Jazz has produced some of the most influential and successful female singers in history. From Ella Fitzgerald to Billie Holiday, the genre has seen a multitude of talented vocalists. But who are the best female jazz singers of all time? This list of 25 singers is a tribute to the greatest female jazz singers of all time. At the top of the list is the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald, also known as the First Lady of Song.
She began her career in 1934 at the Apollo Theater in New York, and by the end of the decade she was singing with drummer Chick Webb's band. In 1954, her manager Norman Granz created Verve Records to showcase her talent, and her career skyrocketed. Ella was capable of improvising with her voice like a bebop horn, and she was also a silky balladeador who could balance technique with sensitivity. The second singer on our list is Billie Holiday, also known as Lady Day.
She made history in 1938 when she became the first African-American woman to work with a white orchestra. After her death in 1959, she continued to receive awards, including 13 Grammy Awards. The third singer on our list is Sarah “Sassy” Vaughan. She began her musical career after winning a talent show at the Apollo Theater and went on to work with Dizzy Gillespie, one of the most famous trumpet players.
Fourth on our list is Cleo Laine, an iconic jazz singer who is often overlooked when it comes to lists of the greatest female jazz singers. She began singing for a jazz band in Decatur, Illinois when she was just 13 years old and went on to have a successful career as a soloist. Fifth on our list is Etta James, whose silky voice can be heard in the popular song “At Last”. Even at the age of five, Etta was already gaining notoriety for her voice, singing for her church choir and performing for the radio audience.
Her career flourished in the 1960s after releasing a multitude of songs and signing with Chess Records. Sixth on our list is Diana Krall, a jazz musician from Nanaimo, British Columbia. She studied music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and has gone on to have a successful career as a vocalist and pianist. Seventh on our list is June Christy, born in Springfield, Illinois and popular with listeners for her soft voice.
After listening to June Christy perform, Anita O'Day recommended Christy as her replacement in the Kenton Band and Christy began her solo career in 1951 after signing with Capital Records. Eighth on our list is Dee Dee Bridgewater, a three-time Grammy Award-winning jazz vocalist from Memphis, Tennessee. Ninth on our list is Julie London, an American jazz vocalist who recorded 32 full albums during her vocalist career. Tenth on our list is Carmen McRae, an iconic jazz vocalist who admired Billie Holiday and wrote a song called “Dream of Life” that was later recorded by Billie Holiday.