Talent and popularity don’t always go hand in hand.
You can be talented and have no following.
You can be popular and not be especially talented.
But where the two go together, you’ll often find a superstar, someone who’s performing on the stages of the world.
In this guide, we’ll be looking at 20 of the best male and female signers of all time.
In addition to being talented and popular, they’ve also influenced plenty of your favorite singers and artists.
Here are our picks.
Best Female Singers Of All Time
I might beat this drum several times throughout this guide, but it’s worth mentioning that choosing the best singers, regardless of gender, is no easy task.
There are so many factors to consider.
But it’s fair to say the reason your sister or cousin isn’t on this list is because she simply isn’t popular enough (I’m sure your relative sings just fine).
Not that popularity is everything – it isn’t.
But if people haven’t heard of them, they’re probably not on this list.
In this section, you’ll find our top picks for the best female singers of all time (primarily in pop, rock and jazz) – based on talent, skill, influence and uniqueness.
Let’s get into it.
Born: March 27, 1969 or 1970
Genre: R&B, pop, hip hop, soul
Popular Songs They Sing: “Fantasy”, “We Belong Together”, “All I Want For Christmas Is You”
With her trademark five-octave vocal range, Mariah Carey has influenced many modern counterparts, from Ariana Grande and Beyoncé to Kelly Clarkson and Christina Aguilera.
Her discography is reflective of her tireless work ethic, even if it slowed down a bit in the 2010s.
With two Diamond certified albums and 11 Platinum to multi-Platinum albums total, it’s fair to say Carey has had her time in the spotlight.
And, it’s hard to imagine the holidays without “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”
Frankly, there’s nothing left for her to prove.
Even as she reaches 50 years in age, Carey’s voice and appearance remain near ageless.
Carey managed to cross cultural boundaries to become a worldwide star, and that’s a massive accomplishment for anyone.
It’s hard to pick my favorite Mariah song, so I’ll share three – “Fantasy”, “We Belong Together” and “Heartbreaker.”
Here’s Mariah’s “Fantasy”:
Born: March 25, 1942
Genre: Soul, R&B, pop, gospel, dance
Popular Songs They Sing: “Respect”, “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)”, “Think”
Aretha Franklin is the undisputed Queen of Soul.
She had a three- to four-octave vocal range, which was impressive all its own.
But her enduring popularity and recognition as one of the best vocalists of all time might have more to do with her powerful, pitch perfect delivery.
One of her most recognizable hits, “Respect” would later become known as a civil rights and feminist anthem – to that extent, you might even say that Franklin was the original feminist (but we’ll leave that to you to decide).
Although she passed away only last year (2018), from 1961 to 2014, she released no fewer than 39 studio albums, with the 60s and 70s representing her most prolific decades.
This type of longevity and success is rarely duplicated, and talent of this caliber rarely appreciated.
For that reason alone, Franklin deserves a place on this list.
My favorite Aretha Franklin song is “Respect”, which you can hear below:
Born: January 19, 1943
Genre: Psychedelic rock, soul, blues, blues rock
Popular Songs They Sing: “Me And Bobby McGee”, “Piece Of My Heart”, “Summertime”
One of the original members of the 27 Club (which includes the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse and others), Joplin’s music career may have been cut short, but her contribution lives on.
The 27 Club, by the way, refers to a group of pop and rock stars who tragically died at the age of 27.
Anyway, Joplin’s powerful, coarse, soulful voice remains an inspiration to many, and her songs can still be heard at open mic and jam nights, cover band gigs and more.
Joplin has influenced a myriad of artists, including Melissa Etheridge, Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett, Faith Hill and others.
She possessed a three-octave mezzo-soprano voice and recorded four albums with Big Brother and the Holding Company before her tragic end.
It’s incredibly hard to pick my favorite Janis Joplin song, but “Piece Of My Heart” is up there.
Here’s Joplin’s “Me And Bobby McGee”:
Born: December 18, 1980
Genre: Pop, R&B, dance-pop, soul
Popular Songs They Sing: “Genie In A Bottle”, “Dirrty”, “Beautiful”
Christina Aguilera has an impressive four-octave vocal range, and though she is sometimes mistaken for a soprano because of her vocal prowess, Aguilera is in fact a mezzo soprano (which means she has a strong midrange).
Despite her youth, her longevity, enduring popularity and reputation as a pop singer with real talent (not something we can say for her peers around the same age) make her hard to ignore.
Though she is best known for some of her earlier works, Aguilera may still have some of her best years ahead of her, especially if she plays her cards right.
So far, she has eight studio albums to her name, though there is a bit of a spread between them in terms of timelines.
