25 of the best female jazz singers of all time that you should listen to

25 of the best female jazz singers of all time that you should listen to

The jazz music genre originated from the African-American folks in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the United States. This genre started gaining fame in the early 20th century. Males dominate most music genres, including jazz, though many distinguished female jazz singers possess unique voices and held onto them.

female jazz singers
Dinah Washington performs at the Chateau Gardens in New York City, New York. Photo: PoPsie Randolph/Michael Ochs Archives
Source: Getty Images

Who are some important female jazz singers? Some influential female jazz singers comprise Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Sarah Vaughan. Others like Billie Holiday and Nina Simone have also shaped the genre with their immense positive contributions.

25 of the best female jazz singers of all time.

Below is a list of the best jazz singers whose impact on the music industry is notable based on various high ranking authority websites. Their various accomplishments are the key factor used when putting together this piece.

1. Ella Fitzgerald

female jazz singers
American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald (1917 - 1996). Photo: George Konig
Source: Instagram
  • Full name: Ella Jane Fitzgerald
  • Nickname: Queen of Jazz
  • Date of birth: 25th April 1917
  • Place of birth: Beverly Hills, California, United States
  • Died: 15th June 1996

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Ella was popularly known as First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz, and Lady Ella. She was famous for her purity of tone and impeccable diction. Her journey to being one of the best started when she performed on stage at New York's Apollo Theater in 1934 and won the first prize in a beginners' amateur talent competition.

Ella won 13 Grammy Awards and countless notable awards before she died on 15th June 1996 at 79 years.

2. Billie Holiday

female jazz singers
Singer Billie Holiday records her penultimate album 'Lady in Satin at the Columbia Records studio in December 1957 in New York City, New York. Photo: Michael Ochs Archives
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Billie Holiday (Real name is Eleanora Fagan)
  • Nickname: Lady Day
  • Date of birth: 7th April 1915
  • Place of birth: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
  • Died: 17th July 1959

Billie Holiday is an American female jazz singer who tells a story with their song. She was gifted with a voice that had a profoundly soulful quality and communicated with her songs. But then, Billie struggled with alcohol and drugs. She died in 1959 at the age of 44.

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3. Sarah Vaughan

female jazz singers
American Jazz singer Sarah Vaughan in rehearsal, New York, New York, 1980. Photo: Brownie Harris/Corbis
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Sarah Lois Vaughan
  • Nickname: Sassy
  • Date of birth: 27th March 1924
  • Place of birth: Newark, New Jersey, United States
  • Died: 3rd April 1990

Vaughan was an American jazz musician. She is among the best black female jazz singers ever. After signing with Mercury Records, she became a sensation, won four Grammy awards in her career, and won the Lifetime Achievement Award and NEA Jazz Masters Award. She had one of the best voices in the jazz genre, which were described as wondrous by some music critics.

4. Nina Simone

female jazz singers
American singer, songwriter, pianist and civil rights activist Nina Simone performs live on stage at Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, Rhode Island, United States. Photo: David Redfern/Redferns
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Eunice Kathleen Waymon
  • Nickname: Nina Simone
  • Date of birth: 21st February 1933
  • Place of birth: Tryon, North Carolina, United States
  • Died: 21st April 2003

Waymon, popularly known by her stage name Nina Simone, was an American singer, songwriter, and civil rights activist whose style of songs touches classical, jazz, and blues. She is also known to sing folk, gospel, and pop songs. She died in 2003 at the age of 70 years.

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5. Dinah Washington

female jazz musicians
Jazz and blues and R and B singer Dinah Washington performs at the Chateau Gardens. Photo: PoPsie Randolph/Michael Ochs Archives
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Ruth Lee Jones
  • Nickname: Nina Simone
  • Date of birth: 29th August 1924
  • Place of birth: Tuscaloosa, Alabama, United States
  • Died: 14th December 1963

Dinah Washington came into the limelight in 1940 and evolved into one of the leading female jazz singers. She was cited as the most popular black female recording artist of the 1950s songs. The singer also recorded and performed various other styles during her career, including blues, R&B, and pop. She dubbed herself the Queen of the Blues. Dinah died at 39 years.

