The 10 best female blues singers of all time, besides having an unbelievable amount of talent, knew what truly makes blues music great – emotion. Some may have had technically better voices than others, but all could convey the “bluesy” feeling on a level that moves people to this day, no matter how long ago their music was produced. So, if you’re in a blue mood, take the time to check out these fantastic female vocalists.
- Ma Rainey. One of the first female blues singers to have her music recorded, Ma Rainey laid down the path for female vocalists to follow. Most of her recordings come from the 1920’s, so you can expect to hear a very soulful, very basic kind of blues when listening to her.
- Billie Holiday. Though better known as a swing and jazz singer, Billie Holiday’s voice also suited blues very well. For proof, look no further than her version of the blues standard “Strange Fruit”. It’s perhaps the most melancholy blues song ever performed.
- Bonnie Raitt. Sure, Bonnie Raitt is better known for her pop songs. But she’s also a seasoned slide guitarist with a penchant for great blues music. Though you may have to dig a bit to find her “bluesier” tracks, the musical reward is well worth the effort.
- Nina Simone. This all-time great female blues singer is the definition of a multitalented musician. She was a songwriter, pianist, and heart-wrenchingly emotional singer. She performed some great jazz and soul standards, but blues music is where Simone’s talent shone brightest.
- Bessie Smith. Back when blues was still chiefly a pianist’s genre, Bessie Smith was its voice. She could bend and vibrate pitches when singing the blues much like a modern guitarist bends notes. Though long gone, her music is still heralded as the cream of the early blues crop.
- Janis Joplin. Joplin may not have quite the same pedigree as some of the other female blues singers on this list, but she certainly deserves recognition. Though at times rough around the edges and slightly off pitch, her passion for the blues is readily apparent on first listen.
- Koko Taylor. What Louis Armstrong was to jazz, Koko Taylor was to blues. Her signature gravelly tone and low pitch fit the early electric blues style like a glove. Few musical moments in the blues genre are better than the vocal climaxes of her songs.
- Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Gospel vocalist and surprisingly good guitarist, Rosetta Tharpe adds an interesting twist to the list. In short, she sang and played a bluesy brand of Christian rock before Christian rock even existed.
- Etta James. Her powerful yet well controlled voice made her the perfect blues-and-swing crossover singer. For evidence, check out James’ version of “I Just Want to Make Love to You” – a mind-blowing track with traditional swing instruments and a bluesy melodic structure.
- Ethel Waters. Rounding out the list of best female blues singers is perhaps the most classically great vocalist of them all – Ethel Waters. She did blues tunes, jazz standards, and even Vaudeville scores. The reason for this versatile catalog was that she had the uncanny ability to match her voice to nearly any sonic setting.
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