Aretha Franklin Rolling Stone magazine cover

OCTOBER 9, 2018: Rolling Stone magazine in a hand over a stack of magazines with Aretha Franklin on the front cover. (Credit: dennizn on Shutterstock)

Women have experienced discrimination in the music business for many years, facing lower pay and harsher treatment than their male counterparts. That said, we are fortunate to have a historical catalog rich with exceptional female artists, vocalists, and composers who pushed the boundaries and changed the course of music history, influencing generations to come. Many of the biggest hits have been created, recorded, and performed by the best female singers of all time. So which legendary ladies are considered the consensus greatest?

If we take a look at music history, there are countless phenomenal female vocalists who have left their mark in pop, soul, jazz, and more. From rock icons like the legendary Stevie Nicks, known for her powerful vocal performances and unique songwriting style and the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Tina Turner, women have been shaking up the music industry for decades! The crazy thing is, their music might not be the last we’ve heard from the legends who have passed away. A recent study reveals that Pennine Records in the United Kingdom has released new music utilizing reconstructed acoustic sounds that were popular back before electric music recordings existed. The iconic music of the past lives on!

Known as the First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald is often heralded as the first female singer, making her debut in 1935. As a female singer in what was then a male dominant genre, she is often referred to as the “Queen of Jazz”. Haven’t heard of them? Time to turn on the tunes of the greats! Plus, a new study says listening to music can reduce stress, so get on it! All of these women have captivated audiences around the world with their powerful voices, moving lyrics, and inspiring performances. So, how do we choose only five?

With so many greats to choose from, there is no way to fit them all in this list! That being said, we turned to the so-called “experts” to find the most beloved female vocalists in history. We sought out who was widely viewed as the performers whose powerful voices, strong personalities, and influence on the industry have set a standard for vocal performance. StudyFinds consulted 10 expert lists to come away with the consensus five best female singers of all-time. Let us know if we missed you favorite in the comments below!

Singers Mariah Carey (left) & Whitney Houston at the MTV Video Music Awards
Singers Mariah Carey (left) & Whitney Houston at the MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles, September 1998. (Photo by Featureflash Photo Agency on Shutterstock)

The List: Best Female Singers of All Time, According to Music Experts

1. Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin is often credited as one of the greatest female vocalists of all time. Her ability to transcend genres and styles, such as rock, gospel, soul and jazz, has earned her the title of “Queen of Soul” and the number one spot on this list. Her iconic voice, powerful range and soulful lyrics have left an indelible mark on the music industry

According to Rolling Stone, Franklin is, “A force of nature. A work of genius. A gift from the heavens. Aretha Franklin’s voice is all that and more, which is why she remains the unchallenged Queen, years after her final bow. Her singing is the most magnificent sound to emerge from America — more universal than Coltrane’s horn, bolder than Hendrix’s guitar. She blew up worldwide with her 1967 hit ‘Respect,’ claiming her throne as the greatest pop, rock, or soul singer ever. As Mary J. Blige told Rolling Stone, ‘She is the reason why women want to sing.'” 

When Aretha moved to Muscle Shoals, she adopted the name Lady Soul and developed her own distinct, untamed R&B style. She compelled the masses to embrace her style, altering the world’s tone of music forever. “Many of her songs are considered classics, including ‘Respect’, ‘Chain of Fools’, and ‘Natural Woman.’ Aretha won 18 Grammy Awards, and she was also the first woman to be listed in the Rock and roll Hall of Fame in 1987,” says Midder Music.

Beyond her impressive musical catalog, Franklin was also a civil rights activist and an inspiring role model for many. Midder Music adds: “She is also noted for her activism for civil and women’s rights. Aretha Franklin was a skilled, hard-working, and conscious artist, and she inspired many singers that came after her.”