6. Bessie Smith

female jazz singers
American blues singer Bessie Smith. Photo: Bettmann
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Bessie Smith
  • Nickname: Empress of the Blues
  • Date of birth: 15th April 1894
  • Place of birth: Chattanooga, Tennessee, United States
  • Died: 14th December 1963

Bessie Smith was the greatest singer among the jazz singers born in the 19th century. She was a blues singer until jazz evolution. Her career in vocal influenced a lot of jazz singers born in the 1920s, such as Dinah Washington. She died in a car crash at the age of 43 years.

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7. Peggy Lee

female jazz singers
American singer Peggy Lee reclining on a chaise longue before a Royal Albert Hall concert, 1970. Photo: Michael Ward
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Norma Deloris Egstrom
  • Nickname: Peggy Lee
  • Date of birth: 26th May 1920
  • Place of birth: Jamestown, North Dakota, United States
  • Died: 21st January 2002

Lee started her music career at Benny Goodman's band in the early 1940s. She is a multi-talented artist who writes music for films, mixing the art of poetry with music, and stars in films. Lee was on stage until the 1990s and sometimes performed using a wheelchair. She died in 2002 at 81 years.

8. Betty Carter

female jazz singers
Portrait of American jazz singer Betty Carter in the 1990s. Photo: Anthony Barboza
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Lilli Mae Jones
  • Nickname: Betty Carter
  • Date of birth: 16th May 1929
  • Place of birth: Flint, Michigan, United States
  • Died: 26th September 1998

Carter was a renowned American jazz singer. She was good at the adventurous interpretation of melodies. She began recording as a solo artist in the 1950s after performing with Lionel Hampton's band. Carter was a mentor, jazz teacher, and talent spotter who allowed rookies to perform and showcase their careers in her band.

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9. Carmen McRae

female jazz singers
Carmen McRae performs at Yoshi"u2019s in Oakland, CA. Photo: Clayton Call
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Carmen Mercedes McRae
  • Nickname: Carmen
  • Date of birth: 8th April 1920
  • Place of birth: Harlem, New York, United States
  • Died: 10th November 19940

Carmen McRae had a good start in the jazz genre because she began taking music studies, especially piano when she was eight years. She was motivated after meeting Billie Holiday at age 17. Away from Holiday's influence on her music, she created her unique melodic style and voice. She made her last recording in 1991.

10. Julie London

female jazz singers
American singer and actress Julie London performing. Photo: Silver Screen Collection
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Julie London
  • Date of birth: 26th September 1926
  • Place of birth: Santa Rosa, California, United States
  • Died: 18th October 2000

Julie was an American singer, songwriter, and actress who was a prolific music recorder and had over 30 albums in pop and jazz. She did her last album recording in 1981, while her onstage career lived for nearly 40 years. In 2001, she was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Her most striking recording is Cry Me a River, and it is among the best jazz songs ever.

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11. Blossom Dearie

female jazz singers
Blossom Dearie performing at Danny's Skylight. Photo: Hiroyuki Ito
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Margrethe Blossom Dearie
  • Date of birth: 28th April 1924
  • Place of birth: East Durham, New York, United States
  • Died: 7th February 2009

Dearie was a great jazz singer and pianist. Her girlish voice always distinguished her. Margrethe's regular performance stages were located in New York and London. Reportedly, her blossom name came on because a neighbour delivered peach blossoms when she was born.

She moved to Paris in 1952 and learned French; otherwise, she could perform vocals in French as well. She died at the age of 84.

12. Chris Connor

female jazz singers
Big band singer Chris Connor poses for a portrait in New York City, New York. Photo: Michael Ochs Archives
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Mary Jean Loutsenhizer
  • Nickname: Chris Connor
  • Date of birth: 8th November 1927
  • Place of birth: Kansas City, Missouri, United States
  • Died: 29th August 2009

Chris Connor started her career with a college band at the University of Missouri. Her first professional recordings were made at Claude Thornhill's band in 1949. Also, she went solo in 1954 at Indie Label Bethlehem. Chris was trendy, given her lush and sensual voice. Her final recording was made in 2003, four years before her death in 2009.

