10 Black Female Singers of the 70s

Best Black Female Singers of the 70s

The 1970s saw the emergence of several black female singers who topped the charts, took home awards, and created a style that would be emulated for years to come.

Many of the best black female singers of the ‘70s got their start singing gospel songs in their local churches before branching out into R&B, soul, disco, rock, or pop music.

Aretha Franklin

  • Grammy/Nominations: 18 wins among 44 nominations
  • American Music Awards: 6
  • Billboard No. 1 hits: 2

Aretha Franklin was born March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee, and raised in Detroit, Michigan. She moved to New York and signed with Columbia Records in the early 1960s.

The undisputed Queen of Soul’s powerful vocals combine gospel music with the jazz stylings of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday. Aretha became the first female inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone magazine named Franklin the Greatest Singer of the Rock Era.

Franklin burst onto the scene in the mid-1960s and continued to make hit records until the 1990s. Her career overlapped the struggle for Civil Rights, the activism of the anti-war and feminist movements, and the political battles of Black Power.

She was an accomplished pianist and eventually became her own arranger and producer – one of the few black female singers of the ‘70s who had that much control over her personal songs and sound.

Aretha is one of the most decorated musical artists of all time, with 18 Grammy Awards. Her most well-known singles are “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “Respect.”

Chaka Khan

  • Grammy/Nominations: 10 wins in 22 nominations
  • American Music Awards: 0
  • Billboard No.1 hits: 0

Over a 40-year career, Chaka Khan released 22 albums, ten of which have been certified either gold or platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Her female empowerment ballad “I’m Every Woman” reached No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 list in 1978. Six years later, Chaka released her most significant hit record, “I Feel for You.” It climbed to No. 3.

Khan is equally adept at singing soul, R&B, pop, gospel, country, classical, rock, and world music. She recorded a jazz album that included collaborations with Chick Correa, Lenny White, and Stanley Clarke.

She has also performed on both the Broadway stage (The Color Purple) and on London’s West End (Mama I Want to Sing). Her songs have been included on almost a dozen movie soundtracks, including “Standing in the Shadows of Motown,” and “Madea’s Family Reunion.”

Chaka Khan was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame, received the Soul Train Legend Award and the Black Entertainment Television (BET) Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Berklee College of Music conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Music on Khan in 2004. In 2011, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Natalie Cole

  • Grammy/Nominations: 9 wins in 21 nominations
  • American Music Awards: 4
  • Billboard No.1 hits: 0

Natalie Cole was the daughter of Nat King Cole, one of the most renowned singers of all time.

Her parents encouraged her to sing, and she recorded her first solo song, “I’m Good Will, Your Christmas Spirit” at the tender age of 6. Less than a decade later, her famous father died of cancer, and Natalie gave up singing for a while to attend college in Massachusetts.

During a summer break, Natalie started singing again. This time she began in small clubs and bars. By 1975, she had a recording contract with Capitol Records. Her debut album “Inseparable” won Natalie the first two of her nine Grammy awards.

In the last half of the ‘70s, Natalie released four albums. All of them became gold records, and the RIAA certified two albums platinum.

Natalie’s career took a major hit in the early 1980s when she fell victim to drug addiction. But she rebounded in 1983 with the single “Pink Cadillac,” which Bruce Springsteen wrote for her. But her biggest success was yet to come.

That occurred when she released “Unforgettable … with Love,” an album of songs dedicated to her father. The song “Unforgettable” was one of Nat King Cole’s most famous, and Natalie recorded a tribute version as a duet with her father. She used this original recording as the hook.

The accompanying video inserted her present-day singing into clips of her father singing.

Natalie Cole passed away on New Year’s Eve 2015, at age 65.

Tina Turner

  • Grammy/Nominations: 8 wins in 25 nominations
  • American Music Awards: 3
  • Billboard No.1 hits: 1

Tina Turner’s original claim to fame was singing lead in the Ike and Tina Turner Revue in the 1950s with her first husband, Ike. The megahit “Proud Mary” came from that union. But she would earn tremendous acclaim as a solo singer throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s with a string of major hits.

