No one captured the atmosphere of the 1970s like these top 12 black female singing groups of the 70s. As music left the psychedelic era of the 1960s, disco and powerhouse girl groups were waiting to take radios and concert halls by storm.
Read on to learn more and remember the fashion, passion, and music of these 12 most memorable black girl groups of the 1970s.
Martha Reeves & the Vandellas
Also known as Martha and the Vandellas, this girl group performed from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. With legendary singles like “Heatwave,” “Nowhere to Run,” and “Dancing in the Street,” most people can still sing along with Martha and the Vandellas.
This group was signed to legendary Motown Records and became one of the many Detroit musical success stories during the mid-20th century. This group originally consisted of members Annette Beard, Rosalind Ashford, and Gloria Williams. Williams left early on, which provided an opening for another woman. The lead singer and eventual namesake of the group, Martha Reeves, joined after Williams’ departure in 1962.
Martha Reeves & the Vandellas earned many accolades during their career. Their single “Dancing in the Street” joined the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. That song achieved a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group in 1964. This group joined another Hall of Fame in 1995, Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Martha Reeves & the Vandellas became the second all-female group ever to be inducted.
This group enjoys recognition as one of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time from Rolling Stone magazine and has two songs on the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list. Martha and the Vandellas became an indelible part of pop culture with features on the 1980s television shows Murphy Brown and Golden Girls.
Best known for the single “Please Mr. Postman,” The Marvelettes formed in a Michigan high school. This black female singing group of the 1970s became one of the first all-female vocal groups to reach number one. The Marvelettes were also the first Motown group to earn a number one single.
The Marvelettes captured the sound of the time, with catchy lyrics telling a compelling love story. The women of the Marvelettes used tight harmonies to achieve the soulful Motown sound. Icons like Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson wrote and played instruments on early hits from The Marvelettes.
In addition to “Please Mr. Postman,” the Marvelettes released “Don’t Mess With Bill.” This lower-tempo 1966 hit signaled a comeback, but this group eventually broke up in the early 1970s. By then, the Motown record label’s attention shifted to The Marvelettes’ bitter rival: The Supremes.
The Marvelettes received retroactive gold plaques to signify that both “Please Mr. Postman” and “Don’t Mess with Bill” earned the million-sales mark. “Please Mr. Postman” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2011, and The Marvelettes made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. Artists like Jay-Z have kept their music alive by including samples in his rap hits.
Undoubtedly one of the most famous black female singing groups of the 1970s, the music of The Supremes defined this era. This group, originally made of members Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, Diana Ross, and Betty McGlown, formed in late 1950s Detroit. This period generated several of the girl groups on this list at the same time and place.
The Supremes represent one of the rare groups capable of transitioning from the sound of the 1960s to the style of the 1970s. This group first achieved mainstream success in the mid-1960s with songs like “You Keep Me Hanging On,” “Can’t Hurry Love,” and “Baby Love.” While the British Invasion swept the charts, The Supremes managed to hold their own for worldwide popularity.
This group is best known for its trio structure, featuring Ross, Ballard, and Wilson. These women performed not only with signature harmonies but also in iconic costumes. The Supremes always wore glamorous gowns and high-fashion wigs and jewelry. The Motown record label believed this image would help promote appeal across any race boundary during the tumultuous era of the 1960s.
The Supremes ended up earning many of the most prestigious honors in music. This influential black female singing group of the 1970s was nominated for two Grammy awards but never won. However, three singles made it into the Grammy Hall of Fame. The Supremes rank number 17 on Billboard’s list of Greatest Artists of All Time.
Unlike the previous groups on this list, Sister Sledge was not a holdover girl group from the 1960s Motown era. Sister Sledge was formed in 1971 and is made of Philadelphia sisters Joni, Kim, Debbie, and Kathy Sledge. This group reached fame from their hit single “We Are Family.”
Sister Sledge fit right in during the 1970s disco era. Other singles such as “He’s The Greatest Dancer” and “Lost in Music” also reached the Billboard charts during the 1970s. This group achieved success both in the United States and abroad, reaching number one on the UK Singles chart into the mid-1980s.
This iconic 1970s disco group is well known around the world, performing at the Glastonbury Music Festival, on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and for Pope Francis. The two surviving members of the group still perform today.
If you watched a romantic comedy trailer in the 2000s, you are probably familiar with the biggest hit from 1970s black female singing group The Emotions. “Best of My Love” opens with the signature trumpet fanfare of Motown songs in this era before this trio begins to sing.
This song provides an instantly-recognizable opening riff to this legendary R&B single. “Best of My Love” won a Grammy in 1978. The Emotions also collaborated with Earth, Wind, and Fire on their Grammy-nominated hit, “Boogie Wonderland.”
Unlike many of the other groups on this list, The Emotions formed in Chicago. This family group features members Wanda Hutchinson-Vaughn, Sheila Hutchinson-Witt, Pamela Hutchinson, Jeanette Hutchinson-Hawes, and Theresa Davis. The Emotions began as a gospel group before transitioning to performing disco and R&B hits.
Artists including Toni Braxton, Kanye West, Patti La Belle, and Notorious BIG sampled music from The Emotions. Several musicians claim The Emotions as an influence, from Erykah Badu to En Vogue.
The Weather Girls
It’s raining men! The Weather Girls maintain legendary status for their unforgettable dance-disco hit. This all-female duo was formed in 1976, featuring Martha Wash and Izora Armstead. Originally, Wash and Armstead began as backup singers by the stage name Two Tons O’Fun. They frequently backed up the San Francisco disco singer Sylvester.
