James Brown and Betty Jean Newsome made it clear in 1981 that “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” and unfortunately many of his hit song’s sentiments still hold true in 2024. There’s been progress in settling the disparity between sexes, but work still has to be done. In the realm of entertainment, far too many Black female singers go uncredited for their contributions to the culture, whether it be in the form of award show snubs or criminally underrated album releases. Thanks to the internet, it’s now easier than ever to uncover incredible creatives, both past and present.

Black Female Singers Who Paved the Way

This list will reflect on the women who have molded the landscape of music into what we know it as today. Read on to see our picks of the most influential Black female singers of all time.

Josephine Baker

Black Female Singers pictured: Josephine Baker
(Photo by RAPH GATTI/AFP via Getty Images)

Baker, born in St. Louis in 1906, was one of the first Black celebrities. Though American, she rose to fame in France as a performer, her talents shining in areas like dance, acting and singing. Baker was the first Black woman to star in a major motion picture – 1927’s Siren of the Tropics – and she’s known for refusing to perform in front of segregated audiences while visiting her native country. Some of the late starlet’s most popular songs include “J’ai Deux Amours,” “Besame Mucho” and “La Vie En Rose.”

Billie Holiday

A famed jazz and swing songstress, Holiday tragically passed away at age 44 in 1959. She spent the decades before that enchanting music lovers with her stunning voice, particularly on “Strange Fruit,” a Black anthem based on a poem by Abel Meeropol under the pseudonym Lewis Allan in 1937. The powerful song protests racially motivated lynchings in America, and has been covered and sampled numerous times, most notably on Kanye West’s “Blood on the Leaves.”

Donna Summer

With her bouncy black curls and radiant smile, Summer was a sight to be seen when she performed her biggest disco hits throughout the 1970s and beyond. She started in the psychedelic rock band Crow, moving from Boston to New York City to pursue a music career. While working in theatre in Germany, Summer met Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, two producers who played an influential role in her recording process. From there, the Queen of Disco released hits like “Love to Love You Baby” and “I Feel Love” before passing away at age 63 in 2012.

Ella Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Virginia, in 1917. The so-called “First Lady of Song” had a natural affinity for performing, even dancing and singing for her peers on their way to school. It was her rendition of the nursery rhyme, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” that boosted Fitzgerald to national fame, leading her to launch a solo career in 1942. Her frequent collaborators included other Black musicians like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, the latter of whom joined her on “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).”

Nina Simone

Black Female Singers pictured: Nina Simone
(Photo by Mike Lawn/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Before the world knew her as Nina Simone, Eunice Kathleen Waymon was a young girl from a poor family in North Carolina with aspirations of being a concert pianist. Supporters in her hometown helped the multi-talent enroll in the Julliard School of Music, though she was denied admission into Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music; Simone credits this to racism. Interestingly, the Pennsylvania-based school awarded her an honorary degree, days before she died in 2003. Her stage name came about as a way to disguise her identity from disapproving family members, but once she took off, few people could criticize Waymon for pouring her soul into over 40 albums between 1958 to 1974.

Etta James

Film lovers may recall Beyoncé’s portrayal of Etta James in 2008’s Cadillac Records. Naturally, Queen B was the only vocalist suited for the challenging role, but the movie only shows a small glimpse of the trials and tribulations the Los Angeles native faced in her 73 years of life. “At Last,” “I’d Rather Go Blind” and “A Sunday Kind of Love” are some of James’ most popular songs; throughout her expansive discography, the mother of two explored genres like gospel, blues, jazz, R&B, rock and soul.

Aretha Franklin

At the peak of her career, Franklin earned the nickname “Queen of Soul,” and her talents were worthy of being named Rolling Stone’s greatest singer of all time twice. She began singing gospel at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan where her father worked as a minister. By 18, Franklin nabbed a coveted recording contract with Columbia, though her career didn’t immediately flourish. It wasn’t until 1966, when the Memphis-born starlet signed with Atlantic Records that she blew up. During this era, Franklin recorded albums like Lady Soul, Amazing Grace and Sparkle.

