There is so much Black female excellence in the world of British music, and it all deserves a hearty helping of respect. From the hard-hitting rap poetry of Arlo Parks to the smooth, R&B sounds of Hayley Cassidy, there is no shortage of incredible Black female UK singers.
When a songwriter has an equal measure of training in poetry, you know they are going to make something special. And Arlo Parks is, without a doubt, something special.
Even though she is relatively new on the scene, having released her debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams in 2021, she has careened into our public musical consciousness with the weight of meteorite. The album flew up on the UK Albums Chart to number three and garnered nominations at the 2021 Brit Awards for Best British Female Solo Artist, Best New Artist, and Album of the Year. She also won that same program’s Breakthrough Artist Award.
Parks fuses her musicality and poetry with such skillful craftsmanship that it’s hard to tell whether you’re being hit more by her lyrics or her music.
Nubya Garcia is a unique figure of the contemporary music scene – she is a jazz musician, a composer, a bandleader, and a saxophonist. She deftly blends electronica and afro-jazz instrumentation and patterns with more classically jazz influences.
Her debut EP came in 2017, and her rise to prominence began with acts at JazzFest Berlin and the NYC Winter Jazz Festival. She is passionate about combining electronic sounds with the borderline sacred patterns of live jazz performance, a blend she explored deeply in When We Are, her 2018 EP.
Garcia is also a monthly DJ for NTS Radio and a member of the Nerija collective and Maisha, an ensemble that focuses on Afro-jazz.
If you are at all intrigued by Jazz music, Garcia’s compositions are a must-listen.
Tiana Major9 is another rising star on this list. She recently became known all over the world for her single “Collide,” which received a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Song in 2021. The track rocketed across the world due to its presence on the Queen & Slim soundtrack, and all of us are better off for it.
But she had been publishing music for several years before this most recent success – her unique fusion of jazz, soul, R&B, and reggae has graced listeners’ ears since 2017. That year, she released her first singles, “Merry Go,” “Levee (Let It Break),” and “Mr. Mysterious.” She has also collaborated with Stormzy for the song “Rainfall.”
She is signed to the Motown record label and has released two EPs.
The Nigerian-born singer-songwriter Ray BLK, also known as Ray Blizzy or Rita Ekwere, is a critically-acclaimed neo-soul artist whose rhymes and rhythms have led her to significant success.
In 2017, she became the first unsigned artist who won BBC’s Sound of the Year award, she received the 2016 MOBO Awards’ nomination for best newcomer, and she has performed with legends like Nicki Minaj.
Her first full-length studio album was called Access Denied and was unleashed upon the world in the Fall of 2021. It received a 5-star review from the New Musical Express and a 9/10 from Pop Matters. The album combines her relentlessly soulful vocals with aggressively clever rap verses, merging them as she meanders through hits like “Dark Skinned” and “Lovesick.”
Hayley Cassidy is a truly delightful listen. If you haven’t heard her music yet, you should remedy that as soon as possible with any of her dulcetly uplifting tracks like “Still Stay” or “Stripped.”
Cassidy has been performing since a very young age when her aunt discovered her musical abilities when she sang in the shower. Like many other soul-inspired vocalists, she took her talents from her home to her church, and her enriching voice soon took control of the choral stage.
Since then, she has put out several songs – no longer fully Gospel, but always attempting to weave an uplifting thread into her musical tapestry.
She has worked on her songs with some of the most prominent British producers on the scene, like Slic Vic and P2J. She also operates a record label of her own called Tru Blu Music.
Little Simz is an independent British rapper whose rhymes have carried her high into the halls of contemporary English musicians. All four of her studio albums have received a great deal of critical praise.
But her most recent one, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, has been her most popular yet. This one was named the best album of 2021 by the Independent (and many other outlets), and it also brought her the 2022 Brit Award for Best New Artist.
The 27-year-old wunderkind is doing all this without the support of a record label, too. Not wanting to lease her artistry out to an external authority, she started her own company to manage her music business.
There’s no way this list would be complete without mentioning Leigh-Anne Pinnock, perhaps the most widely successful artist we’ve noted. As a member of the R&B/dance pop sensation Little Mix, Leigh-Anne Pinnock has performed all over the world and earned accolades like being the first all-women band to receive the Brit Award for British Group.
Even though Little Mix is currently approaching a hiatus to work on solo acts, you should not take your eye off Leigh-Anne Pinnock.
