There are a lot of great singers from countries around the world. Britain alone has and had people like Annie Lennox, Freddie Mercury, David Bowie, Kate Bush, and Elton John, to name a few. Australia had Olivia Newton-John and Michael Hutchence. Canada has Aimee Mann, while Germany has… well, they adopted David Hasselhoff. America can also more than hold its own.
When it came to compiling the list of the most famous American singers and vocalists, we decided to do it in no particular order. Here are the 31 best singers from the U.S.A.
1. Frank Sinatra
Ol’ Blue Eyes wowed people for decades with his velvet voice. Frank Sinatra’s tunes were as smooth as butter on toast. Yankee fans still try to warble his version of “New York, New York” after home victories. There was a time when he was most likely the most famous man on the planet. While his style of music might sound dated to some, he ruled the airwaves for many years. He was a one-of-a-kind icon.
2. Bruce Springsteen
Now let’s look at the other side of the coin. Frank Sinatra may have exuded cool and class and represented the upper crust, but Bruce Springsteen was the working man’s type. He brought a crowd to every show, and while his raspy voice was nowhere near the dulcet tunes that Sinatra crooned, he spoke to fans with songs like “Born to Run,” “The River,” and “Born in The U.S.A.”—even if some people deliberately misinterpret the meaning behind the last one. But when people think of American singers, they tend to think of Springsteen.
3. Aretha Franklin
Aretha demanded and got R-E-S-P-E-C-T throughout the course of her career. She deserved it, having lived a hard life at a young age—giving birth to one of her sons at the age of 12. Well, that and other parts of growing up black in the 1950s likely helped shape her worldview—she was a fierce civil rights advocate. She had a soulful voice that rightfully put her at the top of the class when it came to female singers. Her musical talents made her an American icon. And who can forget her appearance in “The Blues Brothers?” Her singing stole that movie.
Franklin sang in front of millions of people over the course of her career. That audience also included singing in front of President Barack Obama. She also sang the National Anthem at the Super Bowl. The world bowed its head when she passed away in 2018.
4. Elvis Presley
When people of today saw the music videos of the 1980s and 1990s, with the singers writhing and grinding and kissing in various states of dress or undress, it was hard for them to imagine how much the people of the 1950s freaked out when Elvis Presley first started performing. His dance moves and pelvis gyrations were deemed a moral risk and television stations refused to show him from the waist down lest he causes teenage girls to have impure thoughts. But there was no keeping his musical talents and superstar good looks off the air. He also acted, aside from being a great musician. He comforted himself with his 18 No. 1 hits on the Billboard chart.
There are those who will remember him as he was later in life when he became a bloated shadow of himself and subsequently died on the toilet. That still doesn’t take away from his immense musical talent and awards. People still flock to his Graceland home to see how “the King of Rock and Roll” lived.
5. Michael Jackson
There was a time when Michael Jackson had the world in the palm of his hand. He went from being a precocious star as part of The Jackson Five to a superstar who became a household name. While “Off the Wall” was a success, it was “Thriller” that made him go global. People were imitating his moonwalk and some even tried to wear a white glove like he did. While his follow-up album after that, “Bad,” was decent, it still paled in the greatness that was “Thriller.” Still, he was one of the best singers and dancers of all time, and he made America proud in that regard.
6. Bob Dylan
Robert Allen Zimmerman, or Bob Dylan as he’s known, has basically been the poet laureate of American singer and songwriters ever since he penned “The Times They Are A-Changin.” Other songs included “All Along The Watchtower,” “I Shall Be Released,” “Just Like A Woman,” “Tangled Up In Blue,” and “Like A Rolling Stone.” The subjects of his songs ranged from being broken-hearted to being a joker and a thief. His lyrics revealed a musical genius that was able to strip emotions bare.
While he was most active in the 1960s and 1970s, he also joined the supergroup, The Traveling Wilburys, which also featured fellow American legends Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, and George Harrison in the late 1980s. Not bad, huh?
7. Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston had a voice that made her among the best artists of both the 1980s and 1990s. Her voice was a work of wonder when she was at her peak. America loved songs like “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” “Greatest Love Of All,” “Exhale (Shoop Shoop),” and her cover of “I Will Always Love You.” She also did an incredible rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at the 1991 Super Bowl. Sadly, drugs and a tumultuous marriage with Bobby Brown also clouded the picture, and she died way too young in 2012 when she drowned in a bathtub.
8. Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder proved that you didn’t have to have sight to be a musical superstar. He could see when he was born, but due to his being premature, he was put in an incubator and too much oxygen was put in, causing blindness. He was only 13 when he had his first No. 1 hit in “Fingertips – Part 2.” He had many hits after, including “Superstition,” “I Just Called To Say I Love You,” and “Part-Time Lover.” His tendency to sway to the music was also a calling card of his. While he helped popularize the Moog synthesizer, his biggest contribution was helping Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday get recognized as a national holiday.