Aguilera has already influenced the likes of Jordin Sparks, Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, Adam Lambert and Lady Gaga, which also speaks to her credentials.
My favorite Christina Aguilera song is “Dirrty” but that’s not because of the music video (which I didn’t hate).
Honestly, I like the catchy harmonies, especially in the pre-chorus section.
Here’s some O.G. Christina in the form of “Genie In A Bottle”:
Born: August 9, 1963
Genre: R&B, pop, soul, gospel
Popular Songs They Sing: “I Will Always Love You”, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)”, “Greatest Love Of All”
With a five-octave vocal range and 11 chart-topping singles, Whitney Houston could be considered the original Mariah Carey, which almost tells you everything you need to know.
She accomplished a great deal with just seven studio albums to her name, with all but one earning Platinum or multi-Platinum status.
Houston was a dynamic singer with incredible control, even at lower volumes.
Of course, she will likely be remembered for her soulful and powerful belting on songs like Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”, which Houston made her own (it ended up eclipsing the original, though both versions have their charm).
Being named one of the all-time greatest singers is an honor all its own – but Houston was a talented actress to boot.
One should be so lucky (not to suggest that she didn’t work for it!).
My favorite Whitney Houston song is “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” because it’s simple, catchy and upbeat.
Here’s Whitney Houston’s music video for “I Will Always Love You”:
Born: March 30, 1968
Genre: Pop, chanson, soft rock, R&B
Popular Songs They Sing: “Because You Loved Me”, “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now”, “Think Twice”
For as much praise as this Canadian singer receives, she’s also been the punchline to plenty of jokes.
The thing is, she’s an incredible singer.
She might not be your thing, but that’s not a problem, because she’s got a large fan base, she can call her own.
So, don’t worry, she’ll get along just fine.
The Queen of Adult Contemporary Celine Dion has 27 studio albums to her name and has remained prolific from the early 80s all the way to the 2010s, even if the 2010s have been a little slower.
Dion has a three-octave plus vocal range, smooth pitch and a rather unique pronunciation (which for many is probably a love it or hate it situation).
This, by the way, has a lot to do with the fact that French was her first language.
Dion is also able to belt it out when she needs to.
Regardless of how you feel about her vocal style, she’s certainly deserving of a place on this list.
My favorite Celine Dion moment is “Immortality” with the Bee Gees.
Here’s Celine Dion singing “Because You Loved Me” live:
Born: April 25, 1917
Genre: Swing, bebop, traditional pop, vocal jazz, blues
Popular Songs They Sing: “Airmail Special”, “How High The Moon”, “Misty”
Ella Fitzgerald had a handful of nicknames, including First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz and Lady Ella – and, it’s fair to say she earned each of them.
But it’s not just her three-octave vocal range that made her remarkable.
Fitzgerald had a powerful and pure tone to her voice, along with perfect pitch and enunciation.
She was also the consummate professional when it came to improvisation, with the ability to bridge wide intervals with seeming ease.
With over 50 studio albums (not including live albums, guest appearances and the like) and collaborations with the likes of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Joe Pass, Count Basie and others, her status as legendary is impossible to argue.
Have a listen for yourself and you’ll see for yourself – she is undoubtedly the Queen of Jazz.
My favorite Ella Fitzgerald moment is “How High The Moon.”
The proof is in the pudding.
Here’s Fitzgerald singing “Airmail Special”:
Born: March 2, 1950
Genre: Pop, easy listening,
Popular Songs They Sing: “(They Long To Be) Close To You”, “Superstar”, “We’ve Only Just Begun”
At just 32 years, Karen Carpenter’s life was cut short.
Her legacy, however, lives on.
I remember listening to the Carpenters as a kid – they were one of my mom’s favorite acts.
Carpenter had a contralto voice, which is certainly not unheard of in pop, but it’s a little on the unusual side.
Though most known for her smooth, dynamic, on-pitch and versatile voice, she was also regarded highly as a drummer, which gives her extra credibility.
The Carpenters were especially prolific in the 70s and 80s while Karen was still alive, though they’ve released more music since.
Carpenter has influenced the likes of Madonna, Sheryl Crow, Pat Metheny, Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth), Natalie Imbruglia, Shania Twain and others.
Speaking of Shania Twain, I’m sure I’m not the only one that sometimes hears Karen Carpenter’s voice coming out of Twain.
My favorite song sung by Karen Carpenter is “We’ve Only Just Begun.”
