African American Female Vocalists


Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

14 Feb 2019 – I share this tribute to African American female vocalists on Valentine’s Day because they sing and sang of every meaning of love in one way or another:  joys, pleasures, struggles, pain, and recovery. Imagine; two centuries of unparalleled talent as individuals and as a group. I have heard many, and many are new to me. Listening to African American Female Vocalists fashioning a song, watching them command presence, and reading about their lives fills me with appreciation and awe.

In recognition and celebration of African American contributions to the world, I have prepared a list of African American Female Vocalists, whose talents have entertained us for a century (1920-2019).

As I watched Gladys Knight sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl, my thoughts turned to one of my favorite songs, Gladys Knight and the Pips, “I’m Leaving on the Midnight Train to Georgia.” In a moment, reflexively, my thoughts turned to my favorite song, Roberta Flack singing: “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.”

After that, I was caught in a reverie of remembering African American female vocalists, my mind now finding pleasure in recalling their names and songs.  I began listing those I knew on a lined tablet, and was soon amazed at their number. An internet search added to the number, until at last, I was staring at more than a score of names. Unfortunately, the list does not include the hundreds of others I missed in my task, the many local singers, back-up singers, and Black women who sing in choirs, churches, and alone in their homes and street, to comfort their struggles. There is an endless talent stream here, to be found and nurtured.

Each African American female vocalist is known individually for their talent. They are icons, deserving the applause, praise, and permanent place in our hearts and minds. Their names are legendary; their recordings purchased, played, owned, sung, and replayed, over and over again, by untold billions of fans throughout the world.

The stunning and surprising thought which came to me as I composed the list, however, was the nature of African-American female vocalists as “Group.” They share, in varying proportions, common ancestral roots, and cultural-milieu struggles associated with racism, sexism, misogyny, and also an entertainment world filled with demons testing their lives.

As a “Group,” their collective talents exceed and surpass imagination. It is more than their vocal and musical talent, it is their command of presence, attention, interest, amid the demanding spotlight of fame.

There is no African-American Female Hall of Fame! Maybe that is better, because it compels critics and judges to position them among other icons. But, individually, and as a group, there is something special about African American female vocalists deserving recognition and celebration far beyond the month of February, when public consciousness of Black heritage contributions is present.

My appreciation, admiration, awe are inadequate! I offer a simple “thank you,” a “thank you” for entering my life with music, words, faces, images, and life stories, making life for me worthwhile in good times and bad.  Listen to My Funny Valentine, sung by Billy Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Chaka Khan, it will make Valentine’s Day unforgettable.

African American Female Vocalists

  1. Anderson: Marian Anderson
  2. Bailey: Pearl Bailey
  3. Baker: Josephine Baker
  4. Bassey: Shirley Bassey
  5. Beyonce: Giselle Knowles-Carter
  6. Blige: Mary Blige
  7. Braxton: Toni Braxton
  8. Cardi B: Belcalis Alamanzar
  9. Cole: Natalie Cole
  10. Dandridge: Dorothy Dandridge
  11. Fitzgerald: Ella Fitzgerald
  12. Flack: Roberta Flack
  13. Franklin: Aretha Franklin
  14. Holiday: Billie Holiday
  15. Horne: Lena Horne
  16. Houston: Whitney Houston
  17. Hudson: Jennifer Hudson
  18. Jackson: Janet Jackson
  19. Jackson, LaToya Jackson
  20. Jackson: Mahalia Jackson
  21. James: Etta James
  22. Keyes: Alicia Keyes
  23. Khan: Chaka Khan
  24. Knight: Gladys Knight
  25. LaBelle: Patti LaBelle
  26. Latifah: Queen Latifah
  27. Lincoln: Abby Lincoln
  28. Monae: Janelle Monae
  29. McRae: Carmen McCrae
  30. Minaj: Nikki Minaj
  31. Odetta:Odetta Holmes
  32. Ross: Diana Ross
  33. Simone: Nina Simone
  34. Smith: Bessie Smith
  35. Staples: Mavis Staples
  36. Summer: Donna Summer
  37. Tharp: Sister Rosetta Tharp
  38. Turner: Tina Turner
  39. Vaughan: Sara Vaughan
  40. Warwick: Dionne Warwick
  41. Washington: Dinah Washington
  42. Wilson: Cassandra Wilson
  43. Wilson: Nancy Wilson


Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D., a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, Emeritus Professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii’s Manoa Campus in Honolulu, Hawaii, and past director of the World Health Organization Psychiatric Research Center in Honolulu.  He is known internationally as a pioneer figure in the study of culture and psychopathology who challenged the ethnocentrism and racial biases of many assumptions, theories, and practices in psychology and psychiatry. In more recent years, he has been writing and lecturing on peace and social justice. He has published 21 books and more than 300 articles, tech reports, and popular commentaries. His TMS articles may be accessed HERE and he can be reached at


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 18 Feb 2019.

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One Response to “African American Female Vocalists”

  1. DENISE GARCIA says:

    Fantastic. Thank you for sharing this. I am making a playlist of these songs.