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13. Anita O'Day

female jazz singers
Jazz singer Anita O'Day in California. Photo: Bettmann
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Anita Belle Colton
  • Nickname: Anita O'Day
  • Date of birth: 18th October 1919
  • Place of birth: Kansas City, Missouri, United States
  • Died: 23rd November 2006

Anita O'Day is renowned and admired for her style of songs which depict a great sense of rhythm and dynamics. Her professional career started with Bob Crosby's big band at 19 years. O'Day retired from performing at 39 but kept writing and singing. She died in 87.

14. Helen Merrill

female jazz singers
Jazz Singer Helen Merrill performs in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: The Asahi Shimbun
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Jelena Ana Milcetic
  • Nickname: Helen Merrill
  • Date of birth: 21st July 1930
  • Place of birth: New York City, United States

Milcetic, known by her professional name as Helen Merrill, is an endowed American jazz singer, one of the best that there ever is. She started singing at an early age in local bars. Her first recording was done with Earl Hine's band at age 22, and her solo recording came a few years after. Merrill's last recording was done in 2003, and she retired after then.

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15. June Christy

female jazz singers
June Christy. Photo: Michael Ochs Archives
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Shirley Luster
  • Nickname: June Christy
  • Date of birth: 20th November 1925
  • Place of birth: Spring Field, Illinois, United States
  • Died: 21st June 1990

June Christy was known for her silky smooth vocals well suited for the cool jazz genre. She became famous after joining The Stan Kenton Orchestra. June procured a million-selling hit in 1945. Her debut solo album, Something Cool, was one of her best works. She was recognised among the finest singers of her time after her death.

16. Shirley Horn

25 of the best female jazz singers of all time that you should listen to
Shirley Horn, Pianiste de jazz. (Photo: Christian DUCASSE/Gamma-Rapho
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Shirley Valerie Horn
  • Date of birth: 1st May 1934
  • Place of birth: Washington D.C., United States
  • Died: 20th October 2005

Horn was an American singer, songwriter, and pianist. She was so talented in using the piano while singing that she could accompany herself almost independently. In addition, she had a rich, lush vocal. Although it took Horn some years to be stable and grow her career, she was regarded as one of the best of her generation.

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17. Diana Krall

female jazz singers
Diana Krall attends Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration Live At The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Photo: Vivien Killilea
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Diana Jean Krall
  • Date of birth: 16th November 1964
  • Age: 57 years old (as of 2022)
  • Place of birth: Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada

Krall is a contemporary Canadian jazz singer who has been active since 1993. She has sold over 14 million albums in her entire career. She attended the Berklee College of Music in the early 1980s. Krall was named the second greatest jazz artist of the decade and remained the only jazz singer whose albums debuted top of the Billboard Jazz Albums. She has also won the Grammy Award.

18. Cécile McLorin Salvant

female jazz singers
American jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant performs onstage during the 56th Donostiako Jazzaldia Jazz Festival. Photo: Gari Garaialde/Redferns
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Cécile McLorin Salvant
  • Date of birth: 28th August 1989
  • Age: 32 years old (as of 2022)
  • Place of birth: Miami, Florida, United States

Cécile Salvant is among the best female jazz singers today. She won the first prize in Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in 2010. In addition, she was nominated for the Grammy Awards for Best Jazz Vocal Album in 2014. Her style of songs is partly influenced by the songs of Billie Holiday, and Betty Carter, among others.

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19. Abbey Lincoln

female jazz singers
Singer Abbey Lincoln performs at the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Hague, Netherlands. Photo: Frans Schellekens/Redferns
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Anna Marie Wooldridge
  • Nickname: Abbey Lincoln
  • Date of birth: 6th August 1930
  • Place of birth: Chicago, Illinois, United States
  • Died: 14th August 2010

Abbey Lincoln was a singer, songwriter, actress, and civil-rights activist who emerged as a solo singer in the mid-1950s. Her music piece was associated were delivering a deeply felt representation of standards. Her music career was influenced by Billie Holiday. She died in 2010 at 80 years.