Here’s the classic “(They Long To Be) Close To You”:
Born: November 26, 1939
Genre: R&B, pop, soul, dance, rock and roll, rock
Popular Songs They Sing: “What’s Love Got To Do With It”, “Private Dancer”, “Proud Mary”
This American-Swiss singer and actress is one of the bestselling artists of all time and has even been called The Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Tina Turner originally found success with Ike & Tina Turner Revue.
Her successful solo career was soon to follow.
Not to make too much a point of it, but things didn’t exactly go well with the drug-addicted Ike Turner who subjected her to domestic violence.
Her catalog includes 24 studio albums with Ike & Tina Turner and nine studio albums as a solo artist.
Turner is a mezzo-soprano with an impressive four-octave vocal range.
Her voice is smoky, growly and powerful – and, frankly, unexpected (which is why it has all the makings of a signature vocal sound).
One of my favorite moments is her collaboration with Bryan Adams, “It’s Only Love.”
Let’s wrap this section with some “What’s Love Got To Do With It”:
Born: December 31, 1948
Genre: Disco, R&B, dance, soul, rock
Popular Songs They Sing: “Hot Stuff”, “Bad Girls”, “MacArthur Park”
When you hear songs like “Hot Stuff” and “Bad Girls” and judge the songs by their lyrical content, it’s easy to miss that Donna Summer is a well-trained mezzo-soprano with a three-octave vocal range.
Her voice is a solid combination of smooth and growly.
She’s got great tone and projection too, much like most singers on this list.
Sometimes referred to as the Queen of Disco, Summer released 17 albums as a solo artist, with six albums coming out between 1974 and 1977.
Though we can’t confirm or deny who Summer influenced, it’s fair to say she blazed a trail for the likes of Madonna, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Kylie Minogue.
One of her most bizarre moments is surely “MacArthur Park”, though I can’t deny she sings it to perfection.
And, those who’ve dared to record it have generally done well with it.
My favorite Donna Summer tune is probably “Bad Girls” because of its strong groove.
There’s nothing left for me to do here except post “Hot Stuff”:
Top Male Singers In The World
Now it’s time to look at some of the best male singers of all time.
Again, picking the best singers is a daunting task.
Remember the criteria I mentioned earlier – talent, skill, influence and originality.
I’m certainly not saying there aren’t other great singers we couldn’t have picked.
In any case, let’s have a look.
Born: August 29, 1958
Genre: Pop, soul, funk, R&B, rock, disco, post-disco, dance-pop, new jack swing
Popular Songs They Sing: “Billie Jean”, “Beat It”, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”
The King of Pop Michael Jackson had a four-octave vocal range and rarely matched versatility as a singer, which made him perfect for the many styles of music he would sing over during his lifetime.
He will always be remembered for his Diamond certified album Thriller, but from The Jackson 5 to his unforgettable solo releases, he will likely continue to be held up as one of the most important voices in pop music.
Jackson’s voice was dynamic – he could easily go from soft and controlled to growly and powerful.
As a live performer, Jackson concerned himself with every detail of the stage.
From his dance moves to the exact riffs being played by the guitarist, no factor was too small for him to perfect.
Jackson also influenced the likes of Chris Brown, Usher, Ciara, Justin Timberlake, Justin Bieber and innumerable others.
My favorite Michael Jackson song is “Beat It”, mostly because two of my favorite guitarists played on it – Steve Lukather and Eddie Van Halen.
We can’t go wrong with “Billie Jean” here:
Born: September 23, 1930
Genre: R&B, soul, blues, gospel, country, jazz, rock and roll
Popular Songs They Sing: “Georgia On My Mind”, “I Got A Woman”, “Hit The Road Jack”
Blind by the age of seven, Ray Charles would establish himself as a musical legend in the years that followed.
He will always be remembered as a pioneer in soul music, but he also experienced significant crossover success with country, R&B and pop.
Charles was a perfectionist in the studio and could hear every note being sung or played by other musicians.
As a musician, if you got the stamp of approval from Charles, you knew you had it going on.
He was no slouch as a pianist either.
Charles influenced the likes of Elvis Presley, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Billy Joel, Van Morrison and many others.
To that extent, you simply can’t argue his immovable spot on this best-of list.
He was actively releasing new music from the late 50s through to his final years in the early 2000s, with his last prolific decade being the 90s.
It’s impossible to pick my favorite Ray Charles song, but I’ll say, “Hit The Road Jack.”
Nothing can beat this live performance of “Georgia On My Mind”:
Born: January 8, 1935
Genre: Rock and roll, pop, rockabilly, country, blues, gospel, R&B
Popular Songs They Sing: “It’s Now Or Never”, “Jailhouse Rock”, “Are You Lonesome Tonight”
Born Elvis Aaron Presley, the King of Rock and Roll released 24 studio albums between 1956 and 1977.
