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29+ of the Greatest Singers of All Time, Ranked

Universal

| LAST UPDATE 01/12/2023

By Amie Alfaro

From country singers who croon their love stories to the favorites of Motown, these singers have officially left their mark. Here's a ranked list of the greatest singers, according to Rolling Stone.

30. Hank Williams

It is Alabama-born and raised Hank Williams, who clocks in at #30 on Rolling Stone's list of the Greatest Singers of all time. He recorded 55 singles during his career, making his mark on music forever. 

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The country singer had a lasting impact on the industry despite his career being cut short due to an untimely death when he was only 29. Williams may have left the world too soon, but his spirit lives on in his music, which has been covered by artists including Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and Johnny Cash, just to name a few.

29. Chaka Khan

Yvette Marie Stevens, better known by her stage name Chaka Khan, has been thrilling the world with her vocals for over five decades. Whether in her solo career with hits like I'm Every Woman or her collaboration with the band Rufus, there is no stopping Khan. 

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The Queen of Funk has won 10 Grammy Awards and has sold over 70 million records worldwide. Her great-grandmother was a psychic who said, "One day everybody's going to know your name," to the then-6-year-old, per Variety. It turns out her great-grandma knew exactly what she was talking about. 

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28. Mahalia Jackson

Mahalia Jackson was an American gospel singer who defied society's rules. She was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1911. Before Jackson made it big, she was frequently hired to sing at funerals, rallies, and more. Then, she released the single Move On Up a Little Higher, and move on up, she did. 

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Jackson became a global star. She was the first gospel singer to ever go on a European tour. She performed at John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Ball and became a vocal supporter of the Civil Rights Movement. Jackson's powerful voice has secured her place in musical history.

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27. Dolly Parton

Before there was a Dollywood theme park with more than 50 rides, there was a young girl named Dolly who loved to perform. As a kid, she would sing on local radio and television stations and recorded her first single at 13. The country singer was destined to be a star.

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Parton carved herself a new path, crossing into the pop space. She wrote the title song for the film 9 to 5, which starred Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. Also, Rolling Stone listed one of Parton's hits, Jolene, in their greatest songs of all time. Over the years, fans have remained true to their country-singing idol, Dolly Parton.

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26. Paul McCartney

The boy from Liverpool always had an affinity toward music. From an early age, Paul McCartney taught himself to play piano, guitar, and songwriting. He joined a small group with a guy named John Lennon. It would take some time, but the world would come to know him as part of the Beatles.

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Even as the Beatles became part of the news of "yesterday," McCartney still had so much to give. He released his first solo album, McCartney, in 1970. But he continued to make hit after hit, showing his talents and expertise as a singer and a songwriter. In 1997, he was even knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his contributions.

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25. Mary J. Blige

Mary J. Blige started her career doing background vocal work. However, the powerful singer would not be standing in the back forever. Her first two albums, What's the 411? and My Life, are also featured on the list of Rolling Stone's greatest albums of all time.

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According to Rolling Stone, the Bronx native is in the top 25 singers of all time. She has been called the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul and the Queen of R&B. The Family Affair singer performed at Super Bowl LVI alongside Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and Kendrick Lamar. 

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24. George Jones

Another country singer has reached the top of Rolling Stone's list: Texas-born George Jones was one of the best to perform. He was given his first guitar at 9, and it was true love ever since then. Jones put his entire heart and soul into every word he sang and wrote.

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His career spanned over 5 decades, from his first single, No Money in This Deal, to the most widely-known song, He Stopped Loving Her Today. Jones was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992. He also wrote about his career in an autobiography. The country legend passed in 2013, but his legacy still endures. 

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23. Smokey Robinson

A founder, a songwriter, a singer, and a producer, Smokey Robinson, did it all. The Detroit native, born William Robinson Jr., was given his famous nickname by his Uncle Claude. With a childhood friend and a few others, they formed The Miracles, which became the first act signed to Motown Records.

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The kingdom of Motown was built, and Robinson was like its king. He produced 26 top hits in ten years, and The Miracles changed their name to Smokey Robinson & the Miracles. His mark on music is unmistakable. Even fellow list member Paul McCartney said, "Smokey Robinson was like God in our eyes."

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22. Adele

She is a powerhouse. There is no denying that. Adele has many records to her name, from having 3 top-ten singles on the Billboard Hot 100 simultaneously to having an album on the Billboard 200 for 24 weeks. Her raspy vocals have been the music accompanying many people's lives. 

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The British singer's albums are all titled after a time in her life, 19, 21, 25, and 30. She also wrote the title song, Skyfall, for the James Bond movie of the same name. The song won her an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. Adele's musical talents are far-reaching, as is her voice. 

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21. Nina Simone

Nina Simone is known for her skills as a jazz singer. Although her style of music also included elements of gospel, pop, and classical music. When she was a young girl, she aspired to become a concert pianist, but she became much more. Simone recorded more than 40 albums in her career and was "feeling good" about it.

