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Music Business

The Top R&B Artists Of All Time

Photograph of the blog post author, Annika Hope

Annika Hope


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Who are the top R&B artists in 2022, or who do you think are the top female R&B artists who have set the bar high within a male dominated industry? Here we discuss the success stories. Those who are household names and have rightly so, won many musical accolades. We champion the top male and female R&B artists who have shown us how it is done and we want to share a bit about them with you today. What is their back story, what awards have they won, what are their famous hits? Read on to find out. 

What Is R&B?

Rhythm and blues has been around since the late 1970s and early 1980s in North America. It originated after the disco era. What makes R&B is the combination of pop, soul, funk, hip hop, and electronic music. It is this collaboration which makes it unique and at the same time so universal to everybody who listens to the genre of music. You will find drum machine-backed rhythms, pitch corrected vocals, and a smooth vocal arrangement. 

Contemporary R&B is often driven by keyboards, synthesizers, strong bass lines, and looped drum beats. In this sense, it has more in common with hip hop than rock music. Contemporary R&B songs regularly top charts, making R&B one of the most commercially successful genres in the modern music industry.

In the late 1970s, Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones added more electronic elements to the black music sound of the time to create a smoother dancefloor-friendly sound.


R&B in terms of style some tracks can lean towards softer, slower ballads but then there are always more upbeat tracks and electronic influences play a fixed role in R&B. In the more contemporary R&B music, you will find something called ‘melisma’, which is the technique of singing one syllable to a lot of notes. Artists will include what are called vocal runs. Whitney Houston would constantly use melismas in her music. And the way she did this was to train her body to conserve energy for the long notes that demand more from her. So she would sing ‘luv’ rather than ‘love’. It was all about breath control and boy could she do that! She proved she was connected to the breath and used her whole body to create what appeared to be an effortless singing voice.  

Mariah Carey, Beyonce, Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson have all used the technique of attaching complicated strings of notes to single syllables, but Houston took it further and ran with it. You could call it riffing now in its simplest form.

So who are these R&B giants of the music industry? Let’s find out! 

Whitney Houston 

Wow, what a woman and what an inspiration she was and still is to so many young female musicians. She was born on the 9th of August in 1963, in Newark, New Jersey. Her powerful voice is one that was sadly lost in 2012 and there is nobody quite like her. 

The song ‘I Will Always Love You’ was a soul-ballad arrangement of the original hit from Dolly Parton and it made its way onto the soundtrack for the 1992 film The Bodyguard, in which she played the titular role, Rachell Marron. Her co-star was Kevin Costner. She was awarded the Grammy for Record of the Year in1994 for that particular song. The Recording Industry Association of America deemed Houston the best-selling female artist of the 20th century in the R&B genre. 

Al Green

Now Al Greenhas been influential in many genres including pop, rock, rhythm & blues, gospel, and soul. But for the purposes of this article, I will focus on his foray into R&B. He had a prosperous career with hits such as’ Let’s Stay Together’, ‘For The Good Times’, ‘How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?’, ‘Take Me To The River’. 

He didn’t have too much luck in the years after this. Certainly regarding his girlfriend, Mary Woodson White, who attacked him in his Memphis house in 1974. After burning him with hot food, she committed suicide. Green also fell off the stage while performing in Ohio in 1979. He did go onto to marry Shirley Kyles in 1977 and they have 3 children. 

After being in the music industry for a fair amount of time, he decided to take a back seat from it all and became a pastor at the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church, in Memphis, Tennessee. The soul singer, grammy award winning artist and lover of Jesus. Rev. Green has a different pace of life and one that he evidently thrives in.  

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, In 2004, he was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and The Songwriters Hall of Fame. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2009 BET Awards.


If you want to talk about making waves in the music industry, Rihanna, a Barbadian singer made her claim to fame when she released her album ‘Good Girl Gone Bad’ in 2007 which featured the single ‘Umbrella’ and from then on she was a household name in R&B. She won her first Grammy because of that song and she went on to release eight studio albums and sell over 250 million records worldwide. 

To date, she has won 9 Grammys and believe me, there are plenty more to come! She was born on the 20th February 1988 in Saint Michael, Barbados and she of course has had hits with ‘Diamonds’, ‘Don’t Stop The Music’, ‘We Found Love’ and too many more to mention, so you need to go onto Spotify, or wherever you listen to your music and start streaming. I know that I will never forget Tom Holland’s rendition of ‘Umbrella’ on Comedy Central Live back in 2021. Enough said, just watch it for yourselves, you will not be disappointed.

Mary J. Blige

Mary J. Blige is an american famous Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, actress, producer and philanthropist. She has dueted with Bono from U2 and it has been said she is the “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul” and “Queen of R&B”. So of course she has made our list, as one of top female R&B artists and quite rightly. She released a single last year called ‘Good Morning Gorgeous’. 

