"The First Lady of Song," Ella Fitzgerald was arguably the finest female jazz singer of all time (although some may vote for Sarah Vaughan or Billie Holiday). Blessed with a beautiful voice and a wide range, Fitzgerald could outswing anyone, was a brilliant scat singer, and had near-perfect elocution; one could always understand the words she sang. The one fault was that, since she always sounded so happy to be singing, Fitzgerald did not always dig below the surface of the lyrics she interpreted and she even made a downbeat song such as "Love for Sale" sound joyous. However, when one evaluates her career on a whole, there is simply no one else in her class.
Peruvian singer with an astonishing coloratura soprano voice. She possessed a range of over four octaves. Pavarotti said of her "If Miss Sumac were to sing opera, she would instantly be the the greatest female opera singer in the world."
Possessor of one of the most wondrous voices of the 20th century, Sarah Vaughan ranked with Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday in the very top echelon of female jazz singers. She often gave the impression that with her wide range, perfectly controlled vibrato, and wide expressive abilities, she could do anything she wanted with her voice. Although not all of her many recordings are essential (give Vaughan a weak song and she might strangle it to death), Sarah Vaughan's legacy as a performer and a recording artist will be very difficult to match in the future.
The undisputed Queen of Gospel, She sounded like Bessie Smith (whom she was influenced by) and had she chosen to sing secular music, could have been one of the greatest Jazz singers of all time. She brought a blues feeling to Gospel music and possessed an unearthly Alto voice of unending power and an astonishing operatic range.
High Priestess of Soul One of the most distinctive voices of the 20th Century One of the finest lyric interpreters of all time Julliard trained Classical Piano Prodigy
Consistently ranked in the top echelon of Jazz singers with Holiday, Fitzgerald and Company, Dinah Washington is considered a hugely influential singer to later stars such as Nancy Wilson and Aretha Franklin. The 'Queen of the Blues' is most remembered today for "Mad About The Boy", and "What A Diff'rence A Day Makes!", which won her a Grammy in 1959. She had began singing as a teenager, and gradually established herself as one of the most popular blues, R&B and jazz vocalists of the era.
Billie Holiday is considered by many to be the greatest of all jazz singers (And undoubtedly among the top three) and one of the most influential artists of all time. In a tragically abbreviated singing career that lasted less than three decades, her evocative phrasing and poignant delivery profoundly influenced vocalists who followed her. Although her warm, feathery voice inhabited a limited range, she used it like an accomplished jazz instrumentalist, stretching and condensing phrases in an ever-shifting dialogue with accompanying musicians. Famous for delivering lyrics a bit behind the beat, she alternately endowed them with sadness, sensuality, languor, and irony. Rarely singing blues, Holiday performed mostly popular material, communicating deep emotion by stripping down rather than dressing up words and lines. "If you find a tune that's got something to do with you, you just feel it, and when you sing it, other people feel it, too," Holiday once explained. According to the Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, "She was the first and is perhaps still the greatest of jazz singers, if the essence of jazz singing is to make the familiar sound fresh, and to make any lyric come alive with personal meaning for the listener."
Edith Piaf is almost universally regarded as France's greatest popular singer. Still revered as an icon decades after her death, "the Sparrow" served as a touchstone for virtually every chansonnier, male or female, who followed her. Her greatest strength wasn't so much her technique, or the purity of her voice, but the raw, passionate power of her singing. (Given her extraordinarily petite size, audiences marveled all the more at the force of her vocals.) Her style epitomized that of the classic French chanson: highly emotional, even melodramatic, with a wide, rapid vibrato that wrung every last drop of sentiment from a lyric. She preferred melancholy, mournful material, singing about heartache, tragedy, poverty, and the harsh reality of life on the streets
inger/actress Judy Garland had a varied career that began in vaudeville and extended into movies, records, radio, television, and personal appearances. She is best remembered as the big-voiced star of a series of movie musicals, particularly The Wizard of Oz, in which she sang her signature song, "Over the Rainbow." But unlike most other film stars of her era, she also maintained a career as a recording artist, and after her movie-making days were largely over, she was able to transfer her stardom to performing and recording, culminating in her Grammy-winning number one album Judy at Carnegie Hall.
