Greatest 20 R&B and Soul Artists of All-Time

Among the Best Are the King of Pop and the Queen and Godfather of Soul

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Nero, Mark Edward. "Greatest 20 R&B and Soul Artists of All-Time." ThoughtCo, Apr. 8, 2017, thoughtco.com/greatest-randb-singers-of-all-time-2851645. Nero, Mark Edward. (2017, April 8). Greatest 20 R&B and Soul Artists of All-Time. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/greatest-randb-singers-of-all-time-2851645 Nero, Mark Edward. "Greatest 20 R&B and Soul Artists of All-Time." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/greatest-randb-singers-of-all-time-2851645 (accessed September 21, 2017).
Beyonce
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There will no doubt be debate as to who comes in first as the best R&B and soul artist. Take the following list and place it in any order. All of these artists are undisputedly among the best of the best of the R&B and soul musical world.

20
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Chaka Khan
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Chaka Khan is a powerful vocalist who began her career as the lead singer of the 1970s funk-R&B band Rufus. Her career began in 1970 and continues today. Her hits with Rufus include "Tell Me Something Good" and "Sweet Thing." Her solo hits include "I'm Every Woman," "I Feel For You" and "Through the Fire."

Khan is one of the most influential, and most imitated singers in modern music. She has sold more than 70 million records worldwide and has earned 10 Grammy Awards. More »

Dionne Warwick
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Dionne Warwick ranks second to Aretha Franklin as the most-charted female vocalist with 69 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 from 1955–1998. Her career began in 1962. One of her latest albums "Now" released in 2012 was nominated for a Grammy Award.

Warwick was considered one of the most successful artists of the 1960s, 70s and 80s.  Three of her classic songs composed by Burt Bacharach and Hal David were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame: "Alfie," "Don't Make Me Over" and "Walk On By."

She is a five-time Grammy Award winner, including winning Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for the AIDS-fundraising  anthem "That's What Friends Are For" featuring Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Gladys Knight. More »

Ronald Isley
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Ronald Isley has been the lead singer of The Isley Bros. since the band was founded in the 1950s, and has also distinguished himself as a successful solo artist. His career began in 1954.

He and his brothers are best known for sexy R&B songs like "Between the Sheets," "Who's That Lady," "For the Love of You" and the R. Kelly-produced "Contagious."

Isley is one of the few artists to release hit songs in six different decades, the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, and 2000s. His distinctive, silky smooth voice has easily withstood the test of time and is one of the reasons the name Isley is synonymous with R&B. More »

17
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Nat King Cole

Nat King Cole
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The father of Natalie Cole, Nat King Cole, began his career as a successful jazz pianist and was one of the most admired vocalists of his era, spanning 1935 to 1965.

His classic tunes include "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66," released in 1946, "Nature Boy," released in 1948, "Mona Lisa, which came out in 1950, "Too Young," the No. 1 song in 1951 and his signature tune "Unforgettable."

Cole's version of "The Christmas Song" is one of the most popular songs of all-time. He has appeared in more than 25 films, and in 1956, he made history as the first African-American to host a national television variety show, "The Nat King Cole Show."

16
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Tina Turner
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Tina Turner, overcame the abuse of her former husband, Ike Turner, to become one of the most admired women in music. Her career began in 1958. She recorded the Grammy Award-winning classic "Proud Mary" as a member of the duo, Ike and Tina Turner. In 1984, she won Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "What's Love Got To Do With It."

She is a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who has been one of the most influential and inspiring artists for more than 50 years. She has sold more than 200 million records and is iconic for setting the bar for outstanding female stage performance. More »

Luther Vandross
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Luther Vandross, transitioned from a very lucrative career as a studio and background vocalist working with Quincy Jones, Roberta Flack, David Bowie, Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, Bette Midler, Donna Summer, and Barbara Streisand, to become one of the most admired and influential solo artists. His career began in 1972. He died in 2005. His number one hits include "Never Too Much," "Here and Now" and "Power of Love/Love Power"

Vandross sold over 30 million singles and albums, including 13 platinum or double platinum albums and seven No. 1 singles. He won eight Grammys and also composed and produced albums for Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick and Cheryl Lynn. More »

Mariah Carey
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Mariah Carey is one of the most successful pop-R&B artists of all time. She helped create a new template genre, a mixture of R&B, pop and hip-hop. She began her career in 1988 and continues on today. Among her signature tunes are "We Belong Together" (1997) which won a Grammy for Best R&B Song, and "One Sweet Day" featuring Boyz II Men which set the record for most weeks at number one, 16 weeks.