Vocal Superstars of the 80s and 90s

Whitney Houston

Moving into more modern times, vocal forces like Whitney Houston took over in the 80s. Her self-titled debut album arrived mid-way through the decade, followed by Whitney in 1987. The former produced popular singles like “Greatest Love of All” and “All at Once” while the latter gave us “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and the emotional ballad “Didn’t We Almost Have It All.” Besides her incredible range and stage presence, Houston was also known for her relationship with Bobby Brown, during which both entertainers struggled with substance abuse issues. Sadly, the New Jersey native died from an accidental drowning in 2012.

Tina Turner

Black Female Singers pictured: Tina Turner
(Photo by Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Tina Turner’s death shook up the music industry in May 2023, the same way her powerhouse voice rang out for thousands of crowds throughout her career. The “Steamy Windows” songstress died following a stroke and battle with kidney disease at age 83, leaving behind an unforgettable legacy as the Queen of Rock n’ Roll. The likes of Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, Janis Joplin, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé have all cited Turner as an inspiration for their music, proving her contributions will find a way to live on forever.

Diana Ross

These days, Tracee Ellis is the member of the Ross family who spends the most time in the spotlight, but in decades past it was her mother, Diana, who shone. The 80-year-old was initially the lead singer of The Supremes – Motown’s most successful act of the 1960s, as well as the best-charting female group in history, achieving 12 No. 1 pop singles on the Billboard Hot 100. As a solo artist, Ross achieved huge acclaim too, beginning with her first hit “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and ending with 2021’s Thank You LP, which includes her first original material since 1999.

Sade Adu

Sade Adu, a Nigerian-British singer is 65 today, but she was 18 years old when she moved to London to study fashion design at Saint Martin’s School of Art. The “Cherish the Day” artist completed three years of schooling and spent a brief stint working as a model before she began singing backup with a band called Pride. By the early 80s, she and guitarist/saxophonist Stuart Matthews split off from the group along with Andrew Hale (keyboard), Paul Denman (bassist) and Paul Cook (drummer) to form Sade. By the time her first show at a club in London called Heaven came around, the Ibadan-born entertainer was so popular that 1,000 people were turned away at the door. To this day, her six studio albums remain in rotation for soul music lovers.

Janet Jackson

Seeing as she was born into the same family that produced The Jackson 5, it’s no wonder that Janet Jackson went on to become a cultural phenom in her own right. The Poetic Justice actress made it a point to distinguish herself from her brothers, though she and Michael were often compared by the media. Her self-titled debut album landed in 1982, peaking at No. 63 on the Billboard 200 and her sophomore effort failed to do any better. With 1986’s Control, however, Jackson shot to No. 1 and achieved the same feat with her following four albums.


Black Female Singers pictured: Aaliyah
(Photo by Chris Delmas/AFP via Getty Images)

Some argue that if Aaliyah wasn’t tragically killed in age 22 during a plane crash, that Beyoncé’s career never would’ve reached the same heights. We like to think that there’s room for both queens to shine, even if the former never got to live up to her full potential. During her short but impactful career, Aaliyah was labeled the “Princess of R&B” thanks to her efforts to redefine the genre, along with hip-hop and pop. Her personal life was riddled with controversy thanks to the large age-gap in her relationship with R. Kelly, but in the studio, her collaborations with producers like Timbaland and Missy Elliott proved she was a force to be reckoned with.

Mariah Carey

All through the 90s, Mariah Carey reigned supreme as one of the most consistent Black female singers making music at the time. The mother of two’s album run began with a self-titled debut in 1990 and she closed out the decade with Rainbow. Into the 2000s, Carey continued to bless us with hits like “We Belong Together,” “Obsessed,” and “Touch My Body,” all while expanding her film resume and nurturing a marriage to Nick Cannon, which ultimately ended in 2008.

Toni Braxton

The Braxtons are a talented family, no doubt, but it’s 56-year-old Toni who was notably blessed in the vocal department, allowing her to pursue a career as one of the best-selling female artists in history. Worldwide, the Maryland native has sold over 70 million records, brought home seven Grammy awards, nine Billboard Music Awards and seven American Music Awards. Her accolades continue to roll in, long past her debut in the 1980s, from an induction into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame to being honored as a Legend at the Soul Train Music Awards in 2017.

