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Music Business

Top Soul Artists of All Time

Photograph of the blog post author, Georgia Carter

Georgia Carter

2.12.2022

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In this article, I thought we should celebrate the top 10 soul artists of all time and I really hope you enjoy it. These artists were at the top of their game and are ultimately in the soul genre the best singers of all time. Will you agree with our top 10 soul music artists? And what is the future looking like for Neo-Soul? We will delve into the related genre towards the end of the article. Now where else would you rather be? So sit back and read on to find out more!

What Is Soul?

Soul music is a popular music genre that originated in the African American community throughout the United States in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It has its roots in African-American gospel music, rhythm and blues. It is characterized by an emphasis on vocals and an impassioned improvisatory delivery. The people on this list of top soul artists encompass these characteristics and more. It led to many later genres, from funk and dance music to hip hop and contemporary R&B.  So there is a lot to be said about this type of music. Let’s see who’s on our list!

Marvin Gaye 

Marvin Gaye was a singer and songwriter who made a big impact on Motown. Because of this, he is nicknamed the Prince of Soul and the Prince of Motown. His famous songs include ‘Let’s Get It On’, ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, ‘How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)’, ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine,’ and ‘Ain’t That Peculiar’. He famously dueted with the likes of Diana Ross, Kim Weston, Mary Wells, and Tammi Terrell. He is also known for later releases like “Sexual Healing” in his 1982 album Midnight Love, leading to an influence over R&B subgenres  and even inspired top neo-soul artist like James Tillman, who offers a sophisticated departure from some of the easier clichés of neo-soul. 

Etta James

Etta James was one of the famous black female musicians who lit up every room she sang in. Her gravitas, style and dazzling voice made her a star in her own right. She was born on January 25, 1938, in Los Angeles, California. Her career really took off in 1954, when she moved to LA to record her album ‘The Wallflower’. Her music style ranged from R&B, gospel, rock and roll, jazz, and blues.

You could definitely say she was as versatile as rare, as a black female classical musician in the music industry. And she paved the way for other black female artists and some would say she was an inspiration today. With hits such as ‘At Last’ and ‘Something’s Got a Hold On Me’ released in the 1960s, she became a well-known face and voice on the music scene. She won three Grammy awards. I believe she is one of the best black female blues musicians. 

Aretha Franklin

Known as the ‘Queen of Soul’, she is known for her song, ‘I Say A Little Prayer’ she is one of the best black female musicians of the 1960s. She was born on the 25th of March, 1952, in Memphis, Tennessee. ‘Respect’, released in 1967 and “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman’ in 1968 propelled her in terms of fame and made her a firm favorite in the world’s eyes.

She won 18 Grammy Awards between the years 1968-2008, she sold 75 million records, recorded 112 singles, and was the first female artist to get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She really did show other black female artists it can be done and now so many musicians are following in her footsteps. Black women have to work twice as hard to get heard and Aretha certainly was front and centre as one of the black female musicians in the 20th century.  

Ray Charles

Ray Charles was a famous American singer, songwriter & pianist in the latter years of the 20th century and if you happened to be alive in that era, you definitely knew about him as one of history’s most prolific black male artists. He was, and is, considered a legend on the jazz scene. He was called Genius by his contemporaries but it is rumored that he preferred the nickname Brother Ray.

His disability in terms of being blind, due to juvenile glaucoma never hindered his career in music and in the 1950s was so influential across jazz, R&B, blues, and gospel as a black male music artist. His first career number-one hit came in 1960 with ‘Georgia On My Mind’. He was considered a powerful gospel artist. 

Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder is an American singer-songwriter, who is a pioneering influence throughout a range of genres; rhythm and blues, pop, soul, gospel, funk and jazz. ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ became Stevie’s biggest-ever hit in 1984, and topped the charts in 19 different countries. 

There are many tracks that made him a household name like the others on this list, such as ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours’, ‘For Once In My Life’, ‘Sir Duke’, ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ just to name a few. When he was young, there was something about him and he was seen as a child prodigy, recording his first album at the age of 12. His single “Fingertips” hit number one on the 1963 Billboard Hot 100 when he was only 13 years old. How about that? His unique implementation of synths and various electronic instruments in his work reshaped the R&B genre in the 1970s. He won 25 Grammys in his career. 

