20 Greatest R&B Singers of All-Time

List includes Michael Jackson, plus The Queen and Godfather of Soul

Here are the best R&B and Soul artists in music history, the "20 Greatest R&B Singers of All-Time."

20
of 20

Chaka Khan
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Who: Chaka Khan is a powerful vocalist who began her career as the lead singer of the 1970s funk-R&B band Rufus.

When: Active from 1970-Present

What: 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."

Why: Khan is one of the most influential, and most imitated singers in modern music. She has sold over 70 million records worldwide, and earned ten Grammy Awards.

19
of 20

Dionne Warwick
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Who: Dionne Warwick, who ranks second to Aretha Franklin as the most charted female vocalist with 69 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 from 1955–1999.

When: Active from 1962-Present

What: 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/"

Why: 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.

18
of 20

Ronald Isley
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Who: 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.

When: Active from 1954-Present.

What: 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."

Why: One of the few artists to release hit songs in six different decades: 1950s, 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.

17
of 20
Nat King Cole

Nat King Cole
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Who: The father of Natalie Cole, Nat King Cole, who became one of the most admired vocalists of his era after beginning his career as a successful jazz pianist. .

When: Active from 1935-1965.

What: Classic tunes including (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66" (1946), "Nature Boy" (1948), "Mona Lisa" (1950), "Too Young" (the No. 1 song in 1951), and his signature tune "Unforgettable"

Why: His version of "The Christmas Song" is one of the most popular songs of all-time. He appeared in over 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
of 20

Tina Turner
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Who: Tina Turner, who overcame the abuse of her former husband Ike Turner to become one of the most admired women in music.

When: Active from 1958-Present

What: 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."

Why: A Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who has been one of the most influential and inspiring artists for over 50 years. She has sold over 200 million records, and set the standard for female stage performance.

15
of 20

Luther Vandross
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Who: Luther Vandross, who 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.

When: Active from 1972-2005

What: His number one hits include "Never Too Much" "Here and Now" and "Power of Love/Love Power"

Why: Vandross sold over 30 million singles and albums, including 13 platinum or double platinum albums and seven number one singles. He won eight Grammys, and also composed and produced albums for Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, and Cheryl Lynn.

14
of 20

Mariah Carey
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Who: Mariah Carey is one of the most successful pop-R&B artists of all time. She helped create the template of mixing R&B, pop, and hip-hop..

When: Active from 1988-Present

What: 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.

Why: Over 200 million records sold, including 18 number one hits, more than any other solo artist in history.

13
of 20
Beyonce

Beyonce
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Who: Beyonce is one of the most successful pop/R&B stars of the past two decades, beginning as lead singer of Destiny's Child.

When: Active from 1997-Present

What: Number one 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)"

Why: She's sold over 120 million records, and won 20 Grammy Awards, the second most ever by a female artist.

12
of 20

Al Green
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Who: Al Green, one of the greatest soul and gospel vocalists ever, who is also an ordained minister.

When: Active from 1967-Present

What: His signature songs include "Let's Stay Together," "I'm Still In Love With You," and "Love and Happiness."

Why: Rev. Al released six consecutive number one R&B albums from 1972-1975: 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. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

11
of 20

Prince
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Who: Prince, one of the greatest guitarists, composers, producers, and artists in modern music.

When: Active from 1976-Present

What: Number one singles "When Doves Cry," "Let's Go Crazy," and "Batdance." In 1985, he won an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score for Purple Rain.

Why: He's sold over 100 million records in his career which spans five decades. Prince has also composed and/or produced hits for Chaka Khan ("I Feel For You featuring Stevie Wonder), MadonnaPatti LaBelle, The Time, Vanity 6, Sinead O'Connor, and several more artists

10
of 20

Lionel Richie
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Who: Lionel Richie, who began as the lead singer of The Commodores, and then became one of the most successful solo artists in history.

When: Active from 1968-Present

What: Classic number one singles with The Commodores including "Three Times a Lady," and "Still." Solo hits including "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  he co-wrote the charity anthem "We Are The World" with Michael Jackson,

Why: Eleven number one singles on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, five number one R&B hits, and five number one 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.

09
of 20

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

When: Active from 1955-Present

What: His number one 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."

Why: 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.

08
of 20

Ray Charles
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Who: Ray Charles, who earned the nickname "Genius" by excelling in R&B, rock and roll, country, gospel, blues, and pop music.

When: Active from 1947-2004.

What: 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."

Why: Although blind, Charles was the most versatile artist in modern music, winning 17 Grammy Awards.

07
of 20

Marvin Gaye
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Who: Marvin Gaye was one of Motown's greatest singers in the '70s, and also an accomplished drummer who played on numerous hits by other artists on the label.

When: Active from the early 1959-1984.

What: 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."

Why: 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 1970's with his iconic What's Going On album.

06
of 20

Diana Ross
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Who: Diana Ross first found success in the 1960s as a member of ultimate girl group The Supremes, then achieved ever greater heights as a solo artist.

When: Active from 1959-Present

What: Twelve number one 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. 

Why: 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.

05
of 20

Whitney Houston
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Who: Whitney Houston was one of the most popular singers in the world from the mid-1980s until her death in 2012.

When: Active from 1977-2012

What: Houston's many number one 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."

Why: 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.

04
of 20

Stevie Wonder
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Who: Stevie Wonder is one of America's greatest singer-songwriters who recorded numerous hit songs from the 1960s through the '80s.

When: Active from 1961-Present

What: 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. 

Why: Despite being blind, he's won 22 Grammy Awards and is one of the most creative artists of the Motown era.

03
of 20

James Brown
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Who: James Brown, AKA "The Godfather of Soul," "Mr. Dynamite," and "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business." Brown was a R&B and soul music pioneer who established the highest standard of showmanship.

When: Active from 1953-2006

What: His number one R&B hits include "Try Me" in 1958; 1964's "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag;" 1968's "(Say It Loud) I'm Black & I'm Proud;" and 1974's "The Payback."

Why: 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.

02
of 20

Aretha Franklin
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Who: Aretha Franklin, AKA "The Queen of Soul," is the most powerful singer in music history. She has a record list of hits throughout the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s.

When: Active from 1956-Present

What: 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 between the mid-1960s and mid-1980s.

Why: Sheer vocal excellence. No one in the world can match her ability and versatility. As her nickname implies, Franklin is music royalty; few artists are as revered as her, or have matched her commercial success and critical acclaim.

01
of 20

Michael Jackson
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Who: Michael Jackson, beginning as a child star at the age of ten, electrified the world for over 40 years with his unparalleled talent.

When: Active from 1964-2009

What: Began his career with The Jackson Five by setting a record for reaching number one 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, 13 number one singles on the Billboard 100, more than any other male artist, including "Billie Jean," "Beat It," and "Main In The Mirror."

Why: The greatest and most influential performer in contemporary music. The best selling album of all-time, Thriller, with over 65 million copies sold. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Jackson Five, and as a solo artist.

Edited by Ken Simmons on February 16, 2016