Each of these R&B singers bring a distinctive quality to the genre. From its roots in blues and gospel influence, R&B has taken on many forms throughout the years. These singers have helped guide the music along the way, making it the cultural phenomenon it is today.
- Marvin Gaye Few R&B singers have left such a lasting legacy as Marvin Gaye. His 1968 songs “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Ain’t Nothin Like the Real Thing” were some of the first of his Motown-inspired hits. His masterwork is likely 1971’s “What’s Goin’ On,” a stark social commentary on the chaotic times of the early decade.
- Smokey Robinson This R&B singer first hit the scene with his group The Miracles, who had numerous hits throughout the 1960s. After going solo, Robinson entered a new chapter in his career. He stayed relevant during the 1970s and 1980s, winning a Grammy Award for 1987’s “Just To See Her.”
- R. Kelly Mixing gospel style with sultry lyrics is this R&B singer’s recipe for success. Kelly had numerous hits during the 1990s and early 2000s, including the 1996 ballad “I Believe I Can Fly,” which won three Grammy Awards. In spite of a sometimes troubling personal life, Kelly scored more Top 40 hits than any other male solo artist in the 1990s.
- Luther Vandross When this R&B singer released his debut album, 1981’s Never Too Much,” he had an immediate impact. However, it wasn’t until the 1990s that he became a pop icon. Vandross’ songs “Here And Now,” “Power of Love” and “Your Secret Love” won a total of four Grammy Awards during the decade.
- Alicia Keys With the 2001 release of the album “Songs in A Minor,” Keys immediately took her spot among the top R&B singers. She won five Grammy Awards in 2002, a feat she would almost match in 2005, when her album “Diary” netted four.
- Lauryn Hill This R&B singer got her first taste of success as a member of the rap group The Fugees. Their 1996 album “The Score” sold seventeen million copies and won two Grammy Awards. As if that weren’t enough. Hill’s 1998 R&B solo debut “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” won five Grammy Awards and sold over twelve million copies.
- Stevie Wonder A musical prodigy, Wonder made his recording debut at only twelve years of age. He hit his stride during the 1970s, putting together a string of successes that would make any other R&B singer jealous. His timeless classics from that era include “Superstition,” “Higher Ground” and “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing.”
- Vanessa Williams After falling from grace as a beauty queen and achieving moderate acting success, Williams began a career as a singer. Her second R&B album, 1991’s “The Comfort Zone” went triple-platinum and scored her a number one hit with “Save the Best for Last.” The album’s five Grammy nominations cemented Williams’ status as a singer.
- Mary J. Blige The updated R&B sound present on this singer’s 1992 album “What’s the 411?” helped bring the genre into the modern age. Since then, she’s become a top-grossing live act, with several hit albums including 1997’s “Share My World” and “Growing Pains” in 2008.
- Curtis Mayfield Throughout four decades in music, this R&B singer helped bring socially conscious themes to the genre with his innovative and influential sound. His career with the group, The Impressions, produced anthems like “I’m So Proud” and “People Get Ready.” As a solo artist, Mayfield’s most lasting work was the soundtrack to the 1972 film “Superfly,” a gritty and relevant mix of soul, funk and R&B.