His vocal range is a point of contention, but it’s fair to say he had at least a two-octave range in the Baritone to Tenor spectrum.
He is probably most known for his trademark trembling vibrato, though skill and talent wise, many would not point to Presley as being the best singer in the world.
Despite that, he is the bestselling artist in the history of recorded music, and he even influenced the likes of The Beatles, Cliff Richard, Billy Fury and many others.
If The Beatles was the only act he ever influenced, he would probably still be considered the most influential artist of all time, because most of today’s pop music would not be what it is without The Beatles.
“Burning Love” is one my favorite Elvis Songs.
Here’s Elvis singing “Hound Dog”:
Born: March 25, 1947
Genre: Rock, pop rock, glam rock, soft rock
Popular Songs They Sing: “Tiny Dancer”, “Rocket Man”, “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)”
Elton John isn’t just a superb singer, known for countless hits like “Bennie And The Jets”, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, “Candle In The Wind”, “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” and others.
He’s also an excellent songwriter, pianist and composer.
It’s hard enough delivering the powerful, on-pitch vocals John is known for night after night.
But there aren’t too many rock pianists that could hold a candle to him either (unless we’re talking about some of the legends).
John’s three-octave vocal range gives him plenty of notes to work with, and he slips into falsetto when he needs access to higher notes.
If that wasn’t enough, his onstage performances are energetic, passionate and fiery – he’s a true showman.
It probably wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say all subsequent rock pianists exist because of John, but a few artists who’ve been influenced by him include Bruce Hornsby, Ben Folds and PJ Morton.
My favorite Elton John song is clearly “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting).”
Elton John is meant to be enjoyed live, so here’s “Rocket Man” from Royal Festival Hall, London in 1972:
Born: August 20, 1948
Genre: Rock, blues, folk, country, hard rock, heavy metal
Popular Songs They Sing: “Stairway To Heaven”, “Immigrant Song”, “Whole Lotta Love”
Without Robert Plant, we probably wouldn’t have Chris Cornell, Gary Cherone, Geddy Lee, Sammy Hagar, Freddie Mercury or Axl Rose.
With his illustrious work in Led Zeppelin, Plant set the template for the modern male rock vocalist that countless others have emulated – whether it’s in a dive bar on a Saturday night, or on the big stages across the world.
What would male rock vocalists today look like without Plant?
That question is virtually impossible to answer – that’s how influential he’s been.
Led Zeppelin may have made him a legend, but Plant has built an impressive catalog of music as a solo artist too.
For better or for worse, he will never come out from under the shadow of Zeppelin but surviving band members Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones carry the same burden too.
Have a quick listen to Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” and you’ll see what all the fuss is about.
It’s honestly torturous for me to pick just one song Robert Plant sings on, but I happen to like “Dancing Days” and “Livin’ Lovin’ Maid.”
“Whole Lotta Love” is awesome too, and here’s the official music video:
Born: September 5, 1946
Popular Songs They Sing: “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Under Pressure”, “We Will Rock You”
As Queen’s singer and front man, Freddie Mercury left a serious dent on rock music.
And, it can still be felt today.
Mercury and Queen inspired countless other singers and artists, including Extreme, Harem Scarem, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Dave Grohl, Metallica and others.
When discussions about the best rock singers come up, inevitably, Mercury’s name is tossed into the ring.
From his trademark growl to smooth tenor highs, his voice is both powerful and instantly recognizable.
Arguably, Christian band downhere’s lead vocalist Marc Martel improved upon Freddie Mercury’s voice by smoothing out the vibratos.
That may be a point of contention, but Martel is another great example of a singer who wouldn’t exist without Mercury.
Mercury had a bit of a solo career from the mid to late 80s, but he will always be remembered for his work with Queen, which included “Killer Queen”, “Tie Your Mother Down”, “Stone Cold Crazy”, “Somebody To Love”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, “Another One Bites The Dust” and others.
It’s near impossible for me to pick a favorite moment, but “Under Pressure” with David Bowie is beyond stellar.
But there’s no way I can close this section without bringing up “Bohemian Rhapsody”:
Born: January 8, 1947
Genre: Art rock, glam rock, pop, electronic, experimental
Popular Songs They Sing: “Space Oddity”, “Changes”, “Heroes”
King of avant-garde and experimental music, David Bowie may not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of impressive vocalists.
But his versatility, faux operatic approach and four-octave range (which were hard earned) should silence most counters.
Artists like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead likely would not exist without Bowie’s contribution to rock and experimental music, and that alone can speak to his vast influence.