A solid jazz singer whose early recordings tended to be forgotten after her ascendancy into the commercial sphere during the mid-'50s, Kay Starr was among the first pop singer to capitalize on the "rock fad" with her 1955 novelty "Rock and Roll Waltz." Her biggest hit came with the era-defining "Wheel of Fortune," a prime slice of '50s adult pop with a suitably brassy reading
Peggy Lee's alluring tone, distinctive delivery, breadth of material, and ability to write many of her own songs made her one of the most captivating artists of the vocal era, from her breakthrough on the Benny Goodman hit "Why Don't You Do Right" to her many solo successes, singles including "Mañana," "Lover" and "Fever" that showed her bewitching vocal power, a balance between sultry swing and impeccable musicianship.
How can Doris Day's name not be on this list, especially when compared with some of the lesser talents listed her. Day was a big band singer who vibrato-rich voice made classics of Sentimental Journey, Secret Love and countless others, then she turned her talents to the silver screen where she became a monumental success.
The Brazilian bombshell was the most well-paid actress in Hollywood in the 1940's. Fruits on the top of her hat, the samba singer was the most exotic actress/singer, being part of movies, series and Disney cartoons.
A sultry, smoky-voiced master of understatement, Julie London enjoyed considerable popularity during the cool era of the 1950s. London never had the range of Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan, but often used restraint, softness, and subtlety to maximum advantage.
Highly influential singer who pioneered Country as pop mucic. Had a wide range and overall, technically great voice. Known for her legendary recording of "Crazy".
They called Atlantic Records "the house that Ruth built" during the 1950s, and they weren't referring to the Sultan of Swat. Ruth Brown's regal hitmaking reign from 1949 to the close of the '50s helped tremendously to establish the New York label's predominance in the R&B field. Later, the business all but forgot her -- she was forced to toil as domestic help for a time -- but she returned to the top, her status as a postwar R&B pioneer (and tireless advocate for the rights and royalties of her peers) recognized worldwide.
One of the most technically gifted and popular vocalists of the immediate postwar period, Jo Stafford effortlessly walked the line between breezy pop and the more serious art of post-big-band jazz singing. With the help of her husband, top-flight arranger and Capitol A&R director Paul Weston, Stafford recorded throughout the '40s and '50s for Capitol and Columbia. She also contributed (with Weston) to one of the best pop novelty acts of the period, a hilariously inept and off-key satire that saw the couple billed as Jonathan & Darlene Edwards.
