Are you a fan of jazz music? If so, you’re in luck! This list of the best female jazz singers of all time is sure to please. From Ella Fitzgerald to Norah Jones, these ladies have made their mark on the genre and continue to influence musicians today. Whether you are a fan of traditional jazz or more modern styles, there is sure to be someone on this list that you will enjoy listening to!
So, without further ado, here are the best female jazz singers of all time:
1. Nina Simone
Nina Simone was a singer, songwriter, and civil rights activist. She was an incredibly talented jazz musician, playing both piano and guitar. She used her music to speak out against racism and oppression. She was a powerful voice for the civil rights movement and helped to inspire other artists.
Simone recorded over 40 albums during her career and received numerous awards, including the Grammy Hall of Fame Award. Her music is still popular today and continues to inspire musicians all over the world.
2. Anita O’Day
Anita O’Day was one of the most iconic jazz singers of the 20th century. She started her career in the 1930s, singing with bandleaders like Gene Krupa and Benny Goodman. Her vocal style was unique, characterized by her use of scatting and eagerness to experiment with new sounds. She also had a strong stage presence, which helped her to stand out in the crowd.
In the 1940s and 1950s, O’Day recorded a number of hit songs, including “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Sing, Sing, Sing.” She also toured extensively, performing at nightclubs and concert halls around the world. In the later years of her career, she continued to push boundaries, experimenting with different musical genres and collaborating with younger artists. Her passion for music was evident until the very end, and she left behind a rich legacy that continues to inspire new generations of singers.
3. Dianne Reeves
Dianne Reeves is an American jazz singer born in 1956 in Detroit, Michigan. She began her singing career in the 1970s and has since released fifteen albums. Her music is a blend of jazz, blues, and pop, and she has won five Grammy Awards for her work. In addition to her solo recordings, she has also sung with many well-known musicians, including Wynton Marsalis, Miles Davis, and Herbie Hancock.
She has toured extensively throughout the United States and Europe and has performed at some of the world’s most prestigious music festivals. Reeves is one of the most successful and acclaimed jazz singers of her generation, and her music is enjoyed by fans all over the world.
4. Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday was a jazz singer and songwriter. She was known for her unique vocal style and ability to convey emotion through her music. She began her career singing in nightclubs in Harlem. She went on to have a successful career, recording over 100 songs and earning multiple Grammy Awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award.
5. Betty Carter
Betty Carter was born in 1929 in Flint, Michigan, and she quickly developed a love for music. She started singing in her local church choir, and by age 16, she was touring with a professional gospel group. In the early 1950s, she transitioned to jazz and quickly established herself as a talented singer and pianist. She began international tours and recorded several albums that received critical acclaim.
Carter continued to perform and record until her death in 1998. Throughout her career, she remained true to her jazz roots and helped keep the genre alive during its decline in popularity. For generations of jazz lovers, she will always be remembered as one of the greatest musicians of her time.
6. Norah Jones
Norah Jones is a popular musician known for her smooth, soulful voice. A native of Texas, she began her musical career as a jazz singer in New York City. Since then, she has released several albums of both original material and covers, winning multiple Grammys along the way. She was named the top jazz artist for the 2000’s decade by Billboard.
In addition to her work as a solo artist, Jones has also collaborated with several other musicians, including Willie Nelson and Billie Joe Armstrong. Despite her success, she remains down-to-earth and humble, attributing much of her success to luck. Regardless of the reason, there’s no denying that she is a talented musician with a bright future ahead of her.
7. Etta Jones
Etta Jones was a jazz singer known for her smooth, soulful voice. Born in Texas in 1928, she began her career singing gospel music before moving to New York City in the 1950s. There, she quickly became a mainstay of the city’s vibrant jazz scene, performing with legendary musicians like Dexter Gordon and Oscar Peterson.
Over the course of her career, Jones released more than a dozen albums, many of which are now considered classics of the genre. She died in 2001 at the age of 72. Today, she is remembered as one of the great vocalists of her generation, and her music continues to inspire new generations of Jazz singers.
8. Diana Krall
Diana Krall is a Canadian jazz pianist and singer. She was born in British Columbia in 1964. Her parents were both professional musicians, and she began playing piano at the age of four. She later studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Krall’s career took off in the 1990s when she released her first album, “Stepping Out.” Since then, she has released eleven studio albums and won five Grammy Awards.