Her impact on the world of music was immense and her legacy will live on forever. Smooth Radio adds: “Using her gospel background to her advantage, Aretha had such an incredibly powerful and passionate voice. Even 50 years after her debut, she brought audiences to tears with her performances.” It’s no wonder why she is remembered as one of the most phenomenal female vocalists in history.

2. Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston was and will remain one of the greatest. Her voice was powerful, strong and smooth, yet gentle, and her ability to express emotion with her voice was truly remarkable. Her range was incredible. She could hit notes that other vocalists can only dream of. 

“Houston is one of pop music’s best-selling music artists of all-time, with an estimated 170–200 million records sold worldwide,” says The Top Tens. “She released seven studio albums and three movie soundtrack albums, all of which have diamond, multi-platinum, platinum or gold certification.”

Houston is the only person to arguably give Aretha Franklin a run for her money! “She could go up and down with different ranges with ease, keep things soft and warm or belt them out like a proper diva,” adds Smooth Radio. “At the height of her powers, no-one could match her effortless ability.”

She is truly a force to be reckoned with, and her vocal talents have only been amplified through her iconic songs such as “I Will Always Love You” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”. 

Midder Music concludes: “She has one of the most powerful voices in music history. Nicknamed ‘The Voice’, Whitney garnered many awards and recognitions during her lifetime. She is best-known for her masterful performance of Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Always Love You.’ Although she didn’t originally write the song, her rendition inspired many singers to follow their dreams.”

Her voice is one of the most recognizable in the world, and her legacy will live on forever. Whitney Houston is truly one of the best female vocalists of all time.

3. Adele

Adele’s incredible vocal range and raw emotion reverberate through every song she sings and make her performance captivating and unforgettable. She has released several critically acclaimed albums, won numerous awards, and has even performed alongside some of the greatest legends in the music industry. 

Glamour says, “There’s no person who’s quite got us through heartbreak like Adele. We bawled our eyes out at her pristine voice in Someone Like You and continued weeping with the release of Hello and Easy On Me. She’s the only person we like for making us cry this much…”

“You can hear her music on soundtracks for films like Skyfall, the James Bond movie, for which she won an Academy Award, and The Great Gatsby,” adds Music Grotto

Her musicality and her ability to convey raw emotion through her voice has made her a household name and an icon in the music industry. Not only is she one of the best female vocalists ever, but she is also one of the most successful and influential female artists of all time. 

Dig concludes, “In terms of genre, Adele switches with ease between heavy ballads and soulful power anthems which effortlessly fit her mezzo-soprano voice. In 2021, she released her fourth and most vulnerable album yet, 30, demand for which was so high it caused a global vinyl shortage. With her second album, 21, ranking below only The Beatles’ legendary Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in official counts of the UK’s biggest-selling albums of all time, Adele’s status as one of the best female singers in history seems set in stone.”

Adele’s success stands as a testament to her incredible talent and artistry, and her impact on the music industry will be felt for years to come.

4. Celine Dion

Celine Dion is a name that stands out. Her powerful, multi-octave voice, along with her ability to deliver powerful emotional ballads and upbeat pop numbers, has made her an international superstar. Her success in both the English and French speaking markets, along with her record-breaking releases, has earned her a place as one of the most successful female singers of all time. 

Her timeless hits such as “My Heart Will Go On” and “The Power of Love” have made her an icon and earned her numerous awards, including five Grammy awards and two Academy Awards. Glamour says, “From Titanic‘s hugely popular theme tune, My Heart Will Go On, to the chillingly powerful It’s All Coming Back to Me Now, Celine has always left us mesmerized with her unique vocals and nostalgic love songs. She is, quite simply, the greatest.”

As a testament to her influence and success, she is one of only three female artists to have sold over 250 million records worldwide. “This French-Canadian vocal powerhouse made her U.S. debut in 1990 after topping the charts in Canada,” adds Yard Barker. “Dion has sold more than 250 million albums globally, won 5 Grammy Awards, and holds multiple Billboard chart records.”

