The best alto singers of all time represent some of the most talented musicians to ever live. These alto vocalists have not only mastered the high notes, but have also become masters of singing, songwriting, and composing.
Whether they are classically trained or successful pop musicians, here are the most famous alto singers to ever record a tune!
1. Gladys Knight
You can’t have a list of the best alto singers of all time without Gladys Knight. She’s easily one of the most famous alto singers to ever record and, speaking of records, she’s one of the few alto vocalists with seven Grammy Awards!
Knight is known as the “Empress of Soul” for the powerful and passionate songs she recorded in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Her musical career has made impacts across genres, and she’s still celebrated to this day for her impressive career.
Cher is easily recognized as one of the greatest alto singers to ever record an album. She earned her nickname “the Goddess of Pop” with her hit song “Believe.” She started out her career as a singing duo with her then-husband as Sonny and Cher. Since then, she’s been making record-breaking hit after hit.
Cher isn’t limited to just music. She has also starred in movies and has made her presence known throughout pop culture. No wonder, she’s easily one of the most recognizable alto singers to ever live.
3. Tina Turner
Tina Turner might be the most versatile artist to make our list of the best alto singers of all time. She made waves in pop, R&B, and even country. Like our other top singers, she has been crowned with an impressive nickname. She’s known as the “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll” for her contributions to not only rock but the genres that influenced rock ‘n’ roll as well.
Turner is one of the best-selling music artists of all time. She’s sold well over 100 million records and has even earned the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in addition to countless other awards recognizing her talent.
4. Chaka Khan
Chaka Khan started off her career in the early 1970s with a band called Rufus. She might have started as part of a group but she went on to earn the title the “Queen of Funk” throughout her solo career.
She is another record-winning artist who has sold over 70 million records and even has 3 gold singles and albums. If that wasn’t impressive enough, Khan has 10 Grammy Awards and plenty of other awards under her belt.
Sade is an alto singer who took the music world by storm with her 1984 hit “Smooth Operator.” Her music calls us back to an era of smoky noir bars and seductive vocalists. She was born in Ibadan, Nigeria, before growing up in Essex, England.
Sade is now recognized as one of the most successful British women in all of music. Her career rivals the greatest artists to come out of the UK. She has won various awards, just like any other, but she has also released songs for popular movies. Sade has tracks on Disney’s “A Wrinkle In Time” and Steve McQueen’s “Window.”
6. Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald is an iconic singer. Her name is synonymous with powerful alto vocalists who have a natural body and the power to last throughout history.
She was born in 1917 and started her solo career in 1942. One nickname just isn’t enough for someone so important to the history of modern music. Fitzgerald is known as the “First Lady of Song,” “Lady Ella,” and “Queen of Jazz.” She’s won plenty of awards and her career is now a standard flag bearer of what it means to be an alto singer no matter what genre you sing in.
7. Tracy Chapman
Tracy Chapman makes our list of the most famous alto singers for her singing, writing, and amazing voice. She has a deep, smooth alto voice that surprises everyone who hears it. She’s known for her breakout hit “Fast Car” as well as the iconic anthem “Talkin’ Bout A Revolution.”
Speaking of revolution, Chapman is also an outspoken activist who has made supporting social causes a massive part of her career.
8. Oleta Adams
Now we’re talking about an alto singer who almost missed their shot. Oleta Adams spent most of the 1970s finding limited success in her career. In fact, she was rejected countless times for both performances and record deals.
Everything changed for Adams in the 1980s when she sang for the band Tears for Fears on their chart-topping album The Seeds of Love. She went on to have an award-winning solo career. Her vocal presence is powerful and pushes the listeners to new emotional heights.
9. Patsy Cline
Patsy Cline started her career at the age of 15 singing on a local radio station. She went on from very humble beginnings to become one of the most widely recognized female vocalists to a furtive. Her songs top everything from country to pop charts and, even after her tragic death at the young age of 30, her posthumous releases continue to be both commercial and artistic success.
Cline has a deeply emotional approach to singing. She’s got the soul of a classic, crooning vocalist with the warmth and presence of an alto. Her unique voice gives incredible life to her songs about love and heartbreak.
10. Annie Lennox
No list of alto vocalists would be complete without Annie Lennox. She is a Scottish singer and songwriter who has made a name for herself in music for her vocals and her daring performances. She’s also an active political activist and widely recognized for her gender-defying attire and fashion.