She has sold more than 200 million records, making her one of the best-selling musical artists of all time. She has had 18 No. 1 hits, which is more than any other solo artist in history. More »

13
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Beyonce

Beyonce
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Beyonce is one of the most successful pop/R&B stars of the past 20 years, getting her start as the lead singer of the female group, Destiny's Child in 1997.

Her No.1 hits with Destiny's Child include "Say My Name," "Independent Women Part I," and  "Bills, Bills, Bills." Chart-topping solo singles including "Crazy in Love" (with Jay-Z), "Irreplaceable," and "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)"

She has sold over 200 million records worldwide, ​has won 22 Grammy Awards and is the most nominated woman in the award's history.

12
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Al Green
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Al Green, an ordained minister, is one of the greatest soul and gospel vocalists ever. His career began in 1967. Green was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. His signature songs include "Let's Stay Together," "I'm Still In Love With You" and "Love and Happiness."

Rev. Al released six consecutive number one R&B albums from 1972 to 1975: "Let's Stay Together," "I'm Still in Love with You," "Call Me, Livin' for You," "Al Green Explores Your Mind" and "Al Green Is Love."  More »

11
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Prince
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Prince, was one of the greatest guitarists, composers, producers and artists in modern music. His career spanned from 1976 to his untimely death in 2016.

His No. 1 singles include "When Doves Cry," "Let's Go Crazy," and "Batdance." In 1985, he won an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score for "Purple Rain."

He sold over 100 million records in his career which spanned four decades. Prince composed or produced hits for Chaka Khan ("I Feel For You featuring Stevie Wonder), Madonna, Patti LaBelle, The Time, Vanity 6, Sinead O'Connor and several other artists. More »

Lionel Richie
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Lionel Richie, began his career as lead singer of The Commodores in 1968, and then became one of the most successful solo artists in history.

His classic number one singles with The Commodores include "Three Times a Lady" and "Still." His solo hits include "All Night Long (All Night)," "Hello," and the Academy Award-winning "Say You, Say Me" from the film, "White Nights." Richie wrote, produced and recorded the greatest duet of all-time, "Endless Love" with Diana Ross. He also co-wrote the charity anthem "We Are The World" with Michael Jackson.

Richie has had 11 No.1 singles on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, five No. 1 R&B hits, and five No.1 singles on the Hot 100. He has also achieved one platinum and four gold singles. His honors include four Grammy Awards, including Song of the Year in 1986 for "We Are The World," and Album of the Year in 1985 for "Can't Slow Down." More »

Smokey Robinson
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Smokey Robinson is one of America's most enduring musical icons. He launched his career with the vocal group The Miracles in the early 1960s and continues to record new music after more than 55 years in the music industry.

His No.1 hits with The Miracles include "Tears of a Clown" and "I Second That Emotion." As a solo artist, he reached the top of the Billboard R&B chart with "Being with You" and "Baby That's Backatcha."

Robinson was one of the keys to Motown Records' phenomenal success, as an artist, as a label vice president and also as a composer and producer of several hit songs for The Temptations, Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells. More »

08
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Ray Charles
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Ray Charles earned the nickname "Genius" by excelling in R&B, rock and roll, country, gospel, blues and pop music throughout his career spanning from 1947 to 2004. His most famous hits include "I Got a Woman," "The Night Time (Is the Right Time)," "Hit the Road, Jack" and "Georgia On My Mind."