For better – and at times for worse – Bowie even collaborated with the likes of Queen (good), Mick Jagger (questionable) and Bing Crosby (strange).
Bowie wasn’t always appreciated or understood, but he commanded enough popularity through the years, and his foray into pop, especially with Let’s Dance in the early 80s, didn’t hurt matters either.
Bowie remained prolific from the late 60s to early 2000s and his final two releases were launched in the mid-2010s.
He wasn’t afraid to innovate and experiment, and if you never thought of him as a singer before, I would urge you to reconsider now.
Again, it’s hard for me to pick just one moment, but studio album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) is a little underrated, so I’m going to pick “It’s No Game (Pt. 1)” and “Teenage Wildlife” off of it.
Here I’d like to share Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”:
Born: June 7, 1958
Genre: Minneapolis sound, funk, rock, pop, R&B, soul
Popular Songs They Sing: “When Doves Cry”, “1999”, “Purple Rain”
We can’t confirm or deny Prince’s five-octave vocal range (reportedly six octaves if you include some of the more questionable notes) but there’s little doubt in our minds he was the consummate musician.
His guitar playing abilities alone would put many of today’s musicians to absolute shame.
He could also play the keys, dance, and of course sing – sometimes all at the same time (honestly, there probably isn’t an instrument he couldn’t play).
As a singer, Prince wasn’t afraid to express himself however he saw fit – oftentimes with his falsetto range.
It’s easy to forget, but his voice was also powerful when it needed to be, such as on tracks like “Purple Rain.”
As a solo artist, his discography is extensive to say the least.
If that wasn’t enough, he also produced and made guest appearances on projects by the likes of Cyndi Lauper, The Bangles, Chaka Khan, Madonna, Paula Abdul, Kate Bush, No Doubt and others.
It’s fair to say Prince was an absolute perfectionist, and he expected that of himself as well as the musicians surrounding him.
That could have worked for or against him, but that doesn’t discount his success or change the fact that he’s a musician’s musician through and through.
My favorite Prince moment is when he performed “Purple Rain” at the Live American Music Awards in 1985 – good luck finding a performance at an awards show that matches the passion demonstrated here.
I have no choice but to put “When Doves Cry” here:
Born: January 22, 1949
Popular Songs They Sing: “Don’t Stop Believin’”, “Faithfully”, “Any Way You Want It”
Steve Perry could be one of the most imitated male rock vocalists of all time.
His smooth, powerful delivery matched with his three-octave vocal range made him a force to reckon with, and whether it was as Journey’s front man or as a solo artist, his impact can be felt in rock music to this day.
That did not make him beyond reproach – as Steve Augeri, Arnel Pineda and other Journey lead vocalists have proven, Perry’s voice is not impossible to imitate or match.
To that extent, however, his influence simply cannot be denied.
He’s got a voice people want to imitate – rock singers want to sound like Perry (and, some wish in vain).
Plus, Journey’s backlog of hit songs would not exist without Perry’s contribution – “Open Arms”, “Be Good To Yourself”, “Lights” and many others.
Perry is one of the handful of male rock singers many see as being one of the best.
I don’t know how to single out one Steve Perry moment, but because I must pick, I will say “Any Way You Want It.”
Never stop believing, because here’s “Don’t Stop Believin'”:
Born: January 10, 1945
Genre: Rock, pop, blue-eyed soul, blues rock, folk rock, soft rock
Popular Songs They Sing: “Maggie May”, “Mandolin Wind”, “Reason To Believe”
Rod Stewart’s signature smoky rock vocals are instantly recognizable and unique to say the least.
While he may be best known for his work as a solo artist, Stewart’s many contributions to pop and rock started much earlier than many realize, namely with The Jeff Beck Group in the late 60s.
Jeff Beck may not be a household name the same way Stewart is, but in the guitar community he is widely known as one of the most innovative, unique and creative guitarists to come out of The Yardbirds (which was an incubator for Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page as well).
Rod Stewart’s discography spans from the late 60s all the way to the late 2010s.
His pace has been a little slower through the 2010s, but even then, his catalog his rarely matched.
He’s one of the bestselling artists of all time, but when you match that up with how hard he’s worked through the years, it adds up.
I’m a guitarist, so it goes without saying that one of my favorite Rod Stewart moments is Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart’s “People Get Ready.”
“Maggie May” is near perfect as a pop song, so that’s what’s going here:
Best Male And Female Singers Of All Time; Final Thoughts
Choosing the best singers is no easy task.
There are so many criteria to weigh, whether it’s technique, influence, uniqueness/originality or otherwise.
So, if we haven’t covered your favorite singer here, we’d love to hear about it.
Let us know who they are and why you think they should be on this list.