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Simone constantly drew on her background to inspire her music. She was an activist for the Civil Rights Movement and often wrote music for the movement. She was called "The High Priestess of Soul" and became synonymous with the Civil Rights Movement. Her music and voice were a mighty force.

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20. Marvin Gaye

The Let's Get It On singer was an integral part of Motown. Often called the "Prince of Motown" or the "Prince of Soul," Marvin Gaye's voice inspired an entire movement. His hits with Motown include Ain't That Peculiar, How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), and I Heard It Through the Grapevine. 

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He won his first 2 Grammy Awards when he ultimately broke away from Motown and released his album, Midnight Love, which had the song everyone knows - Sexual Healing - on it. His life came to a tragic end when he was killed on his 45th birthday, but his legacy lives on through the words he wrote and sang. 

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19. Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra is perhaps one of the greatest voices to ever sing. From his film career to his Vegas residency, there was no stopping Sinatra. He released hit after hit and was an entertainer for decades. Nicknamed "Ol' Blue Eyes" and "Chairman of the Board," Sinatra forged a path for himself unlike any other.

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All anyone has to do is listen to the words "New York, New York," and they are immediately transported back to the big band swing era in which Sinatra thrived. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a Congressional Gold Medal. His contributions to music and the world have cemented his place as one of the greatest.

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18. Celia Cruz

Celia Cruz was a singing sensation. She was born and raised in Havana, Cuba, and began her career as a singer there. She was a master of many styles, from rumba to bolero. After the Cuban Revolution in 1960, she left her home country. She became a voice of the Cuban community.

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She rose to stardom while living in New York City. She evoked the emotions from her childhood and brought them into every act. Cruz was known as the "Queen of Salsa" after releasing hit after hit in the genre. One of her signature catchphrases, "¡Azúcar!" which means Sugar!, has become a staple of salsa music. 

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17. Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley was the "King of Rock and Roll." Not only was he the king of the genre, but he was also a pioneer in it. He was often considered a threat to the well-being of American youth. That didn't stop his success, though. In one year, Presley sold over 10 million singles.

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The Jailhouse Rock singer transcended genres and generations. He has been inducted into the Halls of Fame of Rock' n' Roll, Country, Gospel, Rockabilly, and R&B - the only artist to accomplish this! Even though his life was cut short, his legacy still endures today. 

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16. Prince

Prince Rogers Nelson, better known as Prince, was destined for a life on the stage. He was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to a jazz singer mom and a pianist and songwriting father. At 19, he signed his first record deal with Warner Bros. Records. The rest, as they say, is history.

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Prince sold over 100 million records worldwide. The When Doves Cry singer established the Minneapolis sound and lived in his hometown until his death. His falsetto pitch and flamboyant persona set him apart. Not only was he a phenomenal singer, but he also played multiple instruments. For generations, his sound will prevail. 

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15. Bob Dylan

According to Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan is the greatest songwriter of all time and comes in at #15 on their list of the Greatest Singers. The Blowin' in the Wind singer rose to fame with his folk songs. He has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

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He never shied away from complex topics and was an icon for the counterculture revolution in America during the 1960s. His wheezy voice, accompanied by his intelligent lyrics, made him the musician that he is. Dylan was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature for his work.

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14. Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury was the lead singer of the rock band Queen. Mercury defied society's rules and helped to lead the band to worldwide recognition. His energetic and over-the-top stage persona dazzled fans across the globe. And that is not even getting to his powerful and unique singing style.

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His four-octave vocal range put Mercury at a level all on his own. Queen became one of the most successful rock bands with his writing talents and creative efforts. Mercury, unfortunately, lost his battle with AIDs in 1991, but his decorated life was honored in the 2018 biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. 

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13. Patsy Cline

Patsy Cline was one of the first country artists to venture into the pop music space. She was born in Virginia in 1932 and started to perform when she was 14. Her incredible voice made her a phenomenon. Her single Walkin' After Midnight was her first single that became a hit on both country and pop charts. 

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Cline released her biggest hit, Crazy, in 1961. Since then, it has set the standard for country music ever since, according to American Songwriter. Sadly, her career and life were cut short when a plane crash ended her life at only 30 years old. However, she remains one of the best country artists ever to grace the stage. 

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12. John Lennon

John Lennon's characteristic circular glasses and long hair have become a staple in pop culture. His songs fueled generations. He rose to fame as part of the iconic band The Beatles, joining his bandmate Paul McCartney on Rolling Stone's list of the Greatest Singers. 

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His words became the anthems of the anti-war movement of the 1960s. Lennon collaborated heavily with his wife, Yoko Ono, writing and singing chart-topping singles like Give Peace a Chance and Imagine. Unfortunately, he was murdered by a fan when he was only 40. However, his lyrics and voice continue to inspire millions. 

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11. Little Richard

Little Richard is typically called the "Architect of Rock and Roll." His innovative piano-playing techniques and his charismatic stage presence influenced generations to come. What he did in the 1950s was unlike anything anybody else had ever tried out before.