Despite being blind since age 7, Charles was the most versatile artist in modern music, winning 17 Grammy Awards. More »

07
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Marvin Gaye
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Marvin Gaye was one of Motown's greatest singers in the '70s as well as an accomplished drummer who played on numerous hits by other artists on the label. His career began in 1959 and ended tragically in 1984 at the hands of his father. He recorded numerous classics as a solo artist and with labelmate Tammi Terrell, including  "What's Going On," "Let's Get It On," "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" and "You're All I Need to Get By."

Gaye had one of the smoothest voices of his era, and in addition to his timeless love songs, he also poignantly portrayed the social concerns of the 1970s with his iconic "What's Going On" album. More »

06
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Diana Ross
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Diana Ross first found success in the 1960s as a member of ultimate girl group The Supremes, she then achieved ever greater heights as a solo artist. She had 12 No.1 singles with The Supremes, including "Baby Love," "Come See About Me," and Stop! In the Name of Love." Her solo hits include "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," Love Hangover" and "Endless Love" with Lionel Richie.

Ross was a trailblazer as a female African-American singer crossing over to success as a movie star with the films "Lady Sings The Blues" (earning an Oscar nomination) and "Mahogany." She was the epitome of glamor and set the standard for female solo artists. More »

Whitney Houston
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Whitney Houston was one of the most popular singers in the world from the mid-1980s until her death in 2012. Houston's many No.1 R&B hits include "Saving All My Love for You," "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)," Heartbreak Hotel" (with Faith Evans and Kelly Price) and "How Will I Know."

She dominated music in the 1980s and '90s with record-setting   albums, including the best-selling soundtrack of all-time, "The Bodyguard." She sold over 200 million records, earning hundreds of awards including 22 American Music Awards (most of any female), 19 NAACP Image Awards and six Grammys. More »

Stevie Wonder
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Stevie Wonder is one of America's greatest singer-songwriters who recorded numerous hit songs from the 1960s through the '80s. His first hit single was "Fingertips (Pt. 2)" in 1963, when he was only 13 years old. Since then, his chart-topping songs have included "I Was Made to Love Her" in 1967; "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours" in 1970; and "I Just Called to Say I Love You" in 1983. 

Blind since infancy, he has recorded more than 30 U.S. top ten hits and received 25 Grammy Awards.​ ​Wonder has sold over 100 million records worldwide and is one of the most creative artists of the Motown era. More »

03
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James Brown
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James Brown was also known as "The Godfather of Soul," "Mr. Dynamite," and "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business." Brown was an R&B and soul music pioneer who established the highest standard of showmanship. He died in 2006.

His No. 1 R&B hits include "Try Me" released in 1958, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," "(Say It Loud) I'm Black & I'm Proud" and "The Payback" released in 1974.

Brown was not only a dynamic vocalist, but also an amazing dancer and performer. He was a founding father of the funk and soul movements and was a direct influence on the stage shows of numerous stars including Michael Jackson and Prince. More »

Aretha Franklin
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Aretha Franklin, also known as "The Queen of Soul," is one the most powerful singers in music history. She has a record list of hits throughout the 1960s, '70s, '80s and '90s. Among her classic songs are "Respect," "Chain of Fools," "Something He Can Feel," "Jump to It" and "Freeway of Love," all of which topped Billboard's R&B songs chart from the mid-1960s through the mid-1980s.

No one in the world can match her vocal excellence and versatility. As her nickname implies, Franklin is music royalty. Few artists are as revered as she is. No one has matched her commercial success and critical acclaim. She is the most charted female in music chart history. More »

Michael Jackson
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The "King of Pop," Michael Jackson, began his career as a child star at the age of ten and electrified the world for over 40 years with his unparalleled talent until his death in 2009. He began his career with The Jackson 5 and setting a record for reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with their first four singles: "I Want You Back," "ABC," "The Love You Save" and "I'll Be There." As a solo artist, he had 13 No. 1 singles on the Billboard 100, more than any other male artist, including "Billie Jean," "Beat It" and "Man In The Mirror."

By most, he is considered the greatest and most influential performer in contemporary music. He claims the best-selling album of all-time, Thriller, with over 65 million copies sold. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Jackson 5 and as a solo artist. More »