The 30 greatest female singers of all time, ranked in order of pure vocal ability

4 March 2021, 13:08

The 30 greatest female singers of all time - Karen Carpenter, Whitney Houston and Celine Dion
The 30 greatest female singers of all time - Karen Carpenter, Whitney Houston and Celine Dion. Picture: Getty

Who is the greatest female singer of all time?

There have been so many incredibly talented singers over the years, all with different types of voices, ranges and styles.

We've ranked 30 of the very best of the best, based purely on vocal ability, rather than their overall talent or icon status, to make for a fantastic lineup of outstanding artists.

Read more: The 20 greatest male singers, ranked on vocal ability

  1. Kate Bush

    The Queen of art-pop, Kate Bush has always had a unique singing voice, and no-one else sounds quite like her.

  2. Carole King

    Carole King is not only an incredible songwriter, but she can also belt out a tune as good as anyone. See 'Natural Woman' and 'I Feel the Earth Move' for her soulful best.

  3. Dusty Springfield

    Dusty Springfield's voice will always have a timeless quality to it. She summed up the sould and style of the soul pop of the '60s era, and her rich and sensual take is simply gorgeous.

  4. Cher

    Read more: Relive Tina Turner, Elton John and Cher's breathtaking live performance of 'Proud Mary' - video

    Even from a young age in her Sonny & Cher days, Cher had a naturally dark and smoky tone to her voice. If anything, she's only got better with age. Even when singing ABBA bangers.

  5. Madonna

    While Madonna may be considered the greatest and most successful female popstar of all time, she may not get the kudos for her actual singing voice that she deserves.

    Her voice is always solid and clear, with a delicate quality that works so perfectly for her brand of pop.

  6. Amy Winehouse

    We only got to appreciate Amy Winehouse's fantastic voice for a short period of time. Instantly recognisable, both modern and classic at the same time, even the great Tony Bennett wanted to sing with her.

  7. Joni Mitchell

    Joni Mitchell's voice has perhaps changed the most over the years, but that was no bad thing.

    The folk singer's mezzo-soprano voice was effortless when reaching even the highest of notes back in the '60s, and while it was got lower over time, she has kept a smoky and moving tone that still gives us chills.

  8. Dolly Parton

    One of the best country voices of all time, Dolly's strong use of vibrato and her Tennessee accent is unique, but always provides a unique and sensual qualtiy to her songs.

  9. Diana Ross

    Diana Ross has an uncanny ability to make her voice sound youthful and sweet thoughout the decades, and there's few that sound as smooth. But don't let that fool you, she packs a punch when she wants to.

  10. Donna Summer

    Donna Summer was someone who proved time and again how much range she had. Not only with the notes, but the style. She could either belt out a disco anthem, or sing so incredibly soft and sweet, sometimes in the same song.

  11. Stevie Nicks

    When it comes to a more rocky singing voice, there's perhaps no better than Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks. She always produces a sweet and powerful sound that's gruff in all the right places.

  12. Adele

    While other singers may go for tricks and wails, Adele prefers to keep things simple and let her bluesy vocals showcase her amazing talent.

    Always seemingly effortless and full of emotion, Adele is a true national treasure.

  13. Nina Simone

    Nina Simone had such a distinctive voice during her career, and there's no one else like her. She had a very rich and soulful voice, and enjoyed giving surprise vocal runs and other improvisations that you'd not expect.

  14. Beyoncé

    One of the most powerful voices of modern times, Beyoncé Knowles had a clear talent even back in the early Destiny's Child days, that separated her from similar R&B singers of the era.

    What's even more impressive is that she can also dance without ever really seeing her voice slip up.

  15. Lady Gaga

    Although she started her career with pop-dance anthems, it was always clear from the start that Lady Gaga possessed an incredible voice.

    It was even more clear to see in the Oscar-winning A Star is Born that showcased how powerful and rich her voice is.

  16. Etta James

    No-one quite packed a punch like Etta James. She had the ability to play it sweet and soft as in 'At Last', or as a powerful belter like 'I Just Wanna Make Love to You'.