She is known for her smooth, velvety voice and her ability to blend jazz, pop, and blues styles. In fact, even critics have praised her for her innovative approach to music. In 2003, she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. Krall continues to be one of the most popular jazz musicians of our time.
9. Dakota Staton
Dakota Staton was a singer and songwriter who helped shape the sound of popular music in the 1950s and 1960s. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she grew up in a musical family and began performing in nightclubs as a teenager. She rose to prominence in the early 1950s with her hit song “The House Of Blue Lights,” which featured a distinctive blend of jazz, R&B, and pop influences.
Throughout her career, Staton released more than two dozen albums and charted several hits, including “My Mistake (Was To Love You)” and “(Theme From) Valley Of The Dolls.” She also appeared on television and in films, including the 1966 cult classic “The Party.” She continued to perform and record in later years, although she largely retreated from the spotlight. She died in 2007 at the age of 76.
10. Sarah Vaughan
Sarah Vaughan was a jazz singer and pianist. She was known for her powerful vocal range and ability to sing in a wide variety of styles. She began her career singing with big bands but later found success as a solo artist. She recorded over 60 albums during her career and won multiple Grammy Awards. Vaughan is considered one of the best jazz singers of all time, and her music is still popular today.
11. Blossom Dearie
Blossom Dearie was a jazz singer and pianist with a distinctively light and girlish voice. Born in New York City in 1924, she began her career as a member of the Blue Flames, a vocal trio that recorded for Savoy Records in the early 1940s. She moved to France in 1952, where she found success as a solo artist and bandleader. She recorded for several different labels over the course of her career, including Verve, Capital, and Philips.
Dearie’s style was highly influenced by French cabaret music, and she often sang in a whispered or conversational tone. She also had a penchant for inserting humorous asides into her songs. She died in 2009 at the age of 84.
12. Abbey Lincoln
Jazz singer and songwriter Abbey Lincoln was born Anna Marie Wooldridge in Chicago on August 6, 1930. Despite having no formal musical training, she embarked on a career in entertainment at an early age, appearing in various nightclubs and theaters. In the 1950s, she began working with notable jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. During this period, she changed her name to Abbey Lincoln to better reflect her African-American heritage.
In the 1960s, she became increasingly involved in the Civil Rights Movement, using her music to convey messages of social justice. Her work during this time earned her widespread critical acclaim, and she continued to perform and record until her death in 2010. Lincoln remained true to her artistic vision by creating deeply personal and socially relevant music. She is widely regarded as one of the most important figures in 20th-century jazz.
13. Ella Johnson
Ella Johnson was born in Chicago in 1918 and began playing piano at an early age. She soon developed a love for jazz and started performing in clubs around the city. In the 1940s, she moved to New York and became one of the most popular singers in the town. Her smooth, powerful voice made her one of the most sought-after vocalists of her generation.
She recorded dozens of albums and toured the world, performing for royalty and heads of state. In addition to her work as a musician, Johnson was also an active philanthropist. She founded several charities and donated her time and money to causes she cared about. She passed away in 2010, but her legacy as a singer, songwriter, and humanitarian lives on.
14. Dinah Washington
Dinah Washington was a jazz and blues singer. She was known for her powerful vocal range and ability to convey emotion through her music. She began her career singing in nightclubs in Chicago. She went on to have a successful career, recording over 30 albums and earning multiple Grammy Awards.
15. June Christy
June Christy was a singer who helped to define the cool jazz sound of the 1940s and 1950s. She got her start singing with bands in the Los Angeles area and quickly developed a reputation for her clear, powerful voice. In 1944, she joined the Stan Kenton Orchestra and made her first recordings with the group the following year. Her time with them was short-lived, but it helped to launch her career.
She released a series of successful albums, including “The Misty Miss Christy” and “Something Cool.” Her music was known for its sophisticated lyrics and laid-back arrangements, and she became one of the most popular jazz vocalists of her generation. She retired from performing in the early 1960s, but she continued to work as an educator and a recording artist until she passed away in 1990.
16. Helen Merrill
Born in New York City in 1930, Helen Merrill is a jazz musician with a unique style that combines elements of both approaches. A gifted singer, she began her career singing popular standards before turning to a more experimental repertoire.
Merrill’s musical partnership with trumpeter Clifford Brown was one of the most significant in jazz history, and she went on to record with many of the genre’s greatest names. Although her recordings have been sporadically released over the years, she remains an active performer, and her concerts are always highly anticipated events. For anyone who loves jazz, Merrill is a must-see artist.
