The art of jazz is one that has thrived for well over a century, presenting countless innovators and pioneers along the way. This can make it hard to determine where to start when looking at the entire history of the genre, but we have made your job much easier with this list of the greatest female jazz vocalists of all time.
Jazz vocals are a unique and important part of the jazz genre. In this article, we will introduce the topic of jazz vocals and outline the top 10 greatest female jazz vocalists of all time. Whether you love jazz or not, there’s no denying that the music and vocalists of this genre have an important place in history. The iconic name of Ella Fitzgerald, who was one of if not the the greatest female jazz vocalist of all time , still receives attention today and continues to influence the genre. With the advent of more modern jazz and big bands, many claim the best era of jazz vocals came in the 1920s. However, the best era may still be ahead of us as jazz vocals remain a uniquely important genre and extremely relevant today.
The Ten Greatest Female Jazz Vocalists
Each of these singers has their own unique style and brings something special to the table.
Fitzgerald was a bit of a jazz prodigy, and she has been called the “First Lady of Song.” Her incredibly well-controlled vocal style was unique from beginning to end, and her impeccable technique made her able to adapt her sound as the decades went on. Ella was very influential in bridging the gap between pop and jazz, and you can’t talk about jazz without mentioning her.
Vaughan was a jazz and pop vocalist who had crossover appeal. She sang everything from ballads to swing, but she definitely had an inclination toward pop music. She was the second black female to have a one-million seller, with “It’s Not for Me to Say” being her first million seller. Some of her other songs, like “L-O-V-E,” had a big effect on the pop charts.
Dorothy Dell was the first woman to make it in jazz, and she’s considered one of the best jazz singers ever. She really was on the cutting edge of jazz, because she studied at the New England Conservatory of Music. She was especially important in integrating black artists into the music industry. She is noted for helping pioneer the electric jazz genre in the 1950s, and she had a lot of success on the pop charts during her heyday.
Holiday had a wide range of music to her credit, but it was her style that was her most celebrated. Holiday’s style took on a whole new life with her collaborations with jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong and Stan Getz. She was one of the first jazz singers to have a crossover hit on the pop charts, thanks to her 1956 cover of “Stardust.” There’s no doubt that Holiday was a force to be reckoned with in the music industry. She had a powerful voice, and she could improvise beautifully on her own as well as with her musical partners. She made several records that became jazz standards, and her voice is well represented in the Smithsonian archives.
Bessie Smith, born Evelina Anderson in Mississippi, is one of the most well-known blues singers in American history. Her great voice helped transform blues music into a distinctive American form, and she made the field its own. She was known as the “Queen of the Blues,” and it’s easy to see why. Bessie Smith paved the way for the women who followed her.
Betty Carter is one of the world’s most famous jazz and blues singers. She’s also one of the most versatile. She’s performed with the likes of Chick Corea, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, and Dave Brubeck. She’s led bands of her own and performed with big name jazz musicians, but she was always best known for the solo work she did on her records. Miles Davis named her the best jazz singer he ever heard.
With the sounds of Nina Simone, it’s hard to tell when she was an iconic jazz and blues singer, or a political activist. But it’s clear that she’s done both. Simone was an outspoken anti-war activist, and she regularly spoke out against racism and sexism. She was an early supporter of women’s rights and would write songs in support of causes like feminism, civil rights, and anti-war.
Carmen McRae has been in the music industry for over 50 years. During her time, she’s collaborated with pop and country musicians, sung popular songs, and won numerous awards. She’s put out nine albums and still performs. One of her biggest hits, “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone,” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
A torch singer with a sultry, languid contralto voice, London recorded over thirty albums of pop and jazz standards between 1955 and 1969. The Grammy Hall of Fame inducted her recording of “Cry Me a River” in 2001, a track she introduced on her debut album. Not only was London a musical powerhouse, but she was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award in 1974 for her portrayal of nurse Dixie McCall in the television series Emergency!.
Diana Krall has been nominated for a total of 16 Grammy Awards and has won three. She’s a jazz singer, songwriter, and pianist, who has collaborated with artists including Diana Ross and B.B. King. Krall has also composed several of her own songs and lent her voice to many more.
Jazz vocals are a unique and important part of the jazz genre. The art of jazz is one that has thrived for well over a century, presenting countless innovators and pioneers along the way.