The best jazz singers of all time have been blessed with a wide range of vocal styles, from strong and robust to delicate and refined. From vocal gymnasts to soft balladeers, the 50 greatest jazz singers of all time have contributed greatly to the development of an art form that continues to evolve. Kurt Elling, Texas-born Anderson, Mel Tormé, Oscar Brown Jr., June Christy, Blossom Dearie, Johnny Hartman, Betty Carter, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, Bessie Smith, Ray Charles and Nat “King” Cole are some of the most iconic names in jazz music. Each one of them has their own unique style and has left an indelible mark on the genre.
Kurt Elling is renowned for his strong and robust vocals. Anderson got her big break as a teenager after she moved to Seattle in 1944 and played in a band with future megastars Quincy Jones and Ray Charles. Mel Tormé was a precocious child performer who wrote a song for bandleader Harry James when he was just 13 years old. Oscar Brown Jr.
was a prolific composer, playwright and civil rights activist who wrote several classic songs for the jazz repertoire. June Christy was noted for her brilliant delivery and ironic observations. Blossom Dearie had an almost twee timbre resembling a girl's voice. Johnny Hartman was part of a vocal group based in Paris in the 1950s before starting out on his own.
Betty Carter was a disciple of bebop rather than swing and was known for her breathable and nuanced delivery. Sarah Vaughan had a powerful and raucous voice with a grunt quality in its lower notes. Ella Fitzgerald was an excellent jazz pianist who pioneered a jazz trio format in the 1940s. Carmen McRae was a capable pianist and spectacular singer whose main vocal influence was Billie Holiday.
Bessie Smith was nicknamed The Empress Of The Blues in the 1920s when she became one of the highest-paid African American artists. Ray Charles Robinson was billed as one of the founding fathers of what eventually became soul music but was also an accomplished jazz musician who could play the saxophone and keyboard as well as sing. Nat “King” Cole was an excellent jazz pianist who built his fame as a pop vocalist whose velvety tubes were strokingly soft on the ear.These 50 greatest jazz singers of all time have each left their own unique mark on the genre and continue to inspire new generations of jazz musicians. Their voices are timeless and will continue to be celebrated for many years to come.