Her exuberant performances and powerful vocals have been a core part of Little Mix’s success thus far, and while she has not yet published anything independent of them, she is signed to the record label Taps Music to pursue a career of her own.
NAO, born in East London with Jamaican heritage, has been publishing ear-tinglingly delightful music since October 2014, when she released her first EP, “So Good.” It was indeed so good that it made national radio playlists on the BBC and hit #4 on iTunes’ chart for electronic music.
Since then, she hasn’t stopped. Her second EP led Pitchfork to conclude she had the “Best New Music” and the 2015 MOBO Awards to nominate her for Best Newcomer. Her unique style that blends funky, electronic melodies with the raw emotionality of the soul genre has been recognized throughout the UK music world as deserving praise and interest.
She has also had a burgeoning songwriting career, with writing credits on storied albums like Stormzy’s debut “Gang Signs & Prayer,” Disclosure’s “Caracal,” and Mura Masa’s self-titled debut album.
Leona Lewis does R&B, pop, and soul. In addition to being a songwriter, she is an actress, a model, and an activist. There’s very little Leona doesn’t do! When she won Series 3 of X-Factor in 2006, the world became acquainted with her.
She is especially widely loved in the UK – her first studio album was one of the best-selling albums in the history of UK charts, having been certified 10x platinum in the UK market.
Since then, she has held a storied career that is still running strong today. She has sold more than 35 million records worldwide, and she’s won two World Music Awards (among many others) and been nominated for the Grammy Awards thrice.
Another multi-talented English gem, Estelle Fanta Swaray, known professionally as Estelle, is a songwriter, record producer, voice actress, rapper, and singer. She blends the genres of grime, hip hop, dance, R&B, and even more with an effortlessness that makes producers gawk and audiences come running.
Her first work that received mainstream acclaim was the single “American Boy,” which featured vocals from Kanye West. The powerful disco-punk vibe meshed with West’s lyrical facility to make a wonder of a song that ended up being nominated for two Grammy Awards and winning one.
From the beginning, Estelle has received mentorship from John Legend, and has worked with many other prominent musicians like Rick Ross, Chris Brown, Will.i.am., and more.
Currently, she may be best known as an actor, voicing the character Garnet in the popular series Steven Universe and taking on the role of Linda in the Netflix movie Fatal Affair.
Between 1999 and 2009, Jamelia was a force to be reckoned with on the UK music scene. She published three albums in that time, each of which landed in the UK Top 40. She has also had eight singles that were top-ten hits in the UK, with certified platinum singles in Australia. Her success is as global as it is powerful.
Her most significant breakthrough came with Thank You, her second studio album, which she released in 2003. That album earned a great deal of success. The song “Superstar” on it was especially popular. The album was so successful that she re-released a deluxe version that included collaborations with Chris Martin from Coldplay and DJ K Staveley.
Since 2009, Jamelia has veered away from the music industry but has not left the public eye. Currently, she frequently works in television, with appearances on programs like Richard Osman’s House of Games and the soap opera Doctors.
Jorja Smith is a songwriter to her core – since she was 11 years old, she has been writing songs and longing to see them performed. That dream has been fulfilled for her in recent years, as she has released album after album and song after song that has cemented her melodic brilliance in the UK popular consciousness.
Since signing her first record deal in 2016, she has published three EPs and one studio album. All four have been positively received by both the public and critics.
She has also been a radio personality – she hosted a limited-run BBC Radio 3 show by the name of “Tearjerker,” which explored how music can work to heal its listeners.
Corinne Bailey Rae
Corinne Bailey Rae does not frequently release music, but the world pays attention when she does. She tried to break into the music industry for several years before finally releasing her first studio album, Corinne Bailey Rae.
That album debuted at Billboard UK’s number one spot and worked its way into the US Billboard 200’s top ten. Her most famous single, “Put Your Records On,” came from this album as well. Bailey Rae traveled the world touring after this album and returned to writing.
She took a three-year hiatus before recording her second album, The Sea, which again received a great deal of critical acclaim. Most recently, she released her third album, The Heart Speaks in Whispers, in 2016, and that one hit the No. 2 position on Billboard’s R&B chart straight out of the gate.
Best Black Female British Singers, Final Thoughts
As you can see, there is so much wonderful Black excellence in the music world of the UK. From Little Mix to Corinne Bailey Rae, the world is paying attention to Black female UK singers.