Born Anna Mae Bullock in a small Tennessee town on November 26, 1939, Tina moved to St. Louis, Missouri as a young teenager. Tina’s love of music led her to engage in local R&B clubs.

Tina’s distinctive throaty voice and theatrical on-stage energy quickly emerged as a highlight of gigs throughout the Midwest.

After a messy and public divorce, where Tina claimed spousal abuse, she began to make her own music. But the same fame she had enjoyed with Ike was immediately elusive.

It took almost a decade, but Tina Turner re-emerged with one of the best albums of the 1980s, “Private Dancer” and its No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 list: “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”

Two other songs, including the title track, reached the top 10. “What’s Love Got to Do With It” ended up claiming the Record of the Year Grammy award.

Gladys Knight

  • Grammy/Nominations: 7 wins in 22 nominations
  • American Music Awards: 7
  • Billboard No.1 hits: 2

It seems that Gladys Knight was born to sing. Her first solo was in an Atlanta church choir when she was just 4. At age 8, Gladys formed the “Pips” with two siblings and two cousins. The family of singers could harmonize and dance well. Soon they were performing throughout the South.

Motown Records signed Gladys Knight and the Pips to a contract in the mid-1960s, and they had a string of hits. Most notably, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” climbed both the R&B and pop charts in 1967.

The group released its most successful album in 1973, entitled “Imagination.” The album produced three hit singles, including the Grammy-award winner “Midnight Train to Georgia.” The song reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 list.

Gladys Knight and the Pips hosted a series of television specials in the mid-1970s, and Gladys played opposite Flip Wilson in a sitcom called “Charlie and Co.” that lasted only a few episodes.

Over the years, legal and financial issues besieged the group. At one point, they sued Motown for lost earnings and unpaid royalties. Legal problems with a future company forced the Pips to record separately from Gladys Knight, although they could sing together on stage.

Reunited in the recording studio in the late 1980s, the Pips released the Grammy-winning song “Love Overboard.” One year later, Gladys Knight recorded the title track for “License to Kill,” a James Bond movie.

Dionne Warwick

  • Grammy/Nominations: 5 wins in 14 nominations
  • American Music Awards: 0
  • Billboard No.1 hits: 2

Another singer who got her start in the church, Dionne Warwick formed a gospel trio in her teens with her sister (Dee Dee) and aunt (Cissy Houston, Whitney Houston’s mother). Dionne studied music at Hartt College in Connecticut.

While there, she landed some background vocal gigs in New York City, where she met legendary writer and producer Burt Bacharach. She soon signed a recording contract.

On her first single, “Don’t Make Me Over” in 1962, the record company misspelled her name Warwick for Warrick, and she decided to keep it that way.

Two years later, she had two top-10 songs on the R&B charts, including the No. 1 hit “Walk on By.” She continued to release hits, including the theme song to the movies “Alfie” and “Valley of the Dolls.”

Warwick’s first Grammy came for her trademark song “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” in 1968.

Her career dipped slightly in the ‘70s, although she rebounded with the hit “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” in 1979.

She later released “That’s What Friends Are For,” an enormous hit single that reached No. 1 and won a Grammy award. It was a collaboration with Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and Gladys Knight.

Dionne Warwick also hosted the television music program “Solid Gold” for several years in the early 1980s.

Donna Summer

Donna Summer
  • Grammy/Nominations: 5 wins in 18 nominations
  • American Music Awards: 6
  • Billboard No.1 hits: 4

The undisputed Queen of the Disco era, Donna Summer, released the second-most No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 list of any Black female singer of the 70s. She was born on New Year’s Eve 1948 in Boston. Her debut performance occurred at age 10 in church.

By high school, Donna was performing in stage musicals locally. Then, she won a role in a European tour of “Hair” right before her graduation. After the run ended, she remained in Germany, starred in other musicals, sang backup, and recorded demos. Her first hit was “The Hostage” in Europe.

Donna Summer’s first disco solo, “Love to Love You Baby” in 1975, was a rule breaker. It ran for 17 minutes and featured both soft vocals and moaning. Radio stations at first refused to play it, but it still became a hit.

In 1977, her song “Last Dance” was featured in the movie “Thank God It’s Friday” and won the 1978 Academy Award for Best Song.