Before the rock & roll revolution, Rosemary Clooney was one of the most popular female singers in America, rising to superstardom during the golden age of adult pop. Like many of her peers in the so-called "girl singer" movement -- Doris Day, Kay Starr, Peggy Lee, Patti Page, et al. -- Clooney's style was grounded in jazz, particularly big-band swing. She wasn't an improviser or a technical virtuoso, and lacked the training to stand on an equal footing with the greatest true jazz singers. However, she sang with an effortless, spirited swing, and was everything else a great pop singer of her era should have been. Her phrasing and diction were flawless, and her voice was warm, smooth, and relaxed
Few female singers matched the hard-swinging and equally hard-living Anita O'Day for sheer exuberance and talent in all areas of jazz vocals. Though three or four outshone her in pure quality of voice, her splendid improvising, wide dynamic tone, and innate sense of rhythm made her the most enjoyable singer of the age. O'Day's first appearances in a big band shattered the traditional image of a demure female vocalist by swinging just as hard as the other musicians on the bandstand, best heard on her vocal trading with Roy Eldridge on the Gene Krupa recording "Let Me Off Uptown." After making her solo debut in the mid-'40s, she incorporated bop modernism into her vocals and recorded over a dozen of the best vocal LPs of the era for Verve during the 1950s and '60s
an American jazz singer, composer, pianist, and actress. Considered one of the most influential jazz vocalists of the 20th century, it was her behind-the-beat phrasing and her ironic interpretations of song lyrics that made her memorable. McRae drew inspiration from Billie Holiday, but established her own distinctive voice. She went on to record over 60 albums, enjoying a rich musical career, performing and recording in the United States, Europe, and Japan
The "Songbird of the South," vocalist Kate Smith was one of the most popular stars of the pre-World War II era; she remains best remembered for her definitive version of the patriotic anthem "God Bless America," which became a hit on no less than three separate occasions. Born Kathryn Elizabeth Smith in Washington, D.C. on May 1, 1907, she initially trained to be a nurse but began singing professionally during the early 1920s, soon relocating to New York to pursue roles in vaudeville and on Broadway, where she appeared in Honeymoon Lane in 1926. The owner of a thunderous contralto, Smith signed to Columbia in 1927, debuting with "One Sweet Letter From You,
Among the top five female singers of that 50 years. Yma Sumac? A stunning voice, yes, but not an appealing or particularly expressing SINGER. Maria Callas or you don't know what you're talking about.
Though she was the epitome of the vocal cool movement of the 1950s, June Christy was a warm, chipper vocalist able to stretch out her impressive voice on bouncy swing tunes and set herself apart from other vocalists with her deceptively simple enunciation. From her time in Stan Kenton's Orchestra, she inherited a focus on brassy swing from arranger friends like Pete Rugolo. Rugolo would become a consistent companion far into her solo days, too, arranging most of her LPs and balancing her gymnastic vocal abilities with a series of attentive charts.
aker was the first African American to star in a major motion picture, to integrate an American concert hall, and to become a world-famous entertainer. She is also noted for her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States (she was offered the leadership of the movement by Coretta Scott King in 1968 following Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, but turned it down), for assisting the French Resistance during World War II and for being the first American-born woman to receive the French military honor, the Croix de Guerre.
Helen Humes (June 23, 1913 – September 9, 1981) was an American jazz and blues singer who made her first recordings around the age of fourteen in 1927. In 1937 Helen became a recording vocalist with Harry James' big band, and in 1938 Helen became the lead female vocalist with the Count Basie Orchestra. During the 1940s and 1950s Helen worked mainly as a solo performer, which also included work with various bands and other vocalists, among them was Nat King Cole. Helen was on the bill of the 1960 Monterey Jazz Festival. Helen was not active in the world of music for a time, but resumed full swing with an appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1973 and at the Nice Jazz Festival in France in the mid-1970s. Helen performed up until her death in 1981. [See the Wikipedia entry for Helen Humes from which these notes are derived. I first listened to the music of Helen Humes at home that my parents were playing in the 1970s-1980s].
One of the most influential early pop singers Ethel Waters had a long and varied career, and was one of the first true jazz singers to record. Defying racism with her talent and bravery, Waters became a stage and movie star in the 1930s and '40s without leaving the U.S. She grew up near Philadelphia and, unlike many of her contemporaries, developed a clear and easily understandable diction. Originally classified as a blues singer (and she could sing the blues almost on the level of a Bessie Smith), Waters' jazz-oriented recordings of 1921-1928 swung before that term was even coined. A star early on at theaters and nightclubs, Waters introduced such songs as "Dinah," "Am I Blue" (in a 1929 movie), and "Stormy Weather." She made a smooth transition from jazz singer of the 1920s to a pop music star of the '30s, and she was a strong influence on many vocalists including Mildred Bailey, Lee Wiley, and Connee Boswell
One of the first great female jazz singers, in the late '20s Annette Hanshaw ranked near the top with Ethel Waters, the Boswell Sisters, and the upcoming Mildred Bailey. Unlike her contemporary Ruth Etting, Hanshaw could improvise and swing while also being a strong interpreter of lyrics. She was not quite 16 when she started her recording career, and her recordings (1926-1934) included such major jazz players as Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Jimmy Lytell, Adrian Rollini, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Vic Berton, Benny Goodman, Manny Klein, Phil Napoleon, Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, and Jack Teagarden
The mere mention of Vera Lynn's name evokes images of London skies filled with barrage balloons, and Britons riding out the German blitz in shelters and underground stations. England's sweetheart during the trying times of World War II, Lynn was still in her twenties when she took on that role. She was born Vera Margaret Welch in London's East Ham, to Bertram and Annie Welch, one year before the close of the First World War. She began singing as a girl of seven, also studying dance as a child. She later took her maternal grandmother's maiden name as her stage name, and her natural, unaffected vocal style and charm brought Lynn early success on the radio.
