate vocalizing — ever so tender, but also anchored on incorruptible valor — turned Violeta Parra’s ode to life “Gracias a La Vida” into an intimate anthem. Censored at home and forced into exile during Argentina’s dictatorship of the late 1970s, Sosa became an international concert attraction, beaming onstage like a South American Mother Earth. Her last album before passing in 2009,Cantora, found her singing duets in the company of appropriately awestruck younger stars. —E.L.

  • Mississippi John Hurt

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    The rare Delta blues legend who bowls you over with grace, generosity, and warmth, not raw power, Mississippi John Hurt was born in 1893 and first recorded in the 1920s. But the sharecropper and father of 14 didn’t find recognition until the blues revival of the 1960s, when he recorded several marvelous albums. Whether he was singing about sex, death, the joys of Maxwell House coffee, or the horror of “funky butt,” his patient delivery, burnished baritone, and the way he could make lyrical repetition feel reassuring rather than foreboding made it all feel relaxed and friendly, as if he was smilingly inviting you into his kitchen for breakfast. —J.D.

  • Carrie Underwood

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    Carrie Underwood could’ve come out of American Idol and wound up a pop-cultural footnote like countless others. Instead, she’s one of country music’s most enduring modern stars, and that is due in no small part to her remarkable voice. An instrument of power, precision, and staggering range, it was the central feature of her debut album, Some Hearts, and hits like “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” “Before He Cheats,” and “Wasted.” Fifteen years and numerous hits later, she’s still singing like she’s got something to prove — 2022’s Denim & Rhinestones has a more aggressive rock edge than some of her past work and boasts some of her most demanding vocal work yet. —J.F.

  • Robert Smith

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    Robert Smith is the goth Sade. With the Cure, he’s a master of breathy intimacy and erotic wit, as if he’s confiding secrets by candlelight, even when he’s singing about cats and spiders. He works his mopey voice into a powerfully expressive instrument, whether he’s going for sexy misery (“Close to Me”), self-mocking misery (“Let’s Go to Bed”), or miserable misery (“One Hundred Years”). “Just Like Heaven” is rightly his most famous vocal showcase, hitting emotional extremes from romantic bliss to alone-alone-alone despair. And damn, the way he purrs the line “Must have been asleep for daaaays” — the whole Robert Smith philosophy in one moment. —R.S.

  • George Strait

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    Early on, George Strait earned a lot of comparisons to Frank Sinatra, which makes sense. Aside from being an avowed Sinatra fan, Strait expertly adapted the Chairman’s buttery smooth crooning style for country instrumentation and carved a wide path through the Eighties and Nineties with it. Coupled with an unparalleled ear for great songs — he doesn’t usually write many of his own — Strait could believably inhabit anything he recorded. It didn’t matter if it was classic country balladry (“Fool Hearted Memory”), slyly horny two-step (“The Fireman”), western swing (“Right or Wrong”), or honky-tonk (“All My Ex’s Live in Texas),” he sounded right at home doing it all. It’s no wonder why country fans still call him “King George.” —J.F.

  • Corin Tucker

    The 200 Greatest Singers of All Time (46)

    Punk is full of loud voices, but Corin Tucker’s voice stands out even in that genre. The Sleater-Kinney singer-guitarist has the most distinctive wail in the music, heavy on vibrato, always controlled even when she’s conveying emotional torrent. Her bandmate Carrie Brownstein, in her memoir, described Tucker’s voice as “a wail not of mourning but of murder. And there was so much I wanted to destroy.” But there’s a lot more than sheer power — on the Corin Tucker Band’s 1,000 Years, for instance, she’s just as expressive, and engaging, at a more contained volume. —M.M.

  • Dion

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    In the early Sixties, Dion DiMucci was often lumped in with the other teen idols of the day. But virtually none of them could match the grit, street style, and range of influences that he brought to his music. We first heard him as a doo-wop singer (“A Teenager in Love”), but his love of blues, R&B, and folk music added depth to his repertoire and his voice. Dion had the swagger of a teen Sinatra (“Runaround Sue”), but he also had the heart of a premature old soul (“Abraham, Martin and John”). In his eighties, he continues to make unvarnished blues and R&B records with a voice that can still growl and saunter. —D.B.

  • Mahlathini

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    They called him “The Lion of Soweto,” they sometimes called his singing style “goat voice.” When people need two different animals to capture your style, you’re doing it right. Simon “Mahlathini” Nkabinde was a peerless figure in the history of South African music, gifted with a cloud-rattling basso profundo groan, and a knowing, playful, at times diabolically incisive sense of what to do with it.With the ebullient Mahotella Queens and the elastic Makgona Tsohle Band backing him up, Mahlathini was essential in creating the township style known as mbaqanga in the Sixties and Seventies. Paul Simon’s Graceland took that sound to the world, but there’s still nothing like hearing the original. —J.D.

  • Michael Stipe

    The 200 Greatest Singers of All Time (49)

    When R.E.M. began, they made waves in part because their singer, Michael Stipe, refused to enunciate clearly. But that mystery wouldn’t have resonated if his voice, filled with yearning and allure, hadn’t beckoned listeners to listen closer — it’s no coincidence that R.E.M. went pop right when Stipe began pronouncing clearly, or that the band’s early-Nineties commercial peak, Out of Time and Automatic for the People, are virtuosic showcases for Stipe’s burnt-honey voice. His happy burble on “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite,” from the latter, and his steely keen on the former’s closer, “Me in Honey,” tell the story as well as the hits do. And on songs like “Everybody Hurts” and “Beat a Drum,” a sublime moment from 2001’s Reveal, he proved himself one of the most luminous ballad singers of his generation. —M.M.

  • Martha Reeves

    The 200 Greatest Singers of All Time (50)

    Diana Ross and the Supremes were sweet, but Martha and the Vandellas were powerful, starting with their lead singer. Martha Reeves’ gleeful, girlish, gritty voice cut straight through the airy harmonies of her group mates. Reeves had begun singing professionally as a teenager, working blues clubs in Toledo and around Michigan. “Motown didn’t get me cold — I already knew how to do it,” she said. And on immortal hits like “Heat Wave,” “Dancing in the Street,” and “Nowhere to Run,” Reeves did it — sang pop hits with deep soul, or made soul records that popped like corn — as well as anyone. —M.M.

    (Video) Rolling Stone's Best Singers of All Time List is Rough


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