17. Eartha Kitt
Eartha Kitt was an American jazz singer, dancer, and actress who won widespread acclaim for her sultry voice and sensual stage presence. Born in South Carolina in 1927, she began her career as a nightclub performer in the early 1950s. Over the next decade, she became one of the most popular entertainers in the world, appearing in films, television shows, and Las Vegas revues.
In the 1960s, Kitt’s career took a turn when she became embroiled in political controversy. After making critical remarks about the Vietnam War, she was denounced by President Lyndon Johnson and declared persona non grata in the United States. This episode ended her career in America, but Kitt continued to perform internationally for many years. She died in 2008 at the age of 81.
18. Julie London
Julie London was a pop and jazz musician who had a lengthy career in both genres. She was born in 1926 and began her musical career in the 1940s. Her first album, “Calendar Girl,” was released in 1956 and contained a mix of pop and jazz standards.
London continued to release albums throughout the rest of her life, including several that topped the charts. She also appeared in a number of films and television shows, most notably “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “Emergency!” London passed away in 2000, but her music continues to be popular with fans of both pop and jazz.
19. Aretha Franklin
It would be impossible to overstate Aretha Franklin’s impact on American music. Arguably the greatest singer of her generation, she brought a unique blend of gospel, soul, jazz, and R&B to the mainstream, charting more than 100 hits over the course of her illustrious career. Though she began her career as a child prodigy in the church, her recordings for Atlantic Records in the 1960s made her a global superstar.
Songs like “Respect” and “Chain Of Fools” became anthems of the Civil Rights movement, while her electrifying performance at the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival cemented her reputation as one of the greatest live performers of all time. In governmental recognition of her achievements, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Simply put, Franklin was a musical legend, and her legacy will continue to inspire new generations of singers for years to come.
20. Ruth Brown
Ruth Brown was a highly influential jazz musician who enjoyed a long and successful career. Born in 1928, she began her musical journey as a teenager, singing with local bands in her hometown of Portsmouth, Virginia. In the early 1950s, she relocated to New York City, where she quickly made a name for herself on the jazz scene.
She recorded a string of hit records during the 1950s and 1960s, including “Teardrops From My Eyes” and “This Little Girl’s Gone Rockin’.” In 1989, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, making her one of the first female musicians to be so honored. Throughout her career, Brown remained an active force in the world of jazz, inspiring future generations of artists. She passed away in 2006 at the age of 78.
21. Diane Schuur
Diane Schuur is a Grammy-winning jazz musician who has been blind since birth. She was born in Tacoma, Washington, in 1953 and began playing the piano at age three. When she was five, she was diagnosed with retrobulbar neuritis, a condition that caused her to completely lose her sight. Despite this setback, she went on to become one of the most celebrated jazz vocalists and pianists of her generation. She has released over 20 albums, including her Grammy-winning debut album “Deedles.”
Schuur has performed with some of the biggest names in the music industry, including B.B. King, Stan Getz, and Quincy Jones. In addition to her musical achievements, she is also an active advocate for people with disabilities. She has helped to raise awareness about the challenges faced by the blind and visually impaired community and has worked to make public spaces more accessible for people with disabilities. For her contributions to music and disability rights, Schuur is truly an inspiring figure.
22. Kandace Springs
Kandace Springs is a jazz and soul singer quickly making a name for herself in the music world. A native of Nashville, Tennessee, she began her musical journey at a young age, studying classical piano and singing in her church choir. Her love of music continued to grow, and she eventually attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music. After graduation, she ditched her dreams of becoming a pop star and instead focused on her true passion: jazz.
She released her debut album in 2014 and has been touring internationally ever since. Kandace’s unique style combines the smooth sounds of classic jazz with the soulful vocals of R&B, creating a sound that is true all on her own. With her talent and charisma, she is quickly becoming one of the most promising young musicians in the industry today.
23. Peggy Lee
Peggy Lee was one of the most influential jazz musicians of her generation. Born in 1920, she rose to prominence in the 1940s as a member of the Benny Goodman Quartet.
Lee went on to have a hugely successful solo career, and her distinctive voice helped to define the sound of cool jazz. In addition to her musical talents, she was also an accomplished songwriter, and she penned hits like “Fever” and “Is That All There Is?” We can still hear Lee’s influence on today’s jazz scene, and she remains one of the genre’s most revered performers.