James Brown

James Brown was an American singer, dancer, musician, record producer and bandleader. He had a very strong work ethic that he was given the nickname “the Hardest Working Man in Show Business”, amongst others such as “Godfather of Soul”, “Mr. Dynamite”, and “Soul Brother No. 1”. Now you may know hit song, ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag’, but what about ‘Please, Please, Please’, ‘Try Me’? He was one of the first artists to be inaugurated into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in New York on January 23, 1986. In his career that spanned over 50 years, he proved that he was one soul artist that was true game in the genre and the industry as a whole.

Smokey Robinson 

Smokey Robinson is an American singer, songwriter, record producer, and former record executive director. At the age of 82, he is still an example of creativity and artistry in the music industry when it comes to soul. He was the frontman of the motown band The Miracles but then chose to stand down and became the vice president of Motown Records in 1972. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and was awarded the 2016 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for his lifetime contributions to popular music. In 2022, he was inducted into the Black Music & Entertainment Walk of Fame. He was invited to attend the reception for the Kennedy Center honorees at The White House, alongside Dolly Parton and Conductor Zubin Mehta. 

Otis Redding

Otis Reading was an American singer and songwriter and is known as an incredible singer in terms of soul music and rhythm and blues. ‘Stand By Me’, ‘The Dock of the Bay’, ‘Hard To Handle’ and ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ all showcased how much talent he really had, so much so that he is called the King of Soul. His first hit single “These Arms of Mine,” came as a surprise due to an unscheduled appearance on a Stax recording session in 1962.

Stax released his debut album, Pain in My Heart, in 1964, and it eventually took off throughout American pop music. His most iconic song “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” was recorded shortly before he died in a plane accident.

Luther Vandross

Luther Vandross was a record producer, singer, and songwriter who is famous for his sweet, soulful voice. Vandross paired up with artists as varied as Bette Midler, Todd Rundgren, Chaka Khan, Diana Ross, Judy Collins, Stevie Wonder, Donna Summer, Ben E. King, and David Bowie. He released his first solo album ‘Never Too Much’ in 1981. He sold over 40 million records and won 11 consecutive platinum albums and won eight Grammys. As a black male artist of the 90s, he had a pretty high success rate and his songs will still be played for many years to come. ‘Dance With My Father Again’ and ‘Endless Love’ are probably the ones that people know the best. 

Tina Turner

Tina Turner is an American-born Swiss retired soul singer and actress at the age of 83. She is  widely referred to as the “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll”. She did start her career as the lead singer in a band called The Ike and Tina Turner Revue before breaking out on her own and became a solo artist. There was actually a film in 1993 about her break away from her abusive husband Ike Turner called What’s Love Got To Do With It? It is ultimately the story of her rise to stardom and how she gained the courage to break free from Ike. In 2021, a documentary called Tina gives exclusive access to the Grammy Award-winning artist to celebrate her career. She herself  stars in the documentary alongside Oprah Winfrey and Carl Arrington. Her most famous song has to beWhat’s Love Got To Do With It’, or ‘The Best’. 

What Is Neo-Soul?

Neo-soul has a close relationship with R&B, so this list features a number of artists whose music draws heavily on R&B, as well as indie, jazz, and even folk. Who are the artists of this generation who we need to watch out for as they are already making their mark on the Neo-Soul genre. 

  • Arlo Parks
  • Noya Rao
  • Dijon
  • Aaron Taylor
  • Simon A.
  • Nyah Grace
  • James Tillman 
  • Greentea Peng

It is fair to say that these are the top neo soul artists right now, so if you haven’t listened to them yet, then what are you waiting for?!

Closing Thoughts

So do you agree with our list of top soul artists? They certainly made their mark throughout their career and even now new neo-soul artists attribute their love of music to a few of these utter legends. They paved the way for up-and-coming artists to break through into an industry which can be competitive. We will continue to champion their music and long may this continue! Who from our list of top soul artists will you be listening to today after reading this article? 


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