Very Under-rated as a singer...her version of "A Fine Romance" is the best I've heard not to mention her immortal "Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend"
The first major blues and jazz singer on record and one of the most powerful of all time, Bessie Smith rightly earned the title of "The Empress of the Blues." Even on her first records in 1923, her passionate voice overcame the primitive recording quality of the day and still communicates easily to today's listeners (which is not true of any other singer from that early period). At a time when the blues were in and most vocalists (particularly vaudevillians) were being dubbed "blues singers," Bessie Smith simply had no competition.
An uninhibited vocalist who gave more to her performances than any other singers around, Pearl Bailey gained fame for her work in Broadway, cabaret, and Hollywood. Bailey's sultry, slurred delivery livened up many a stale standard, including "Baby It's Cold Outside" and her only hit, "Takes Two to Tango."
The most exotic actress of the 1930s and '40s, Marlene Dietrich performed her cabaret act around the world and recorded for Decca, Columbia and Capitol in the post-war period, after her film career had slowed. A thick German accent and her odd sung-spoken vocal style proved no barrier to international popular success and adoration.
Described by influential critic Leonard Feather as "a dynamic song stylist recalling at times elements of Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan," Dakota Staton never enjoyed the widespread acclaim or commercial success of her reference points, but remains one of the soulful and commanding jazz singers of the postwar era
Arguably the most adventurous female jazz singer of all time, Betty Carter was an idiosyncratic stylist and a restless improviser who pushed the limits of melody and harmony as much as any bebop horn player. The husky-voiced Carter was capable of radical, off-the-cuff reworkings of whatever she sang, abruptly changing tempos and dynamics, or rearranging the lyrics into distinctive, off-the-beat rhythmic patterns. She could solo for 20 minutes, scat at lightning speed, or drive home an emotion with wordless, bluesy moans and sighs. She wasn't quite avant-garde, but she was definitely "out." Yet as much as Carter was fascinated by pure, abstract sound, she was also a sensitive lyric interpreter when she chose, a tender and sensual ballad singer sometimes given to suggestive asides. Her wild unpredictability kept her marginalized for much of her career
One of the finest jazz singers of the 1930s, Connee Boswell (who was always cited by Ella Fitzgerald as her main early influence) originally rose to fame as a member of the Boswell Sisters, one of the premiere jazz vocal groups. Boswell contracted polio as an infant and always used a wheelchair, although her disability was usually well covered up on-stage. Early on she played cello, piano, alto sax, and trombone but unfortunately never recorded on any instruments
One of the most popular singers of the late-'20s/early-'30s period, Ruth Etting was not really a jazz singer (unlike her contemporary, Annette Hanshaw) but a superior middle-of-the-road pop singer who was often accompanied by top jazz musicians. She recorded over 200 songs between 1926-1937, appeared on-stage, was in 35 film shorts and three full-length movies, and was a fixture on radio before her bad marriage cut short her career. She made a minor comeback in the late '40s and was still singing on an occasional basis in the mid-'50s when a semi-fictional Hollywood movie on her life (Love Me or Leave Me) was released. A superb torch singer with a cry in her voice even when she smiled, Etting recorded the definitive versions of "Ten Cents a Dance" and "Love Me or Leave Me."
