In the history of music, thousands of talented musicians have come and gone, with modern artists standing on the shoulders of giants to produce radio hits that we know and love today. However, there is a revered lineage of songwriters whose words and melodies echo throughout generations, touching the hearts and souls of music fans decades or even centuries after their careers have come to a close. Only a select few can be named among the list of the best songwriters of all time, with luminary artists such as Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin offering unflinching snapshots into the essence of humanity with their inspired tunes. 

While fans could surely make a compelling argument for many of their Spotify wrapped favorites to top this list, we’ve constructed a comprehensive guide to the songwriters who left behind iconic legacies which deserve to be celebrated and uplifted. Here are our picks for the best songwriters of all time. 

7. Ella Fitzgerald 

Ella Fitzgerald’s inherent mastery of jazz and vocal tenor makes her an obvious choice for the list of best songwriters of all time. While the First Lady of Swing may not have been known for penning many of her own original tunes, her mastery of interpretation and improvisation elevated classic material to heights never-before seen.

Fitzgerald’s uncanny ability to imbue her tunes with soul-stopping emotion and enchanting vocal passages allows her timeless music to continue reaching new fans to this day, nearly a full century since she made her recording debut. Fitzgerald set a powerful standard for all vocalists who came after her, with an impeccable penchant for lyrical storytelling. Today, her legacy stands as one of the most powerful musicians of the 20th century. 

6. Marvin Gaye 

Marvin Gaye’s historic contribution to music is noted in the annals of history with numerous prestigious awards, including NAACP Image awards, American Music awards, and 3 Grammys. Gaye’s catalog of hits transcends simple entertainment, and reflects the very foundation of the human condition.

His politically charged anthem “What’s Going On” ranked number 4 on The Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs Of All Time,” while sensual jams like “Let’s Get It On” continue to rock clubs and playlists to this very day. Gaye’s ability to blend soulful melody and thought-provoking introspection makes him a certain contender for best songwriter of all time, and cements his place as a legend among popular musicians of his day. 

5. Prince 

Today, Prince is widely regarded as an enigmatic songwriter, who was far ahead of his time both culturally and in terms of his contribution to the world of music and entertainment. The Minneapolis-born singer-songwriter earned his position on this list with a wide array of genre-blending hits which make his catalog one of the most fascinating in all of music history. Prince was frequently known to blend influences of funk, pop, R&B, and rock, to create a harmonious style all his own. His hits such as “Purple Rain,” “When Doves Cry,” and “Kiss” offer a fearless exploration of human sexuality, spirituality, and social conventions.

For many years, Prince kept his discography scrubbed from the internet, retaining an aura of mystique around his experimental legacy. Because of this, young audiences are still just discovering many of his album cuts and boundary-pushing tracks, making Prince’s legacy as powerful today as it was when he first hit the scene in the late 1970s. 

4. Bob Marley 

Bob Marley’s laid-back and soulful music transcends borders, cultures, and time, with a potent blend of socially conscious lyrics and peaceful reggae melodies. Through his songwriting, Marley brought about real social change, using his platform to call for peace, love, justice, and equality for all. Bob Marley’s greatest anthems such as “One Love,” “Sun Is Shining,” and “Get Up, Stand Up” showcase his proficiency as a writer, marking him as one of the best songwriters of all time. Though many of Marley’s lyrics relied on a simple, heartfelt refrain, his musical sincerity and undeniable charisma have left audiences from around the world to flock to his music for decades. 

Like many artists on this list, Bob Marley’s music continues to resonate to this day. However, unlike many other aforementioned songwriters, Marley started a family legacy which continues to launch music to the masses in 2024. Bob Marley’s expansive family has produced over half a dozen prolific music acts, including Damien Marley, Ziggy Marley, and most recently YG Marley, who’s first major release “Praise Jah In The Moonlight” has been making waves on social media lately. 

3. Smokey Robinson 

Unlike many of the prolific writers and performers on this list, Smokey Robinson is still alive and feeding the streets with sultry slow-jams today. Though his most recent album, 2023’s Gasms, lacks some of the inherent charm and range of his greatest hits, Robinson’s longevity demands to be celebrated. Smokey’s incredible work served as a foundation for the Motown sound of the 1960s and 1970s, with timeless love tunes such as “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me,” “Just To See Her,” and “The Tears of a Clown” still rounding out modern playlists today. As a founder of modern music, it cannot be doubted that Smokey Robinson is among the best songwriters of all time. 

2. Aretha Franklin 

Aretha Franklin is known as the Queen of Soul, and for good reason. Through her unmatched songwriting talent and incredible voice, she has garnered the love and respect of music fans across multiple generations. While Franklin is best recognized for her breathtaking vocal performances on tracks such as “Natural Woman” and “Respect,” her technical ability as a songwriter is equally stunning. Aretha Franklin’s spectacular ability to infuse raw, unwavering emotion into her soulful melodies has earned her worldwide recognition and accolades, cementing her status as a seminal artist for any aspiring vocalists. 

1. Stevie Wonder 

When discussing the best songwriters of all time, it is impossible not to bring up the one, the only, Stevie Wonder. Stevie Wonder is undeniably the greatest songwriter of all time, with an unparalleled music genius that has consistently pushed boundaries and defied expectations for decades within the music industry.

Wonder’s seamless ability to blend influences of funk, soul, jazz, and pop into a stunning arrangement continues to resonate deeply with listeners across the globe, while his lyrics touch on timeless themes of spirituality, love, and social justice. Stevie Wonder is essentially a savant on any instrument he touches, having composed multiple arrangements for his hit tracks all by himself. He is an unparalleled talent, who’s enduring spirit easily cements his legacy as history’s greatest songwriter.