    She always showed a pure raw energy and emotion in her vocals, and could adapt to whatever song came her way.

  17. Julie Andrews

    Classically-trained Julie Andrews has such a gorgeous tone and clarity to her voice. It's clear that she was a seasoned Broadway and West End performer from a young age. If you want musicals, Julie's your person.

  18. Billie Holiday

    If you want pure emotion, like their entire life story is pouring out of every song they perform, then look no further than Billie Holiday.

    While she might not have the wide vocal range of other singers, it was her delivery and passion that made her a standout, even 60 years since her death.

  19. Gladys Knight

    Forever effortless, always powerful. Gladys Knight was one of the greatest soul singers of her generation, and if anything her vocal talent has just got better with age.

  20. Christina Aguilera

    Out of all the pop stars that emerged in the 21st century, Christina Aguilera would be hard to beat in the vocal talent stakes.

    Read more: Christina Aguilera shares amazing throwback clip of her singing Etta James aged 7

    She has one of the largest ranges - four octaves - and you've got to love the distinctive Christina 'growl'.

  21. Shirley Bassey

    There's a reason Shirley Bassey is the only artist to record three James Bond themes - there's simply no-one quite like her who could command such a powerful, if a bit cheeky, presence.

    From her days as a young singer of ballads in the 1950s, to still belting out soul anthems today, there's only one Dame Shirley.

  22. Annie Lennox

    Annie Lennox proved that there was room for soul and emotion in the world of electronic pop when she burst onto the scene with Eurythmics.

    Read more: Queen, David Bowie and Annie Lennox's powerful 'Under Pressure' performance in tribute to Freddie Mercury

    With each new release, either with her band or as a solo artist, Annie keeps showing how powerful and strong her voice is, whether it's an upbeat pop song or a heartfelt ballad.

  23. Tina Turner

    Tina Turner has one of the most versatile voices in this list. She can command soft ballads or stadium rock anthems in a way that makes her music so appealing to so many.

  24. Barbra Streisand

    Barbra Streisand is one of the few performers to win the prestigious EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Awards), so it's no surprise she's so high up on this list.

    The fact that she's an amazing actress also translates to the emotion and delivery of her songs, which always sound so effortless and easy to listen to.

  25. Karen Carpenter

    When it comes to underrated singers, we'd argue that Karen Carpenter is overlooked the most.

    While others up in the top 10 of our list are known for belting out their songs, Karen kept things simple, and let her incredibly smooth and low voice bring all the emotion and feeling required.

  26. Ella Fitzgerald

    The First Lady of Song may not have had the vocal ranges of Mariah or Celine, but she more than made up for that with her incredible tone and diction.

    Ella's voice was so flawless and silky smooth, that we'd be happy to hear her sing the dictionary for 10 hours.

  27. Mariah Carey

    Soprano Mariah Carey is a rare breed of musical talent. She can sing five - yes, five - octaves, and she almost sounds operatic at times. She also has a smoky and husky quality at times, which only adds to the drama.

  28. Celine Dion

    Celine has always had a great understanding of the powers of her voice, and she's always on top form. Whether it's belting out a power ballad with all the vocal runs and tricks, or keeping things simple with a breathy ballad.

    Read more: This video of Celine Dion singing in 9 different languages is absolutely incredible

    Possibly the greatest live performer in terms of longevity, Celine is arguably the greatest living singer.

  29. Aretha Franklin

    The Queen of Soul was unrivalled for decades when it came to having the best singing voice on the planet.

    Read more: 5 of Aretha Franklin's greatest live performances, from 'Nessun Dorma' to 'Natural Woman'

    Using her gospel background to her advantage, Aretha had such an incredibly powerful and passionate voice. Even 50 years after her debut, she brought audiences to tears with her performances.

  30. Whitney Houston

    The only person to arguably beat Aretha to the top spot in this list is Whitney Houston. From a very young age, it was obvious just how insanely talented this woman was.

    Read more: When Whitney Houston sang the national anthem so powerfully she moved a nation to tears

    She could go up and down with different ranges with ease, keep things soft and warm or belt them out like a proper diva. At the height of her powers, no-one could match her effortless ability.