“Celine Dion’s work encompasses more than 27 albums in both English and French,” adds Music Grotto. “Her music career started in childhood. Her parents owned a club in Canada, where she performed. She began work on her first album at 12 and participated in many music competitions as a child, teenager, and young adult. Dion’s Las Vegas residency was the top-earning series in 2011.”

Aside from her musical career, Dion worked to help with various charitable organizations. She is also an ambassador to the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Her incredible career has set the bar for all female singers that follow.

5. Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey’s signature whistle register has captivated audiences around the world, and her music has created a legacy that continues to influence today’s artists. “She was blessed at a young age to be able to sing in not one but five different octaves, which quickly catapulted her to the top of the charts,” says Music in Minnesota. “We are also impressed that many of her top hits, like ‘All I Want for Christmas is You,’ were written by Mariah Carey herself.”

“She was born on March 27th, 1969, in Huntington, New York, and grew up trying to mimic her mother’s operatic voice,” adds Audio Captain. Her melismatic runs and powerful belt are a testament to her incredible talent. “This phenomenal songstress has won five Grammy Awards, nineteen World Music Awards, and ten American Music Awards and is an inductee into the Songwriters Hall of Fame,” concludes Audio Captain.

She has sold over 200 million records worldwide, making her one of the best-selling music artists of all time. Her influence on the music industry is undeniable, and she has been recognized with numerous awards, including five Grammy Awards and 19 World Music Awards. 

Rolling Stone says, “Her secret has long been a sweetness that can be at times either angelic or devilish, depending on how she wields the multitude of secret vocal weapons she has in her arsenal. Everything from coy, breathy coos to guttural, full-bodied belts can be deployed with equally electrifying results. By combining her operatic vocal talents with a tough attitude and penchant for high glamor and drama, Carey birthed generations of imitators in her wake,” which makes her a true icon of pop music.

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  1. Tony Borders says:

    1.Patti labelle
    2.Barbara Streisand
    3.Bette midler
    4.Gladys knight
    5.Dionne warwick
    6.whitney houston

    1. JD says:

      I’d add Ronstadt. Without her those who came later wouldn’t have

  2. Vincent T Walker says:

    Barbara Streisand and Mahalia Jackson should be on before Adele and Celine. I love their voices but not top 5.

  3. Hero of Sark Direct Descendant says:

    1. Karen Carpenter. (We’ve Only Just Begun)
    2 Alison Kraus. (When You Say Nothing At All).
    3. Christina Perri. (Thousand Years).
    4. Amy Lee. ( My Immortal).
    5. Judy Collins. (Both Sides Now).

    1. Julia K says:

      Amy Lee have me to my freaking knees!! That woman could sang like I don’t know what!! I love “My Immortal and “Hello”. And “Everybody’s Fool”. She really carried Evanescence!

    2. Daniel says:

      Thank you for recognizing Karen Carpenter for being the best. Hands down the most pitch perfect voice God ever blessed a human with!
      There are many amazing female vocalists in the world… but put someone right up against a mic with very quiet background music, and you’ll hear how perfect or imperfect their pitch is.
      Karen’s is perfect…

  4. Straus Davis says:

    Diana Ross
    Aretha Franklin
    Whitney Houston
    Celine Deon
    Mariah Carey
    Judy Garland
    Billie Holiday
    Barbara Streisand
    Nat King Cole

  5. Sam Smith says:

    Only bought Madonna albums and Tina Turner

  6. Kenneth D. Hamlett says:

    Lists like this are purely subjective. I respect the author’s right to her opinions & the opinions of those who may have contributed. But, their opinions are no more than just opinions. It is a strange list, in my opinion. I am an admirer of Adele. But, she has made 4 albums in 11 years, toured occasionally & now has a Las Vegas residency. Her albums contain some excellent songs, but also some forgettable songs. To be listed high up on a list of best of all-time list based on 5 or 6 hits seems at least premature & undeserved. I have a feeling that even Adele would agree with me. She has the potential to make the list, but not for a few songs.