Here was a man who was one of a kind in all facets of his life. Prince was a musical genius with a great voice and a sense of style that made him stand out. His “Purple Rain” soundtrack remains one of the greatest pieces of music out there. It wasn’t just his singing and dancing ability that put him on the map. When people are having discussions about the greatest guitar performances of all time, his playing at the tribute concert to the late George Harrison has to be in the conversation. When he finished his incandescent playing, he tossed the guitar up in the air, seemingly to Harrison himself, since it appeared that the guitar never came back down to Earth. His death in 2016 was part of a horrible year that saw others like David Bowie also leave this planet.
10. Mariah Carey
Mariah Carey is the best-selling female solo artist of all time. Part of this is due to her extraordinary range of vocal talents. She didn’t have everything handed to her, though, when she was growing up. She worked several jobs, including as a waitress. Her big break was when she was a backup singer for Brenda K. Starr, who gave her demo tape to Tommy Mottola, the CEO of Sony Music… and who would be Carey’s first husband. She has had quite a career, hitting No. 1 in four different decades.
11. Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye was born Marvin Pentz Gay Jr., and he added the “e” to his last name as a stage name and also to distance himself from his father, whom he had a rocky relationship with. He was also a drummer and played with The Supremes, The Marvelettes, and Stevie Wonder. He wowed the world with songs like “Sexual Healing,” “Let’s Get It On,” and “Take This Heart Of Mine.” Sadly, despite all of his wondrous singing and musical talent, Gaye was a victim of depression. He turned to drugs to try to blunt the depression, but it was all too much. The Motown singer moved back in with his parents and essentially goaded his father into shooting him. He died on April 1, 1984, at the age of 44, just shy of his 45th birthday. People still remember him for his music, and he belongs on this list.
12. James Brown
If there was a way to harness a person’s energy and convert it to electricity, James Brown could have powered the world for eternity. The man was in constant motion from the very start of any show he did until the very end, and he threw in a bunch of acrobatic splits that demonstrated his flexibility. He made infectious songs like “Funky Drummer,” “Sex Machine,” “I Feel Good,” and “Living In America” that made people want to get up and move around themselves. We started bouncing around in our seats just writing this. His music was so influential that it has been sampled numerous times by musicians like Public Enemy, Run-D.M.C., Ice-T, Madonna, George Michael, and Britney Spears. He died in 2006 and left a legacy of music behind.
13. Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald first made her mark when she appeared on “Amateur Night at The Apollo,” though she almost did it in another discipline. She entered the contest as a dancer and switched to singing when she saw how tough the competition was. She went on to win it as a singer, and her career began. She wowed music fans with songs like “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” “Dream A Little Dream,” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing.” On top of that, she acted in movies with stars like Bud Abbott and Lou Costello and also got another big break when Marilyn Monroe asked that she sing at the club she frequented.
14. Ray Charles
Here was another example you didn’t need to see to be able to make great music. Ray Charles, who lost his sight at six due to what was thought to be glaucoma, was a music legend from the very first time that he sat at a piano and began to sing. He started playing the piano professionally at 15, and the emotion in his music made him popular. He had a string of hits, including “Hit The Road Jack,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “What’d I Say Pt. 1,” and “I Got a Woman.” He died in 2004 just shy of his 74th birthday, but he will be remembered for decades to come.
15. Tina Turner
Tina Turner, who survived an abusive marriage with Ike Turner, first became a household name with their duo. They had hits like “A Fool In Love,” “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,” and “I Idolize You.” Then she got away from him because she was tired of their relationship. Her hits “What’s Love Got To Do With It” and “We Don’t Need Another Hero” also cemented her place in music history.
16. Steve Perry
Although some of his videos with Journey and solo hit the height of cheese or cringe—see “Separate Ways” and “Oh Sherrie”—there was no denying that Steve Perry has amazing pipes. His soaring vocals on songs like “Never Stop Believin'” and “Separate Ways.” So, it seemed like he had earned the right to be cheesy. Also, it was the 1980s—it was a time when EVERYONE was usually goofy.
17. Eddie Vedder
Eddie Vedder hit the music scene in the early part of the 1990s. First, he worked with Chris Cornell on Temple Of The Dog’s “Hunger Strike” and then his band, Pearl Jam. They issued their first album, “Ten,” which had hits like “Evenflow” and “Jeremy.” His unique voice has made him a fan favorite for the subsequent decades.
18. Sam Cooke
Although he had a very short life, Sam Cooke had many different hits, including “A Change Is Gonna Come,” “You Send Me,” “Another Saturday Night,” and “Don’t Know Much About History.” He was poised to continue his musical dominance, but he was killed by a motel manager in 1964. The music world remembers him, though—he was a posthumous inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in ’86 and was given a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in ’99.
19. Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin was a powerhouse during her short life. She had a great voice, and her stage presence was second to none. Her string of hits like “Me And Bobby McGee,” “Pieces Of My Heart,” “Cry Baby,” “Kozmic Blues,” and “A Woman Left Lonely.” Sadly, her death at the age of 27 from an accidental drug overdose meant that her music would be forever frozen in time.
20. Otis Redding
Like several other artists on this list, Otis Redding was far too young when he died. He had several intangibles that made him a music legend—his voice, his tone, and he conveyed a sense of sensitivity that others paled in comparison to. He was an R&B and soul singer, and he had hits like “Try A Little Tenderness,” “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember,” and “That’s How Strong My Love Is.” He was killed in a plane crash on December 10, 1967.
21. Stevie Nicks
Stevie Nicks, the willowy woman who favored frilly dresses, made her name first as a part of the band Fleetwood Mac, where she sang hits like “Tusk,” “Dreams,” and “Gypsy.” She then left the band and had solo hits with “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” and “Stand Back.” Her vocal talents put her on this list.
22. Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton’s career spanned decades with hits like “I Will Always Love You,” “Jolene,” and “9 to 5.” Although she was largely part of the country scene, her songs have been covered by everything from R&B singers to a cappella groups. She is also famous for her philanthropy, and people also go to her theme park, Dollywood, every year. Her musical talent and catalog of hits more than earn her a spot on the list.
23. Al Green
Al Green was the face of soul music in the 1970s. He was able to fuse spiritual and secular music together and create hits like “Let’s Stay Together,” “Tired Of Being Alone,” “Simply Beautiful,” and “God Blessed Our Love.” Although he took a hiatus to devote himself to his ministry, he has released new music as recently as 2018. He remains a legend in the musical field.
24. Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash had a baritone voice that made him the voice of country music for years. He compiled an impressive list of hits, including “Riders In The Sky,” “I Walk The Line,” and “A Boy Named Sue.” Although he was often seen as brash, toward the end of his life, Cash took an inward look at himself, and he released an album of brooding songs, including a cover of Trent Reznor’s “Hurt,” which became a fan favorite. He died in 2003 from complications of diabetes.
25. Barbra Streisand
Barbra Streisand had a “voice like butter,” and she parlayed that into a series of hits like “The Way We Were,” “Tell Him,” “Woman In Love,” and “Memory.” Over the years, she also acted. She remains one of the most recognizable names in music even in the 2020s.
26. Etta James
Etta James was another soul singer who had hits like “The Wallflower,” “Stormy Weather,” “A Sunday Kind Of Love,” and “I’d Rather Go Blind.” The musical legend—she is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—died of leukemia at the age of 73 in 2012.
27. Billie Holiday
The jazz legend had hits like “Strange Fruit,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and “Blue Moon.” Billie Holiday had a rough time—she was black and lived during a time when there was segregation. That meant that she would sometimes be singing in a club that did not allow black people. She died at the age of 44 from pulmonary edema that was caused by cirrhosis. But she did leave the world a musical legacy.
28. Billy Joel
Billy Joel did not fit the image of the stereotypical music star. He had baggy eyes and looked more like an accountant than a musical superstar. Still, he built an incredible catalog of hits, including “Uptown Girl,” “Only The Good Die Young,” “Piano Man,” “Captain Jack,” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (which could use an update). He proved that image is not everything, and his soulful singing helped put him on this list.
29. Steven Tyler
Steven Tyler was quite a combination to watch and hear when he was singing with Aerosmith. His body was at all angles as he moved around the stage, singing hits like “Sweet Emotion,” “Walk This Way,” “Dude Looks Like A Lady,” and “Livin’ On The Edge.” Part of the reason for his success was that he became sober after Aerosmith revived. That was beneficial to fans since they got to hear many more years of music from him.
Beyoncé started her career with the group Destiny’s Child but then went solo in 2003. Her voice and showmanship made her famous around the world. She has wowed fans with hits like “Partition,” “Break My Soul,” “Single Ladies,” and “Bills, Bills, Bills.” Beyoncé looks to dominate the music scene well beyond the 2020s.
31. Karen Carpenter
Karen Carpenter was the sweet part of The Carpenters. Unfortunately, she was also the unfortunate face of how eating disorders could wreck or even end people’s lives very prematurely. The thing that people may not totally appreciate about her is that—as good a vocalist as she was—she was also one heck of a drummer. She was comfortable behind the drum kit and had some amazing chops. Watch a few of her drumming videos and you will realize that the world not only lost one of its best singers but a great drummer when she died far too young from the complications of her eating disorder.
This list was hard to compile since there were many others that we also wanted to include. But this is just our list. If we missed anyone, they’re probably on your or someone else’s list.
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.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.