With eight multi-platinum albums, nine Grammy Awards (plus a staggering 32 nominations), two Academy Award nominations, two Golden Globe nominations, and a SAG nomination, there is so much to this powerhouse of a woman and deserves every bit of praise she gets. There are worldwide sales of more than 50 million albums to her name. She is certainly one of the greatest R&B artists out there and she has been wowing people with her voice since the age of 18. Influenced by the likes of Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight before her, her music style has an edge to it, an authentic touch if you will. Heart and soul are always behind her lyrics and her music has inspired many a loyal fan. With hits like ‘No More Drama’, ‘Family Affair’, ‘Be Without You’ and ‘One’ – which she recorded with Bono have made her a R&B household name. 

Mariah Carey 

I don’t think it is really Christmas without hearing ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ by Mariah Carey. Once again, she has proved why she is in this list of top R&B artists. She has been dubbed “Songbird Supreme” and “Queen of Christmas”, we are versed with her five-octave vocal range, melismatic singing style, signature use of the whistle register – lying above the modal register and falsetto register and songwriting. So you know, nothing too special right?  

She has sold more than 200 million albums, 19 billboard hot 100 #1 singles, was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in June this year and also has a producer credit to her name. 

With hits such as ‘When You Believe’, ‘We Belong Together’, ‘Hero’ and ‘Without You’, it’s understandable why she is on this list of top R&B artists. 

Lionel Richie

Lionel Richie is a singer, songwriter, and musician who made a name for himself in the 1970s. His music, such as ‘All Night Long’, ‘Easy’, ‘Lady’, Dancing On The Ceiling’ is played even now and his fanbase will always be there. Formerly the lead vocalist of The Commodores and he has recorded with the likes of Diana Ross. They worked together to produce ‘Endless Love’. 

His album ‘Can’t Slow Down’, released in 1983 sold more than 20 million copies globally, which was a massive feat in the music business. A very successful black male pop artist of his time. 

Alicia Keys

As a gifted black female musician, Alicia Keys is an American singer, songwriter, and pianist whose music spans from the late 90s until now. She was born on the 25th January 1981. She started composing songs when she was 12 and was signed at 15 years old by Columbia Records. I’m sure everybody knows her songs ‘Empire State of Mind’, ‘Girl On Fire’, ‘Fallin’? 

Her piano skills and vocal talent are truly incredible. Fallin’ is dubbed her signature song which was released in 2001. Since then we have been true fans of her creativity when it comes to music. Her latest song ‘City of The Gods Part II’ was released this year in April to critical acclaim and also back in August this year she released a deluxe edition of her 2021 double album KEYS, which was called KEYS II. There are plenty of great things to come from Alicia if her track record is anything to go by.


Now if we are talking about empowerment, then this lady has it in bucket loads! She is one of the most notable black American female musicians of her time right now. She was born on the 4 September 1981, in Texas. As an American songwriter, singer and actress she holds many strings to her bow and any performance she gives; whether that be on the silver screen, at the Super Bowl XLVII Halftime Show, singing Hold Up on her Lemonade album she brings power, authenticity and confidence. 

She shows us that as a woman you can take on so many roles at once, and they are not mutually exclusive. Her most recent album Renaissance, is supposedly the first part of a three-act project that she recorded over the past three years, during the pandemic. Her fans are going crazy for it and Billboard ranked ‘Thique’ as being the best track on the album. But you can make up your own mind.


Usher could be said to be one of the top male R&B artists of the 21st century and is a renowned R&B artist. Similar to John Legend he has been in a few films over the years, including ‘She’s All That’ and ‘Hustlers’. Throughout the course of his career, Usher has won eight Grammy awards, 35 ASCAP Awards, 18 Billboard Music Awards, 14 BMI Awards, nine Soul Train Music Awards, and eight American Music Awards. Hit songs include ‘Yeah!’ , ‘DJ Got Us Fallin In Love’ and ‘OMG’. 

The Weeknd  

Another top male R&B artist? Absolutely and we can’t get enough of The Weeknd. He is a Canadian singer, songwriter, and record producer and has hits with the likes of ’Blinding Lights’, ‘I Was Never There’, ‘Earned It’, ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ and ‘I Feel It Coming’, just to name a few. 

He has recently been in the press noting that he contributed a new song to the Avatar: The Way Of Water soundtrack by sharing a 12-second clip of a choral melody with battle drums. The 32-year-old Canadian son of Ethiopian immigrants — who was last seen performing at SoFi Stadium on November 26 — captioned the teaser with the highly-anticipated sequel’s release date: ‘12.16.22.’ That same day, Avatar producer Jon Landau tweeted a snap of himself with The Weeknd (born Abel Tesfaye) captioned: ‘As the Na’vi say, “Zola’u nìprrte’ soaiane Avatar”… Welcome to the Avatar family.’

He won the Grammy for best R&B performance in 2016 and received an Oscar nomination for best original song for his track ‘Earned It’ off the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack.

So he is clearly showing why he is one of the top male R&B artists of our generation. 

Closing Thoughts

Do you think these are the best R&B singers of all time and are there many more we have missed? I love my R&B and its edge is the reason why it will always be popular on the music scene. It will never go out of fashion, because there is such an appetite for the genre and there is now so much evident variety around. The contemporary fusion of rhythm & blues and electronic rhythms are exciting and there is so much scope for this genre. I know I need more soulful, powerhouse music in my life and these artists keep nailing it every time. 


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