    Mariah Carey is largely a creation of the recording studio. I have never heard her perform one of her songs live with anything like the quality of sound that the recorded version had. That does not make her one of the 5 best. It may well make those who produce her records among the best at their jobs. Go to the concerts of female vocalists & see which ones sound like their recordings. If you do, the names on this list would change dramatically.

    1. Tim Mackey says:

      I agree, too many pop artist are products of studio post production auto tune etc, listen to them live and you’re right the list changes. As far a crossing genre from grit, growl to classical near operatic Floor Jansen is leagues above the current listed pop singers, as good live if not better than in the studio. For shear raw talent up and coming Angelina Jordan has the ability to eventually boot everyone from their position.

    2. Choo says:

      Good to take consideration on live performances. I’ve never attended any of them. Have you ever been in Beyonce’s , Christina Aguilera’s or Lady Gaga’s concert?

  7. Jeffefey Relyea says:

    Ok here goes
    1. Barbra Streisand
    2. Patti LBelle
    3. Dolly Parton
    4. Mariah Carey
    5 tie here with Celine Dion
    Donna Summer

  8. Mr Jefferey Relyea says:

    Ok here goes my top 7 female singers
    1. Barbra Streisand
    2. Donna Summer
    3. Dolly Parton
    4. Adelle
    5 Patti Labelle tied with
    Mariah Carey And
    Whitney Houston

  9. PH says:

    My top 5 include
    Whitney Houston
    Patti LaBelle
    Aretha Franklin
    Chaka Khan

  10. Bill says:

    This list is ridiculous without Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. Who should be Numbers 1 and 2. Full stop !!!

  11. Bill says:

    This list is ridiculous without Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, who should be at the top of the list. Full stop !!!

  12. Marolyn Jackson says:

    Where is Ann Wilson on this list? She is by far a better vocalist than any of these women! She has been so overlooked for so long! It’s a damn shame!

    1. Janice A McClellan says:

      Yes! The best in contemporary music. Incredible chops.

  13. Paul says:

    Not one person mentioned Anita baker,just to many to fit into 5 spots

  14. Janice A McClellan says:

    As a veteran musician and singer, I can say that Ella Fitzgerald and Patti Austin are the best vocalists.

  15. Jeffrey Collins says:

    Diana Ross
    Aretha Franklin
    Whitney Houston
    Dionne Warwick
    Nancy Wilson

  16. Jeffrey Collins says:

    I simply cannot understand why Diana Ross is omitted from these types lists! Any list of 5 should clearly have her listed! Come on now! Her contributions to music- especially black artistry being included in the forefront is a fact…that must stop being ignored.

  17. KDenise says:

    My personal favorites lady singers are a mix of not just the strength and tone, but how I feel when I listen…

    Aretha Franklin
    Jill Scott
    Annie Lennox
    Mary J. Blige
    Chaka Khan
    Gladys Knight
    Barbara Streisand

    Adele is talented, but I’d rather listen to Kelly Clarkson!!

  18. TheoC says:

    1- Ann Wilson – Heart
    2- Judith Durham – Seekers
    3- Aretha Franklin
    4- Whitney Houston
    5- Diana Ross – Supremes
    6- Linda Ronstadt
    7- Celine Dion
    8- Taylor Swift
    9- Mariah Carey
    10- Anita Baker

  19. Kevin says:

    You talk about talent and influence. Karen Carpenter according to research has influenced many singers and was admired by many. I read that Aretha Franklin and Ella Fitzgerald just adored her.
    Madonna, Shania Twain, Chrissie Hynde, kd Lange were influenced greatly. Paul McCartney has said her voice was his favorite. Perfect Pitch. Never forget Karen. She is a legend.

  20. Mark says:

    Nobody has mentioned Eva Cassidy on any of the listings! Her interpretation of ‘songbird’ has got to be one of the greatest covers of all time!!