20. Dianne Reeves

female jazz singers
Musician Dianne Reeves performs at The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba event at The Apollo Theater. Photo: Shahar Azran
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Dianne Elizabeth Reeves
  • Date of birth: 23rd October 1956
  • Age: 65 years old (as of 2022)
  • Place of birth: Detroit, Michigan, United States

Dianne Reeves came from a family of music enthusiasts, where her father was a singer, her mother played the trumpet, and her uncle was a bassist. She started singing in high school. So she was engrossed in her career that she studied classical voice at the University of Colorado. She has won four Grammy Awards in her career.

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21. Madeleine Peyroux

female jazz singers
Madeleine Peyroux performs on the Big Top Stage at Love Supreme Festival at Glynde Place in Lewes, England. Photo: Tabatha Fireman/Redferns
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Madeleine Peyroux
  • Date of birth: 18th April 1974
  • Age: 48 years old (as of 2022)
  • Place of birth: Athens, Georgia, United States

Peyroux is a jazz singer and songwriter who started performing in the streets as a teenager. She became a solo song recorder in 1982 but was not widely known until she joined Blue Note in 1987. Her most successful album is Careless Love which sold more than half a million copies in 2004.

22. Dee Dee Bridgewater

female jazz singers
Dee Dee Bridgewater performs at Maisonneuve Theater, Place des Artson during the 2018 Montreal International Jazz Festival. Photo: Isaiah Trickey/Film Magic
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Dee Dee Bridgewater
  • Date of birth: 27th May 1950
  • Age: 72 years old (as of 2022)
  • Place of birth: Memphis, Tennessee, United States

Bridgewater is a singer, songwriter, actress, radio host, and UN goodwill Ambassador. She has won numerous awards in the jazz genre, including two Grammy Awards, while her acting career has also won her a Tony Award. In addition, Dee Dee is a proven philanthropist earning her the UN Ambassadorial seat.

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23. Nancy Wilson

female jazz singers
American Rock musician Nancy Wilson of the group Heart plays the guitar as she performs onstage at Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey. Photo: Gary Gershoff
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Nancy Lamoureux Wilson
  • Date of birth: 16th March 1954
  • Age: 68 years old (as of 2022)
  • Place of birth: San Francisco, California, United States

Wilson is a singer, songwriter, producer, and film composer. She began singing during her early years and became famous when she was featured in her sister's Rock Band Heart as a guitarist and backing vocalist. She is an all-around entertainer and was recognised as one of the greatest female guitarists of all time; she took the eighth position.

24. Dakota Staton

female jazz singers
Dakota Staton, the Jazz singer. Photo: Herve GLOAGUEN/Gamma-Rapho
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Dakota Staton
  • Nickname: Aliyah Rabia
  • Date of birth: 3rd June 1930
  • Place of birth: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
  • Died: 10th April 2007

Dakota is an American jazz vocalist who became famous after releasing the 1957 classic song The Late, Late Show. She was also called Aliyah Rabia after her conversion to Islam. Her last song recording was released in 2007, the year she died.

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25. Norah Jones

female jazz singers who tell a story
Norah Jones performs at the 89th Annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Pre-Tape at Rockefeller Center in New York City. Photo: James Devaney
Source: Getty Images
  • Full name: Geethali Norah Jones Shankar
  • Date of birth: 30th March 1979
  • Age: 43 years old (as of 2022)
  • Place of birth: Manhattan, New York City, United States

Norah Jones is an American singer, pianist, and songwriter born to Indian parents. Her father was a musician as well. She has numerous awards, with over 50 million copies of her album sold. In addition, she was named among the top jazz artist of the decade 2000s.

FAQs

  1. Are there any female jazz musicians? Yes, there are a lot of them in the entertainment industry.
  2. Who is the most famous female jazz singer? Ella Fitzgerald is tagged as the most famous.
  3. Who are popular jazz singers today? Gregory Porter, The Hot Sardines, Esperanza Spalding, and Robert Glasper always come to mind.
  4. Who was the first black female jazz singer? Mamie Smith. She released Crazy Blues, making her the first black female singer to record and release a blues song.
  5. Who are the top female jazz singers? Some of them include Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Etta James.

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The female jazz singers of today are towing the path of their pioneer in the industry. Most of them get inspiration from the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Dianne Reeves, whose track records speak volumes.

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