LaVern Baker was one of the sexiest divas gracing the mid-'50s rock & roll circuit, boasting a brashly seductive vocal delivery tailor-made for belting the catchy novelties "Tweedlee Dee," "Bop-Ting-a-Ling," and "Tra La La" for Atlantic Records during rock's first wave of prominence. She was one of the biggest influences on Elvis Presley and could deliver a ballad with soulful power.
Declaring "I'm the Last of the Red Hot Mamas" in one of her best-known songs, Sophie Tucker created a brassy, bawdy persona that made her a smashing success on the vaudeville circuit and the musical stage.
Ma Rainey wasn't the first blues singer to make records, but by all rights she probably should have been. In an era when women were the marquee names in blues, Ma Rainey was once the most celebrated of all -- the "Mother of the Blues" had been singing the music for more than 20 years before she made her recording debut (Paramount, 1923). With the advent of blues records, she became even more influential, immortalizing such songs as "See See Rider," "Bo-Weavil Blues," and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
"Liltin" Miss Tilton is another legendary big band vocalist who is most famous for being on stage during the ground breaking Carnegie Hall concert with Benny Goodman in 1938. Her version of the Ziggy Elman classic "And the Angels Sing" remains the standard by which all others are compared. She does a great version of I'll walk alone - second only to the version by the lady who owns that song - Miss Dinah Shore. Also does a great job on 'I should Care". Martha Tilton is a Big Band icon not to be lost to the sands of time or over shadowed by her more popular counter parts.
One of the most versatile and legendary of the lady Big Band Singers - she sang with Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Harry James. Most of her success came with Harry James with a list of classics like I had the craziest dream and I don't want to walk without you. She went on to have more success teaming up with another big band legend - Dick Haymes with whom she had a string of hits and tours with well into their later years.
Known as one of the most versatile and energetic entertainers of all time, Betty Hutton has been a band singer, performed on and off Broadway, in motion pictures, on-stage, and in nightclubs. Her acting range has proven her capable of both comedic and dramatic roles, in addition to the expected musical ones.
Alberta Hunter was one of the greatest of the Classic Blues singers and one of the earliest African-American singers to make the transition from the lowly brothels and sporting houses into the international spotlight. That she defies easy categorization attests to the astonishing fact that she was on the scene a little before the genres themselves were defined. Her longevity as a popular artist is equaled by only a few others, and she was successful in adapting her style to changes in popular taste, as well as along the lines of her own personal experiences.
Her voice was characterized as coloratura soprano. She could play the piano, violin and trombone. She has been nicknamed "the voice of the atomic age", "the singing toast of the continent", "a voice like French champagne", "Polish Yma Sumac". Villas was the first star of the Casino de Paris at Dunes Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas (1966–1971). Villas was known for her conspicuous, outstanding appearance and numerous number-one hits on her account. During her career in show business Violetta Villas starred in 6 films, performed in numerous musical shows, and recorded almost 300 songs in 10 languages, including Polish, English, French, German, Italian, Latin, Neapolitan, Russian, Spanish and Portuguese.ioletta Villas sang in duets with Frank Sinatra, Paul Anka, Barbra Streisand, Charles Aznavour, Sammy Davis, Jr., Eartha Kitt, Dean Martin.