Mary J. Blige

New York’s Mary J. Blige was signed to Uptown Records by founder Andre Harrell in 1988. Starting off, she did background vocals for the likes of Father MC and Jeff Redd, but in 1992 she got to assert her independence on her debut album, What’s the 411?. The record is attributed with bringing the fusion of R&B and hip-hop into the mainstream, and on its remix edition, Blige became the first singer to have a rapper appear on every title on her tracklist. Both her debut and sophomore releases are on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list, and she’s shared a total of 14 studio LPs so far.

Erykah Badu

As the 90s were coming to an end, Erykah Badu burst onto the scene with her Baduizm album, blending elements of neo soul and R&B on singles like “Next Lifetime,” “Otherside of the Game” and “Appletree.” That same year, the 53-year-old shared her Live LP and went on tour before starting off the new millennium with Mama’s Gun and another round of live shows. Her last full-length effort, New Amerykah Part Two arrived in 2010 and in 2015 Badu returned with a mixtape called But You Caint Use My Phone. These days, she keeps busying touring, helping other R&B artists deliver beautiful babies and putting together iconic outfits to inspire her fans.

00s and 10s’ Biggest Hitmakers


Black Female Artists pictured: Beyoncé
(Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)

At age 42, Beyoncé has a long list of accolades to be proud of in all areas of her life. She’s the artist with the most Grammy awards (32 wins and 88 nods), has three beautiful children with her husband, Jay-Z, is the proud owner of the most expensive home in the state of California and recently launched her own hair care line to help other Black women achieve the healthy inches of their dreams. Her love for performing dates back to her childhood in Houston, eventually leading her to shine in Destiny’s Child and as a solo artist. Earlier this year, Bey continued to push boundaries with the release of her genre-bending Cowboy Carter project.

Alicia Keys

Another vocalist who rose to fame in the 2000s and continues to amaze us today is New York native Alicia Keys. Photos of the “Fallin'” hitmaker experimenting with production equipment as a young girl often surface online, reminding us that Keys was just 15 when she signed with Columbia Records. Songs in A Minor, her debut album, came in 2001; it sold over 12 million copies worldwide and won the then-fresh face five Grammys. More recently, the mother of two’s been expressing herself through theater, writing the music and lyrics for the jukebox musical Hell’s Kitchen.

Jazmine Sullivan

If anyone on this list deserves far more credit than they’re given, it’s Jazmine Sullivan. The 37-year-old was born into a vocally talented family, as her late mother, Pam Sullivan, was a backup singer for Philadelphia International Records. When she was five years old, Sullivan had the privilege of moving into the historic Strawberry Mansion section of the city and she attended a local high school specializing in creative and performing arts. This early training allowed the Heaux Tales hitmaker to sign with Jive Records at 15, though the album she recorded under them never actually dropped. It wasn’t until 2008 when her breakout came with “Need U Bad,” and since then she’s been a seriously underrated force in R&B.


It’s hard to believe that there was a time when Rihanna consistently fed her Navy with music, seeing as its been over eight years since her last studio album, Anti. The Bad Gal’s attention has been held captive by A$AP Rocky and their two sons, RZA and Riot lately – not to mention all the hard work she’s poured into her various Fenty brands. Though R9 could still be far away, the eight LPs Rih dropped from 2005 to 2016 have cemented her as an experimental icon in more ways than one.


Black Female Singers pictured: Ashanti
(Photo by Jeffrey Weiss/WireImage)

Ashanti might’ve thought she was living the dream in the early 2000s, but in 2024, everything’s come full circle for the black-haired beauty. She and her ex-lover Nelly have rekindled their romance, are engaged to be married and have a baby on the way. Even with all this excitement, plus the ongoing changes to her body, Ashanti continues to perform her most popular songs, such as “Foolish” and “Happy” to adoring audiences.