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He was part of the first group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. His songwriting talents were also recognized with an induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Little Richard blazed an electrifying trail for those who followed after him.

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10. Al Green

Al Green always had a love for music. He was heavily influenced by other members of this list, including Mahalia Jackson and Elvis Presley. Green's first hit, Tired of Being Alone, sold a million copies and was certified gold. Then, the hits kept coming. 

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His soulful singing made him one of the most prominent soul singers. There was a brief moment in his career when Green became an ordained minister and created gospel music, but he has since returned to secular music. According to Rolling Stone, "Green is the ultimate soul man."

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9. Otis Redding

Make way for the "King of Soul," as Otis Redding was nicknamed. The Georgian native made waves in the music industry. When he was only 15, he dropped out of school to perform with Little Richard's band. He released his debut album, Pain in My Heart, to great success. 

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Redding performed at the famous Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles and the renowned Apollo Theater in New York City. Sadly, he was killed in a plane crash when he was only 26. He recorded (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay before he passed, and the song was the first posthumous number-one record to make it on the Billboard Hot 100. 

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8. Beyoncé

Coming in on Rolling Stone's list at #8 is Beyoncé or Queen Bey, as her fans call her. The Houston native has been performing since she was a child but rose to prominence when she was in the girl group Destiny's Child. Since embarking on her solo career, she has only elevated her status as one of the best artists of all time. 

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As Rolling Stone wrote, "She is one of pop's great historians, an artist so in love with the heroes who shape her that she can't help but find opportunities to pay homage to them in her music, performance and, of course, her singing." With 28 Grammy wins and 7 albums debuting at number 1, there is seemingly nothing she can't do.

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7. Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder was destined for greatness. He was a child prodigy who was signed by Motown at only 11 and released his first record at 13. He earned himself the nickname "Little Stevie Wonder." The blind musician never let anything get in his way. He learned to play the piano, harmonica, and drums.

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Wonder has been at the top of his game for decades. Some of his greatest hits include Isn't She Lovely, I Just Called to Say I Love You, and Superstition. He was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014 and has won 25 Grammy Awards. It is no wonder why he is so high up on the list. 

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6. Ray Charles

Ray Charles is one of the most influential singers. His unique blend of soul, country, rhythm and blues, and pop music created a sound unlike any other. He was also listed in Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. He was a force in the music industry, creating hits like Georgia On My Mind and Hit the Road Jack.

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He was nicknamed "The Genius" and "The Father of Soul" for his ground-breaking musical contributions. Jamie Foxx portrayed the blind musician in the film biopic Ray, which focused on 30 years of his life. Charles's influence will be felt for years to come. 

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5. Mariah Carey

With a five-octave vocal range, her mix of soul and R&B, and her songwriting capabilities, it is easy to see why Mariah Carey is a star. The singing sensation broke into the music scene with her single Vision of Love. Since then, she has cemented her place in music history. 

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She has been dubbed the "Queen of Christmas" due to her 1994 Christmas song All I Want for Christmas Is You rising to the top of the charts every holiday season. Carey can do everything from hitting the highest of notes to her exceptional songwriting capabilities. 

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4. Billie Holiday

Jazz music was forever impacted by Billie Holiday. Her mastery of vocals and improvisational skills carved new paths in the genre. From being discovered singing in Harlem nightclubs to performing for multiple sold-out crowds at Carnegie Hall, Billie Holiday's career was extraordinary.

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Holiday inserted emotion and meaning in every note and word that she sang. After a turbulent personal life, the Strange Fruit singer died at 44 due to cirrhosis. Posthumously, Holiday was awarded four Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

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3. Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke was only active for an 8-year career, yet it defined decades of music that would come after him. In the 1950s, Cooke released 29 singles that were included in the Billboard Top 40. His soulful and emotional voice earned him the #3 spot on Rolling Stone's list. 

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Cooke popularized soul music and paved the way for the greats who followed in his footsteps, like Al Green, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye. His mastery of sound and writing contributed to his success. Although his life was cut short, his sounds and words live on through those he influenced.

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2. Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston was the first artist to have 7 consecutive #1 hits. That is only one of her many achievements. The New Jersey native was the first woman to have an album at #1 on the Billboard 200 and has been inducted into the Grammy, Rhythm and Blues Music, and Rock and Roll halls of fame.

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The I Will Always Love You singer also ventured into a film career, debuting in The Bodyguard. Her untimely death in 2012 shocked fans and left the music world with a massive hole in its heart. However, Houston's music and vocals continue to resonate with audiences. 

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1. Aretha Franklin

And, finally, our #1 spot: it's hard to find someone who does not recognize the powerful, soulful voice of Aretha Franklin. From Respect to I Say a Little Prayer, her songs have defined music and inspired generations to come. Her voice captured many musical genres, from gospel to rock to blues. 

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The Detroit native became the "Queen of Soul" and forged a path for herself. She has sold over 75 million records globally and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. For all these reasons and many more, Aretha Franklin will forever be regarded as one of the greatest singers of all time...

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