Lennox’s musical career first took off with her work in the new-wave band Eurythmics. She appeared in the 1983 music video for “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” and it made waves in the media. She had short cropped orange hair and was wearing a man’s business suit, which defied 1980s gender norms. Her career has always been something that is as musically sensational as it is politically provocative.
11. Anita Baker
Anita Baker is a legendary vocalist from the 1980s. She made a name for herself during the radio R&B time known as the “Quiet Storm.” This was an era of music defined by slow, romantic, and musically intense R&B ballads.
Baker released her first studio album in 1983, and her music has consistently ranked on pop charts ever since. Her songs are deep and soulful while still being able to capture the upbeat rhythm of popular music.
12. Bonnie Raitt
Bonnie Raitt is not just a vocalist, but she’s a songwriter and an accomplished guitarist as well. She’s made a name for herself by singing roots rock, which incorporates folk, blues, and country elements.
Raitt had limited commercial success until her 1983 album Nick of Time. The album won a Grammy and even reached number one on Billboard’s Top 200.
13. Toni Braxton
Toni Braxton is the picture of success for an alto singer. She has sold over 67 million records and won 7 Grammy Awards, 7 American Music Awards, and 9 Billboard Music Awards. She was also inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.
Her career started with humble origins and slowly built up into one of the most successful and accomplished R&B singers of all time. Her chart-topping hits defined an era of popular R&B music, and they continue to make their presence felt as a key part of not only R&B history but as a lesson in alto singing.
Adele just might be one of the most famous alto singers of all time, and she’s easily one of the most successful. Each new album she releases offers chart-topping hits, and they all come packed with singles that likewise reach the top of the charts.
Adele’s music can be heard in movies, awards shows, and pretty much everywhere. She’s one of the best-selling vocalists of all time and that all comes down to her powerful alto range.
15. Amy Winehouse
Amy Winehouse is one of those vocalists that defined an era for certain fans. Unfortunately, she tragically died at the age of 27 after releasing only two studio albums, but each of those was packed with chart-topping hits.
Winehouse has a smoky alto voice that has a raspy appeal; it was closer to Tom Waits than Patsy Cline. Her music was perfect for long, dark nights and equally at home with both love and heartbreak.
16. Liza Minnelli
Liza Minnelli is one of those all-star alto vocalists that was born to celebrity. She’s the daughter of super-star Judy Garland and, despite a star-studded upbringing, she got her start working in nightclubs and theaters.
Minnelli is an all-around alto. She built her career doing her renditions of American classics and added in stage shows that felt like a refreshing blast from the past. She is just one of those powerhouse performers that you need to hear to believe.
17. Stevie Nicks
The band Fleetwood Mac was full of legendary performers, but none of them rocked quite as hard as Stevie Nicks. Her career started in the mezzo-soprano range but settled over the years into a smooth alto.
Her vocals are what pushed Fleetwood Mac to their popularity and her solo career carried just as much weight.
18. Norah Jones
Norah Jones has a soft alto voice that powered her career as an icon of jazz in the early 2000s. Her vocals earned her multiple platinum record awards and a spot in our best alto singers of all time list.
Jones got her start singing in a Texas church choir with her mother and quickly built on her natural talents to reach where she is today.
19. Billie Holiday
Looking for something that takes a classic swinging jazz sound but still has a modern tempo? Billie Holiday is one of those musicians that everyone needs to take the time to get into.
Her music has a way of lasting throughout time. Even decades after her death, Holiday’s music still grows in popularity.
20. Mariah Carey
Mariah Carey is the daughter of an opera singer and an engineer. She grew up studying opera vocals and expanding her five-octave alto range.
Her music is widely popular, has appeared in movie soundtracks, and became chart-topping recordings.
21. Judy Garland
Our list of the best alto singers of all time winds down with Judy Garland—the mother of Liza Minnelli. Most people know Garland from her starring role in The Wizard of Oz, but she also had a moving musical career. Her vocal range was never that impressive, but her rich, velvety voice could make anyone melt.
Garland’s later career was plagued with controversy and a dismissive attitude towards her fame, but her music and early Hollywood appearances live on in their own right.
Did we miss any of your favorite performers in our list of the most famous alto singers of all time? Make sure to let us know which alto vocalists make your “Best Of” playlists and check out our other articles for the most famous, record-setting, and genre-defining singers of all time!
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
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