I Fell In Love With Teresa in 1950 when I was in Kintergarden, and heart her unforgettable "Music, Music, Music". I enjoyed nearly every song she sang, such as "Molasses, Molasses", Her Version of Phil Harris's song "The Thing", her version of Wynonie Harris's song "Lovin' Machine", " Copenhagen", "Noodlin' Rag", "Roll Them Roly Boly Eyes", the fantastic "Till I Waltz Again With You", "Ricochet", "Grand Tou De L'Amour", "I Love Mickey" with the fantastic Mickey Mantle; heck, I could go on for days listing all the songs she thrilled me with for the last 6++ decades. I also will always recall being way out in the wilderness, camping with Sasquatch on Oct. 17, 2007 and heard on my little radio that Teresa had passed away at about 76 years of age. I would rank Teresa way up in the single digits of this list. PghKenny
Swedish jazz singer considered of of the best by Duke Ellington who wrote music for her voice including one of his sacred pieces. A multitude of recordings from the 1940s to the 2000s.
Jeanette MacDonald (6/18/1903-1/14/1965) was the greatest soprano in Hollywood, as well as being one of the most beautiful women there. She had the same ethereal quality to her voice as Ella Fitzgerald. She could easily attain E above high C. She was featured in 8 immensely popular films with baritone Nelson Eddy, but without Eddy, she gave the greatest performance by a singing actress I have yet seen in the 1936 film "San Francisco." She was voted "Queen of Hollywood" in a national poll in 1939. She belongs at or near thew top of this list!
Her husky, surprisingly sensual voice and exquisitely cool readings of pop standards distinguished her singing, but Lee Wiley earns notice as one of the best early jazz singers by recognizing the superiority of American popular song and organizing a set of songs around a common composer or theme -- later popularized as the songbook or concept LP. She was also a songwriter in her own right, and one of the few white vocalists with more respect in the jazz community than the popular one. Even more tragic then, that while dozens of inferior vocalists recorded LPs during the late '50s and '60s, Wiley appeared on record just once between 1957 and her death in 1975.
Popular between 1959 and 1965. Said by Frank Sinatra to have one of the purest voices in Jazz when he chose her as one of the first people to join his Reprise label. She did a tribute album to Mildred Bailey with Red Norvo which is absolutly wonderful. A much underated jazz singer.
her rendition of Love for Sale far outshines others, it is a powerful and sultry version, moving and deep. her four octave range is exemplified in her songs and her sexiness is evident. very big in the early 1950s and deserves some recognition here.
One of the greatest early Jazz singers, who with Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith, was one of the most influential. She carried the title Mrs. Swing.
One of the foremost exponents of Cool Jazz Chris Connor has won every conceivable critical and popular accolade in her half century reign as one of the most gifted and distinctive vocalists in jazz history.
Duke Ellington's chanteuse for most of the 1930s. Relaxed phrasing for the era, and great, understated swing.
This European vocalist has been the leading "big band" jazz singer there for years with volumes of recordings
Jazz singer between 1956 and 1960 and produced six L.P's. She had a great understanding of the lyrics she sang with a shrewd choice of phrasing. When she first appeared on the scene in 1956 some critics said she had the ability to be a great Jazz performer.
Pioneer of "Cool Jazz" vocal style and early influence on Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy lee.
was an American jazz and blues singer and songwriter whose most popular years were in the 1920s and early 1930s, although her career began around 1917 and continued until her death in 1954. Morse was known for her strong, deep singing voice and vocal range, which often belied the fact that she was merely five feet tall and weighed less than 100 pounds. Among her best known trademarks was her yodeling. Morse was also moderately successful as an actress on the Broadway stage. Her life and career, however, was marred by alcoholism.
Among the most shamefully under-rated singers on this list. Barbara Dane is a Blues and Jazz singer who possess an astonishingly powerful and smoky voice. This is what was said about her in the late 1950's: "Bessie Smith in stereo," wrote jazz critic Leonard Feather in the late 1950s. Time Magazine said of Dane: "The voice is pure, rich ... rare as a 20 karat diamond." To Ebony, she seemed "startlingly blonde, especially when that powerful dusky alto voice begins to moan of trouble, two-timing men and freedom ... with stubborn determination, enthusiasm and a basic love for the underdog, [she is] making a name for herself ... aided and abetted by some of the oldest names in jazz who helped give birth to the blues."
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