1978 was a banner year for Summer. She had three No. 1 Billboard hits that year – the first female artist to achieve that honor. ‘MacArthur Park” reached the top first, followed by “Bad Girls” and “Hot Stuff.”

Five years later, Summer scored another massive hit with “She Works Hard for the Money.”

Donna Summer died in 2012 at age 63 after a long battle with cancer.

Roberta Flack

Roberta Flack came by singing through the piano. She was classically trained in the instrument and received a scholarship to attend Howard University. However, she also had a strong, soulful voice, so she switched majors.

Roberta became the assistant conductor of Howard University’s choir and was soon singing in nightclubs throughout the Washington, D.C. area.

Early in her career, Roberta taught music at three junior high schools in the D.C. area, and private piano lessons from her home. A local restaurant owner turned his upper room into a performance space for Roberta, where she sang blues, folk, and pop standards three nights per week.

Roberta was the first solo singer to win back-to-back Grammy awards for Record of the Year. “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” won in 1973, and “Killing Me Softly with His Song” claimed the 1974 trophy. (Only Billie Eilish has done so since.)

Both songs also reached No. 1 on the Hot 100 list, as did “Feel Like Makin’ Love” in 1974. Other hits include “Tonight, I Celebrate My Love” and “The Closer I Get to You.” She received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 2020.

Now retired from touring, Roberta Flack began a foundation supporting music education and animal welfare in 2010.

Gloria Gaynor

  • Grammy/Nominations: 2 wins in 7 nominations
  • American Music Awards: 0
  • Billboard No.1 hits: 1

Gloria Gaynor has survived. Her legendary music career has spanned more than four decades. In addition to numerous awards and accolades, her most famous song “I Will Survive” was included in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.

This song is often played at events celebrating cancer recovery and was an anthem of hope during the days after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington. D.C.

Gloria was born in Newark, New Jersey, on September 7, 1943. Although born into a family of male singers and performers, Gloria was not given the chance to join them on stage.

After high school, she took matters into her own hands and began singing in small clubs throughout the East Coast. Gaynor signed her first recording contract in 1971.

She had moderate chart success throughout the ‘70s before recording “I Will Survive” in 1978. Originally released as the B-side to the song “Substitute,” a Boston disc jockey discovered “I Will Survive” one night and played it numerous times.

Soon other stations were doing the same thing, and Polydor Records took note. They re-released it as an A-side single, and it went to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 list.

“I Will Survive” took home the Grammy for Best Disco Recording in 1980, the only year that award was presented. She received her second Grammy 40 years later in 2020 for Best Roots Gospel Album.

Diana Ross

Diana Ross has the most No. 1 hits by the black female singers of the ‘70s. She shot to fame in the 1960s as the lead singer of the Supremes, a classic Motown group. Then she went solo and churned out hit after hit, including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Touch Me in the Morning,” and “Theme from Mahogany.”

Her duet “Endless Love” with Lionel Richie is the all-time best-selling duet in history and topped the Billboard Hot 100 list for more than two months in 1980.

Diana was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, so it was no surprise when she was signed to Detroit-based Motown Records with friends Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard.

The Supremes racked up a dozen chart-topping hits in the 1960s, including “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Baby Love” and “Stop! In the Name of Love.”

She left the Supremes in 1969 to venture out as a solo artist and met with immediate success. Diana also starred in three movies, “The Wiz,” “Mahogany,” and “Lady Sings the Blues.,” during the ‘70s.

Ross received an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of legendary singer Billie Holiday.

Despite the absence of a performance Grammy, Diana Ross has won a Golden Globe award, a Tony award, and eight American Music Awards.

She was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 2012 and inducted, with the Supremes, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2016, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Top Black Female Singers of the 70s, Final Thoughts

This list of the best black female singers of the ‘70s includes women who rose to the top of the charts in soul, R&B, disco, and rock music. Along the way, they won numerous awards and led the way for a generation of black female singers.

Some had No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 list. Others branched out into movies, television, or the Broadway stage.

However, they all show that talent and an unrelenting desire to be the best singer possible could be achievable during a pivotal time in U.S. history.

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