Keri Hilson

Not only did Georgia’s Keri Hilson sing her heart out on “Pretty Girl Rock,” “Knock You Down” and “Energy,” but the 41-year-old is also responsible for penning award-winning songs for other superstars. “Medicine” by Plies, Mary J. Blige’s “Take Me as I Am,” “Gimme More” from Britney Spears and Nas’ “Hero” are just a few of the many titles credited to Hilson. Her only two albums, In a Perfect World… and No Boys Allowed came out in 2009 and 2010, though R&B lovers remain hopeful we’ll see a comeback.


When Kelis unleashed “Milkshake” in 2003, something shifted. The sweet and sexy song is undeniably catchy and it marked a breakthrough for the New York-born performer, who signed with Virgin Records five years prior. As a teen, Kelis attended a performing arts high school, picking up some saxophone skills and a spot in the Girls Choir of Harlem. Quickly discovering her love for music, the mother of three took a spit as a backing vocalist for Gravediggaz a hip-hop group before connecting with the Neptunes (Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo), a production duo who helped the “Bossy” artist nab her first contract.

Today’s Top Black Female Singers

Ari Lennox

Black Female Singers pictured: Ari Lennox
(Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET)

Lennox holds it down for J. Cole as the First Lady of his Dreamville label, her silky smooth voice shining on singles like “Pressure” and “Shea Butter Baby.” Even though recent years have held their share of drama for the 33-year-old, the sheer passion she exudes in her music continues to draw people in. Unlike many others on our list who signed contracts in their teens, Lennox’s road to success started by taking the independent route in 2009, uploading her creations online. After landing a feature on Omen’s “Sweat it Out” the Dreamville team caught wind of her, and Cole reached out to the Washington, D.C. born beauty to work on references for Rihanna; the rest is history!


If there’s one thing we can always count on H.E.R. to body, it’s a feature. From “Best Part” with Canada’s Daniel Caesar to “Come Through” in tandem with Chris Brown, the mysterious star’s illuminating voice always finds a way to shine. Known for hiding her big, brown eyes behind oversized sunglasses, the California native (born Gabriella Wilson) has an impressive resume for someone her age. At just 26 years old, H.E.R. has give Grammys, an Academy Award and a Children’s and Family Emmy.

Jhené Aiko

A true Pisces icon, Aiko’s music is known for its etheral, otherworldly essence. The mother of two operates as a solo artist, as well as under the name Twenty88 alongside her beau, Big Sean. Aiko’s career in music began as early as 2002, learning the ropes of the industry while performing in music videos and providing background vocals for B2K. She’s shared three studio albums, Souled Out (2014), Trip (2017) and Chilombo (2020), blending elements of R&B, hip-hop and neo soul.


One of Top Dawg Entertainment’s most successful Black female singers is SZA, born Solána Rowe in St. Louis. Her debut album Ctrl put the multi-genre creative on the map, and though she made fans wait five years for a follow-up, they loved SOS so much it almost refused to exit the top spot on the Billboard 200. Besides her own releases, SZA has co-written for Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé. Elsewhere, she was named Woman of the Year at the 2023 ceremony.

Janelle Monáe

Black Female Singers pictured: Janelle Monáe
(Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage)

Previously, Monáe felt most empowered when performing in slightly more masculine, or conservative clothing. When rolling out their 2023 LP, The Age of Pleasure, however, the 38-year-old led a sexual revolution that included plenty of NSFW moments during live shows that continuously made headlines. On that project (Monáe’s first since 2018’s Dirty Computer), collaborators included Doechii on “Phenomenal” and the one and only Grace Jones on “Ooh La La.”

Willow Smith

With parents like Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, it wasn’t hard for 23-year-old Willow to find her footing in the competitive world of music. She began as a child with “Whip My Hair,” which the nepo baby had little say in at the time. Now, as an adult, Smith has full creative control of her career, and its led her to find great success – particularly amongst TikTok users. Her last two LPs, Lately I Feel Everything and Coping Mechanism were full of expression and emotion. So far, the same seems to be true of Empathogen, which is due out later this year.