15 Best Female R&B Singers Of The 70s

The 1970s were a decade that could be best described as a sort of melting pot of musical genres. Musicians pioneered new styles by crossbreeding the sounds of different genres with the one they were versed in, with R&B being one genre affected by this. 

Despite its sonic changes, women singers continued to play an important role in the overall success and viability of the style. The following singers are some of the most notable to have found acclaim during the 1970s.

Gladys Knight

Gladys Knight rose to prominence performing alongside her brother and cousins in the group, Gladys Knight & the Pips. With this group, Gladys Knight contributed her vocals to some of the most iconic R&B songs ever recorded, including I Heard It Through the Grapevine (from the late 1960s), and Midnight Train to Georgia. 

Gladys would eventually embark on a solo career toward the end of the decade while continuing to record with the Pips up through the late 1980s. 

Aretha Franklin

1968 is generally regarded as being the year that Aretha Franklin was truly in her top form, especially considering that it was the year the majority of her signature hits were released. Because of this, Aretha’s output during the 1970s is vastly overlooked, though she produced several hits (such as Rock Steady) in the earlier years of the decade. 

Unfortunately, Aretha’s career would be hit-or-miss from the mid-1970s onward, until she would join the Arista label in the following decade. 

Roberta Flack

Roberta Flack was the first artist to ever win a Grammy Award on back-to-back years for having the year’s best record, a monumental feat for any artist but especially so for a black woman in the early 1970s. One of these songs was, of course, Killing Me Softly With His Song, a track that featured longtime collaborator and fellow R&B singer, Donny Hathaway. 

Roberta Flack

Chaka Khan

Chaka Khan was a dominating force in the R&B world throughout the mid-to-late 1970s, performing in the funk-oriented group, Rufus. The band would eventually rise to prominence thanks to the help of Stevie Wonder, who penned the song, Tell Me Something Good (which is arguably one of their best tracks, period).

Eventually, Chaka became one of the group’s main attractions, with venue marquees and albums putting her name in front of the band. In the following decade, Chaka would embark on a massively successful solo career marked by hit singles and making legendary cameos on songs like Higher Love.

Anita Ward

If you’re unsure whether you’re familiar with Anita Ward, there’s a chance that she may have missed your radar. Ward was a teacher before releasing her hit single, Ring My Bell, in 1979.

Despite releasing 2 full-length albums that year, Ward’s career never really seemed to take off beyond her initial hit song. Nevertheless, Ring My Bell remains a classic disco-infused R&B track that has seemingly withstood the tests of time. 

Donna Summer

Donna Summer was one of many 1970s singers who found immense success by incorporating the sound of disco. By the end of the decade, Summer’s music had properly invaded every corner of pop culture with her smash hit, Hot Stuff, a track that has only increased in popularity due to its placement in films such as The Full Monty.

Hot Stuff essentially set Donna up to be one of the best-selling R&B singers of the early 1980s.

Donna Summer

Jean Knight

Jean Knight could likely be considered a one-hit-wonder, though the song that she’s known for is a monumental hit. That track is entitled, Mr. Big Stuff, which is reminiscent of the soul-infused R&B groups of the mid-1960s with regard to its catchy call-and-response chorus tagline and funky horn-steeped arrangement. 

Jean continued to release singles throughout the mid-1970s as well as short stints in the following decades. 

The Staple Singers

One of the biggest groups on the Stax label during the early 1970s was The Staple Singers, an R&B group comprised of a father (Pops) and his son and daughters. The Staple Singers had a sound that was more influenced by soul music but had hints of the style of funk that was emerging at the time, which is best exemplified in the track, Respect Yourself.

Of course, we can’t mention The Staple Singers without giving proper mention to Mavis Staples, who held the lead vocalist role. Currently well into her 80s, Mavis continues to record and perform regularly. 

Shirley Brown

Shirley Brown is another R&B singer who may have missed your radar among all the other great music to have come from this decade. After being discovered by and touring with blues guitarist, Albert King, Brown made her debut in 1974 with the smash hit track, Woman to Woman.

Unfortunately, due to the fate of Stax Records, Brown’s career never really took off beyond this first single, despite releasing music regularly into the late 2000s. 

Shirley Brown

The Pointer Sisters

The Pointer Sisters are one of the most legendary familial singing groups of the 1970s, who found crossover success in multiple genres due to their willingness to experiment with different sounds. In fact, not only would they be the first black group to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, but they even won a Grammy Award for Best Duo/Group Country Vocals in 1974. 


When it comes to 1970s R&B tracks fit for the dance floor, Lady Marmalade is especially renowned. This track has been covered numerous times, with the 2001 version by Mya, Lil’ Kim, Pink, and Christina Aguilera (for Moulin Rouge!) being perhaps the most famous contemporary version.

Labelle was a powerhouse vocal group consisting of members such as Cindy Birdsong (formerly of The Supremes) and Patti LaBelle, who is widely considered one of the greatest R&B singers of all time.

Natalie Cole

Considering that her father was Nat King Cole and that her mother sang in Duke Ellington’s band, perhaps it was destiny that Natalie Cole would find immense success in the mid-1970s. 

Natalie emerged onto the scene in 1975 with her hit debut single, This Will Be, which gained her a Grammy Award recognizing her as that year’s best new artist while setting the tone for the kind of success she would enjoy up until her passing in 2015.

Natalie Cole

Sister Sledge

One of the most iconic disco-infused R&B tracks from the 1970s is Sister Sledge’s We Are Family. This song would be the quartet of sisters’ biggest hit and has since become a staple on DJ playlists for weddings and other family-related celebrations thanks to its infectious groove and unforgettable chorus.

Diana Ross

After making her name in The Supremes, the 1970s saw Diana Ross topping the charts with a cover of Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. Just a couple of years later, Ross eventually worked with Marvin Gaye on several songs while also transitioning into disco (as heard with the hit, Love Hangover).

Just when it seemed as if Ross couldn’t get any more iconic, the 1980s came and cemented her status as a legend with the tracks, Upside Down, and, I’m Coming Out. 

Gloria Gaynor

Gloria Gaynor didn’t get her big break until the release of her 6th album, Love Tracks. This album would become Gaynor’s claim to fame primarily because it featured the legendary song, I Will Survive, which has since become a dance anthem for overcoming all obstacles and outlasting hard times. 

Gaynor continues to release music, with her latest studio album having been released in 2019. 

Gloria Gaynor

Best Female R&B Singers Of The 70s

While this is by no means an exhaustive, comprehensive list of 1970s female R&B vocalists, these examples demonstrate the diversity the genre was experiencing throughout the decade. 

Even though over/nearly over 50 years have passed, the singers mentioned here have been instrumental in influencing today’s contemporary singers. Their music lives on with a perpetual level of popularity that will likely continue to carry on for decades to come.

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