The 200 Greatest Singers of All Time And More.
Aretha Franklin described her mission as a singer like this: “Me with my hand outstretched, hoping someone will take it.” That kind of deep, empathetic bond between artist and listener is the most elemental connection in music. And you can think of our list of the 200 Greatest Singers of All Time as a celebration of that bond. These are the vocalists that have shaped history and defined our lives — from smooth operators to raw shouters, from gospel to punk, from Sinatra to Selena to SZA.
When Rolling Stone first published its list of the 100 Greatest Singers in 2008, we used an elaborate voting process that included input from well-known musicians. The results skewed toward classic rock and singers from the Sixties and Seventies. This new list was compiled our staff and key contributors, and it encompasses 100 years of pop music as an ongoing global conversation, where iconic Indian playback singer Lata Mangeshkar lands between Amy Winehouse and Johnny Cash, and salsa queen Celia Cruz is up there in the rankings with Prince and Marvin Gaye. You might notice that, say, there isn’t any opera on our list — that’s because our purview is pop music writ large, meaning that almost all the artists on this list had significant careers as crossover stars making popular music for the masses.
Before you start scrolling (and commenting), keep in mind that this is the Greatest Singers list, not the Greatest Voices List. Talent is impressive; genius is transcendent. Sure, many of the people here were born with massive pipes, perfect pitch, and boundless range. Others have rougher, stranger, or more delicate instruments. As our write-up for the man who ended up at Number 112 notes, “Ozzy Osbourne doesn’t have what most people would call a good voice, but boy does he have a great one.” That could apply to more than a few people here.
In all cases, what mattered most to us was originality, influence, the depth of an artist’s catalog, and the breadth of their musical legacy. A voice can be gorgeous like Mariah Carey’s, rugged like Toots Hibbert’s, understated like Willie Nelson’s, slippery and sumptuous like D’Angelo’s, or bracing like Bob Dylan’s. But in the end, the singers behind it are here for one reason: They can remake the world just by opening their mouths.
JULIETA GARCIA FOR ROLLING STONE
When Rosalía sings, it feels as if she’s pulling out decades of history from her throat and resurrecting them into thin air. Her vocal tone, the intuitive melismas and rhythmic accents of which were built from training in flamenco for more than a decade, possesses a crystalline nature that in turn awakens emotions deep in the hearts of listeners. With her 2018 breakthrough album, El Mal Querer, she started heavily incorporating Auto-Tune — not to mask her voice, but to instead emphasize the nuanced texture of her performance, which fluidly shifts from ferocity to playfulness to sorrow. Continuing to bring tradition into a new future, she pushed harder into experimentalism with 2022’s Motomami. —M.K.
While his hardcore-punk contemporaries were ranting about alienation and social ills, the Misfits frontman was crooning about Astro Zombies, infanticide, and teenagers from Mars in a rich, defiantly melodic voice that harked back to his heroes Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison, and Roy Orbison (one of the legends he would later write for, along with Johnny Cash). Later on, with his eponymous band, he kept heavy metal firmly connected to the roots of rock & roll with a range that could comfortably tackle earthy blues and haunted torch songs, while adding in a chilling occult aura and a penchant for rafter-rattling howls. “Growing up, just singing in bands, I didn’t have the same kind of voice as everyone else,” the singer said in 2015. “I had more of a deep, howling, kind of beastier voice. —H.S.
or volume, Billie Eilish’s restraint makes the big emotions in her writing all the more intense. After revealing her soul-inflected tone at 14 with “Ocean Eyes,” she’s since mastered the technical elements that now comprise her signature style: controlled slides, delicate vibrato, and breathy texture that has inspired a new generation of pop singers to emulate. Though she leaned into an ASMR-like deadpan for her spooky 2019 debut album, she played with the timeless sorrow of 1950s jazz and contemporary pop on her sophomore effort, Happier Than Ever, which also saw her releasing a cathartic belt on its title track. —M.K.
A Nigerian cultural giant, Burna Boy is the ambassador of Afrobeats as a global movement that can feel equally at home climbing the European charts and maintaining a subtle emotional connection with past African genres like highlife. Burna’s voice is sweet like caramel, but it can also soar on slickly produced tracks like his recent megahit “Last Last,” or the 2019 gem “Anybody,” amped up by deep bass accents and insanely sophisticated polyrhythms. His vocal lines find inspiration in everything from hip-hop and R&B to hooky pop and dancehall — the world is his playground. —E.L.