24. Carmen McRae
Carmen McRae was a legendary jazz musician known for her deeply personal singing style. Born in Harlem in 1920, she grew up surrounded by the sounds of jazz and blues. She began her musical career as a pianist but quickly developed into a singer of unparalleled skill.
McRae recorded over 60 albums throughout her career and performed with luminaries like Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and Dizzy Gillespie. Though she was often overshadowed by her more famous contemporaries, her intimate style of singing helped to redefine the genre of jazz. Her influence can still be heard in the work of modern musicians such as Norah Jones and Diana Krall. She passed away in 1994, but her music continues to inspire new generations of listeners.
25. Annie Ross
Annie Ross was born in the UK but moved to the US when she was a teenager and quickly became involved in the jazz scene. She sang with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Lester Young, Charlie Parker, and Coleman Hawkins.
In 1952, she recorded “Twisted,” which became a huge hit and helped to launch her solo career. Ross continued to perform and record throughout her life, and she was inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame in 1985. She died on 21 July 2020, and she remains a true pioneer in the jazz world; her contributions have had a lasting impact on the genre.
26. Etta James
Etta James was one of the most influential jazz musicians of her generation. A powerful vocalist with a signature style, she was known for her soulful interpretations of both classic standards and modern pop songs. Born in Los Angeles in 1938, she began her career as a teenager, singing with the legendary bandleader Johnny Otis. She quickly rose to prominence, releasing her debut album in 1955.
Over the next five decades, James would go on to release a series of critically acclaimed albums and earn multiple Grammy Awards. Though she passed away in 2012, her music continues to inspire new generations of jazz singers and fans.
27. Madeleine Peyroux
Madeleine Peyroux is a French-American singer and songwriter. She is known for her distinctive vocals and eclectic style, which blends elements of jazz, folk, and pop. She began her career as a busker on the streets of Paris. She was discovered by producer William Galison, who helped her secure a record deal with Atlantic Records. Peyroux’s debut album, “Dreamland,” was released in 1996 to critical acclaim. It featured covers of popular songs by Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday, and Leonard Cohen.
Her second album, “Careless Love,” was released in 2004 and debuted at number one on the Billboard Jazz charts. It won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Her most recent album, “Half The Perfect World,” was released in 2006. It includes original songs as well as covers of tunes by Tom Waits and Townes Van Zandt. She is currently touring the United States in support of the album. Her distinctive style and powerful vocals impress critics and music lovers alike.
28. Dee Dee Bridgewater
Dee Dee Bridgewater is an American jazz singer. She was born on May 27, 1950, in Memphis, Tennessee. Her father was a musician, and her mother was a gospel singer. She began singing in church choirs when she was a child. When she was 18, she moved to New York City to study acting. While she was there, she became interested in jazz music. She began to sing at nightclubs and quickly gained popularity. In 1975, she released her first album, “Afro Blue.” It received critical acclaim and won several awards.
Bridgewater has released more than two dozen albums throughout her career. She has won three Grammy Awards and been nominated for numerous others. In 2009, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama. She currently resides in France with her husband, trumpeter Roy Hargrove.
29. Cassandra Wilson
Cassandra Wilson is an American jazz singer who first came to prominence in the early 1990s with her album “Blue Light, Red Light.” Since then, she has released a number of other critically acclaimed albums and won multiple Grammy Awards.
Her music often draws from a wide range of genres, including blues, jazz, gospel, pop, and rock. She has said that she is “not really a jazz singer,” but rather, someone who uses the jazz idiom to express her unique style. Whatever the label, Wilson’s music is widely respected by critics and fans alike. Her powerful voice and inventive interpretations have made her one of the most respected singers of her generation.
30. Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald is often considered one of the best jazz singers of all time. She was known for her incredible vocal range and ability to scat sing.
She got her start in the music industry by winning an amateur contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. She went on to have a successful career, recording over 200 albums and earning 13 Grammy Awards. Fitzgerald is considered to be one of the most influential jazz singers of all time, and her music continues to be popular today.
31. Mary Lou Williams
Mary Lou Williams was a singer who had a big impact on the world of music. She was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and began her singing career in the early 1920s. She was a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, but she recorded several solo albums. She also wrote songs for other artists, such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.
In addition to her work as a singer, Williams was a talented pianist. She composed jazz standards such as “In The Mood” and “A Night In Tunisia.” She died in 1981, but her music continues to inspire musicians worldwide.
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.