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Updated by Sandra Olinger on Feb 28, 2018
Headline for 40 Most Influential Black Female Singers / Musicians
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40 Most Influential Black Female Singers / Musicians

In honor of Black History Month, Grimy Goods is highlighting the most influential black female singers and musicians of all time. Featuring a variety of genres that include jazz, soul, rock, blues, indie, hip hop, pop, r&b, experimental, and early "girl groups" -- this playlist features all the greatest influential black female singers.


Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys became an international star with her singular mix of classic and contemporary R&B. Behind the number one pop hit "Fallin," her debut album, Songs in A Minor, sold more than 50,000 copies during its first day of availability in 2001 and eventually moved over ten million units worldwide, thus setting the stage for the then-20-year-old's long career.

Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin is one of the giants of soul music, and indeed of American pop as a whole. More than any other performer, she epitomized soul at its most gospel-charged.

Bessie Smith

The first major blues and jazz singer on record and one of the most powerful of all time, Bessie Smith rightly earned the title of "The Empress of the Blues." Even on her first records in 1923, her passionate voice overcame the primitive recording quality of the day and still communicates easily to today's listeners (which is not true of any other singer from that early period).


One of the most recognizable figures in contemporary music, Beyoncé rose to fame as the central member of pop-R&B group Destiny's Child before embarking on a multi-platinum, record-breaking solo career in 2001.

Billie Holiday

The first popular jazz singer to move audiences with the intense, personal feeling of classic blues, Billie Holiday changed the art of American pop vocals forever.

Celia Cruz

Celia Cruz was one of Latin music's most respected vocalists. A ten-time Grammy nominee, Cruz, who sang only in her native Spanish language, received a Smithsonian Lifetime Achievement award, a National Medal of the Arts, and honorary doctorates from Yale University and the University of Miami.

Chaka Khan

Best known in the mainstream for her superb 1984 cover of Prince's "I Feel for You," R&B singer Chaka Khan enjoyed solo success as well as popularity as a member of the group Rufus.

Diana Ross

As a solo artist, Diana Ross is one of the most successful female singers of the rock era. If you factor in her work as the lead singer of the Supremes in the 1960s, she may be the most successful.

Donna Summer

Donna Summer's title as the "Queen of Disco" wasn't mere hype. Like many of her contemporaries, she was a talented vocalist trained as a powerful gospel belter, but she set herself apart with her songwriting ability, magnetic stage presence, and shrewd choice of studio collaborators, all of which resulted in sustained success.

Erykah Badu

She grew up listening to '70s soul and '80s hip-hop, but Erykah Badu drew more comparisons to Billie Holiday upon her breakout in 1997, after the release of her first album, Baduizm.

Etta James

Few female R&B stars enjoyed the kind of consistent acclaim Etta James received throughout a career that spanned six decades; the celebrated producer Jerry Wexler once called her "the greatest of all modern blues singers," and she recorded a number of enduring hits, including "At Last," "Tell Mama," "I'd Rather Go Blind," and "All I Could Do Was Cry." At the same time, despite possessing one of the most powerful voices in music, James only belatedly gained the attention of the mainstream audience, appearing rarely on the pop charts despite scoring 30 R&B hits, and she lived a rough-and-tumble life that could have inspired a dozen soap operas, battling drug addiction and bad relationships while outrunning a variety of health and legal problems.

FKA twigs

Crafting ethereal electronic R&B that evokes the heyday of Tricky and Massive Attack and the spare 2010s aesthetic of the xx, London's FKA twigs is the project of Twigs, aka Tahliah Barnett, a half-Jamaican native of Gloucestershire.

Gladys Knight

One of the great soul singers, Gladys Knight was a performer from her childhood years, forming the Pips with her brother Merald and a couple cousins.

Grace Jones

Grace Jones was one of the more unforgettable artists to emerge from New York City's hedonistic Studio 54 disco scene of the late '70s.

Janelle Monáe

Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter, arranger, producer, and actor Janelle Monáe left her mark on 2010s R&B with an energized retro-futuristic sound wrapped in theatrical science fiction concepts.

Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson didn't merely emerge from the shadows of her famous brothers to become a superstar in her own right.

Jill Scott

A mature R&B vocalist who excelled with slower, sensual material ("Slowly, Surely," "I'm Not Afraid," "My Love") and was versatile enough to pack plenty of punch with anthems of pride and self-empowerment ("Golden," "Family Reunion," "Hate on Me"), Jill Scott grew up in north Philadelphia and began her performing career reading her own poetry.




Kelela synthesizes contemporary R&B and progressive electronic music with an aptitude for prompting club play as much as bedroom listening.

Lil' Kim

After making her presence known on Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s debut album, Conspiracy, Lil' Kim launched a solo career in 1996 with the release of her first record, Hard Core.

Mariah Carey

The best-selling female performer of the 1990s and one of the most popular artists through the 2010s, Mariah Carey rose to superstardom on the strength of her stunning five-octave voice.

Mary J. Blige

When Mary J. Blige's debut album, What's the 411?, hit the street in July 1992, critics and fans were floored by its powerful combination of modern R&B and edgy rap production that glanced off of the pain and grit of the singer's New York upbringing.

Minnie Riperton

The tragic death of 31-year-old Minnie Riperton in 1979 silenced one of soul music's most unique and unforgettable voices.

Missy Elliott

Few artists in rap and R&B have attained as much commercial success as Missy Elliott. No one else has achieved such prominence while simultaneously reshaping two genres as a hired gun and headliner, defying stereotypes, and combining style, sex, and humor into a cartoonishly outsized image.

Ms. Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill broke through with multi-platinum-selling, Grammy-winning group the Fugees, but with her 1998 solo debut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, the singer, songwriter, rapper, and producer established herself as a creative force on her own.

Nicki Minaj

Influenced by the unpredictable rhymes of Missy Elliot along with the sexually charged attitudes of Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown, rapper, television reality show judge, and household name Nicki Minaj was discovered thanks to her MySpace page.