13 Best Male R&B Singers Of The 70s

The 1970s were one of the most fertile decades of musical innovation, with almost every genre experiencing its own renaissance and evolution. R&B began to encompass many different sounds during the decade, though the most successful songs were characterized by strong singing voices. 

The following singers are some of the most legendary R&B singers to come out of the 1970s. These singers are highly influential, with song catalogs that are still enjoyed and celebrated today.

Al Green

With the release of his 3rd album in 1971, Al Green was on a meteoric rise toward superstardom. Green is notable for having a smooth, effortless vocal delivery with an impressive upper range, which he utilizes for dramatic, dynamic effect. 

Most people are familiar with his song, Let’s Stay Together, which has been featured in numerous films including Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 blockbuster, Pulp Fiction. 

The O’Jays

While singing groups were especially popular throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the tradition carried over throughout the 1970s. The O’Jays were one of the most successful male R&B groups of the decade, featuring the legendary Eddie Levert, whose sons would go on to become hit R&B singers themselves. 

The O’Jays found success in both the US and the UK, especially with their songs Love Train, and Back Stabbers. 

The O’Jays

The Isley Brothers

The Isley Brothers set the tone for how successful they would be during the 1970s by winning a Grammy Award for group vocal performance on their song, It’s Your Thing. Granted, this group first rose to fame during the 1960s with their recording of the song, Twist and Shout (which became “the” version everyone knew the song by).

From there, this group (comprised of family members) would release several tracks that are still regarded as timeless hits of the period, including, That Lady, which is practically the musical embodiment of romantic attraction.

Commodores

Before Lionel Ritchie would have the Earth-shattering success he achieved in the 1980s, he made a name for himself in the Commodores. This R&B group landed more on the funky side of R&B, which can be observed by listening to their biggest dance floor-approved track, Brick House. 

Toward the end of the decade, Commodores were going a bit soft with their sound while experiencing their highest level of popularity with the song, Three Times a Lady. 

Commodores

Stevie Wonder

The 1970s saw Stevie Wonder release some of the most legendary albums of all time (particularly Innervisions, and, Songs in the Key of Life), which are riddled with hits like Superstition and Higher Ground. While Stevie Wonder’s signature voice is instantly recognizable, it’s his piano wizardry that puts him entirely into a class of his own, held in the hearts of many as a sacred musician. 

Stevie Wonder

Barry White

Not all male R&B singers from the 1970s were known to have an expansive range in the upper registers. Barry White was known for having a deep voice that could wash over the ears like soft, rich velvet, which is surprising for a singer who reportedly smoked almost a carton of cigarettes each day. 

White first made a name for himself writing songs and producing recordings for other groups before embarking on his solo career in 1973. His track, Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe, can still be heard on radio stations regularly.

Isaac Hayes

Another R&B singer known for his ridiculously rich lower singing voice is Isaac Hayes, who helped slow R&B become the music of choice for those intimate bedroom moments. It’s partially for this reason that he would later voice the role of South Park’s Chef for almost an entire decade. 

As a studio musician for Stax Records, Hayes made a name for himself in the late 1960s penning songs like Soul Man and other Sam & Dave hits. Hayes had a few notable releases during the 1970s, with one of the most impactful being the soundtrack for the film, Shaft.

Donny Hathaway

The album, Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway, might just be one of the greatest R&B duo records of all time. Released in 1972, the album was primarily filled with cover songs, with the album’s biggest hit being Where Is the Love, which eventually won a Grammy Award for duo singing performance. 

Hathaway also released a critically acclaimed live album in 1972, which features a legendary version of his song, The Ghetto. His life was tragically cut short in 1979.

Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye is undoubtedly one of the most widely-known R&B singers of all time, particularly because of his song, Let’s Get It On. With this track, Gaye helped to provide the ideal soundtrack for those sensual acts of love.

Marvin Gaye’s legacy expands beyond what words can even attempt to convey. With his album, What’s Going On, Gaye helped set a precedent regarding the virtuosic talent that black musicians would be recognized and respected for. 

Marvin Gaye

The Temptations

Sure, The Temptations might indeed be better known for the body of work they released throughout the 1960s. However, The Temptations are one of the few groups to have been able to successfully pivot and find success in practically every decade since, while eventually experimenting with different sounds including funk and disco.

The group’s biggest hits from the 1970s come from the decade’s earlier releases, with tracks like Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me), and, Happy People. 

Teddy Pendergrass

When he sang If You Don’t Know Me by Now as a member of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, one has to wonder if Teddy Pendergrass was alluding to his solo career. Because if people weren’t aware of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, they most certainly were aware of Teddy near the end of the decade with his hit track, Close the Door. 

By the end of the decade, Pendergrass was another one of those choice artists whose music would provide the soundtrack to acts of romance. If you were born near this period, there may be a chance that your parents were listening to Teddy at the time of your conception.

Smokey Robinson

Smokey Robinson is one of the most influential songwriters to come from Motown, responsible for some of the greatest songs of the 1960s (most of which were recorded by other artists including The Temptations and Marvin Gaye).

While he was a member of the group, The Miracles, Robinson eventually embarked on a solo career in the early 1970s, which was marked by hits such as, Baby That’s Backatcha, and, Cruisin'. 

Smokey Robinson

Curtis Mayfield

Many of the artists in this article owe an amount of gratitude to the efforts of Curtis Mayfield, who helped pave the way for the kind of success a black musician could achieve amidst a turbulent time of social change, much of which he would provide lyrical social commentary. 

Mayfield embarked on a solo career at the beginning of the decade, achieving landmark success with his soundtrack for the film, Super Fly. The decade would prove to be a prolific period for Mayfield, who would release 15 critically acclaimed albums up through 1980. 

Best Male R&B Singers Of The 70s, Final Thoughts

This is, by no means, a complete list of all of the male R&B singers from the 1970s. However, everyone can likely agree that the influence of each of these artists individually is monumental in their own respect. 

Without these artists, it’s difficult to say whether R&B would have been as impactful as it has been with regard to its influence on today’s popular music. Nevertheless, the songs from this decade are still wildly popular on the basis of good taste and lyrical relevancy. 

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