The Weather Girls developed a brand based on campy, flirty songs, like their most famous single, “It’s Raining Men.” In fact, the group changed their name from Two Tons O’Fun to The Weather Girls based on the smash success of “Raining Men.”
Unfortunately, this move maintained Wash and Armstead as a novelty act, and they broke up in 1988 after achieving some additional success. Regardless, The Weather Girls maintain their status as icons within the body positivity and LGBTQ communities.
“It’s Raining Men” was nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals in 1983. The Weather Girls lent backup vocals to the track “Centipede.” This certified-gold song was written, produced, arranged, and featured background vocals by Michael Jackson.
A Taste of Honey
A Taste of Honey contributed one of the most enduring singles in the disco era: “Boogie Oogie Oogie.” This groovy 1978 song perfectly encapsulates the vibe of black female singing groups of the 1970s. “Boogie Oogie Oogie” reached number one on the Billboard charts and sold more than two million copies.
Janice-Marie Johnson and Hazel Payne contributed vocals to the song as well as playing instruments. Unlike most of the black female singing groups of the 70s on this list, Johnson shined as a bassist, and Payne played guitar for A Taste of Honey. Other instrumentalists also performed with Johnson and Payne, including drums and keyboard. However, these musicians received much less recognition than the two female members.
The group earned the Grammy for Best New Artist in 1979, but as disco waned into the 1980s, A Taste of Honey also faded. Johnson and Payne reunited in 2004 to commemorate the disco era in two PBS documentaries. It was the first time they performed together in more than 20 years.
The Raelettes achieved fame by providing backup vocals for legendary musician Ray Charles. Originally called The Cookies in the 1950s, the Raelettes provided iconic vocals to some of Charles’ most notable tracks. “Hit the Road Jack,” “What’d I Say,” and “Night Time Is the Right Time.”
This group also produced some independent singles in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with Ray Charles adding accompaniment. The Raelettes returned to primarily being background singers later in the 70s, where they continued to perform with Ray Charles until his death in 2004.
This evolving group of usually four to five women provided amazing contrast and dimension to some of Ray Charles’ best-known songs. Around 75 women are listed as former members of The Raelettes. A few of those artists generated solo careers of their own, like Minnie Riperton or Susaye Greene, who was one of The Supremes.
The Pointer Sisters
Few groups captured the fun and high energy of the disco era like the irresistible trio of The Pointer Sisters. Made of real-life sisters June, Anita, and Ruth, this black female singing group in the 70s released 13 top 20 hits between 1973 and 1985.
The Pointer Sisters are known for disco hits like “I’m So Excited” and “Jump (For My Love).” However, this group maintained success in the United States and Europe into the 21st century. The Pointer Sisters reached the charts across many genres, including disco, funk, pop, jazz, soul, rock, electronic, and country. The Sisters won three Grammys in their career, two for pop music and one for the country.
This 70s supergroup’s enduring music lands them on Billboard’s lists of most successful dance artists, female artists, and overall musical artists of all time. The group has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and has appeared on Sesame Street. The Pointer Sisters’ song “Jump (For My Love)” appeared in an iconic scene of the popular romantic comedy Love Actually.
Today, The Pointer Sisters still perform at venues all over the world. And this group remains a family affair. Ruth Pointer still leads the group, but her daughter and granddaughter have joined her to sing the disco hits that made The Pointer Sisters a beloved part of the 1970s.
Like groups The Raelettes or Martha and the Vandellas, LaBelle also started as a doo-wop group. When that style began to fade into the 1970s, many of these groups failed to transition to the new funk or disco sound. However, LaBelle embraced the changes and rose to even more success into the 1970s.
LaBelle’s most famous lineup includes Nona Hendryx, Sarah Dash, and group leader Patti LaBelle. LaBelle changed her name from Patricia Holte to Patti LaBelle to provide fresh direction and a new name for the group in 1971. Soon after, the group reached its highest level of success.
In 1974, the group released “Lady Marmalade,” a racy disco-soul song that reached number one in the United States and was well-known worldwide. This single established LaBelle as a fearless girl group, willing to bend genres, wear outlandish outfits, and sing about taboo topics.
The band broke up in 1976. All of the group’s members embarked on solo careers. Patti LaBelle achieved the most success, earning several pop and R&B hits, Grammy awards, and several lifetime achievement awards.
LaBelle’s fearless attitude earned them the distinction of the first black pop group to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House. LaBelle was also the first group of black vocalists to grace the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. “Lady Marmalade” entered the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2003.
Love Unlimited is best known for providing the signature background vocals behind Barry White’s crooning baritone. This trio was formed in 1969 and included Glodean James, Linda James, and Diane Taylor. These women were all related, and Glodean James would eventually become Barry White’s wife.
Love Unlimited released their own independent music as well, achieving success in 1972 with their single “Walkin’ in the Rain with the One I Love.” This song sold more than one million copies, earning gold status.
Other notable Love Unlimited songs include “I’m So Glad That I’m a Woman” and “It May Be Winter Outside (But In My Heart It’s Spring).” Both of these songs cracked the top 20 on the UK charts. The latter song appears in a collection of Barry White’s greatest hits.
Their sound delivered classic, sexy 1970s R&B and soul music. As popular music changed with the dawn of the 1980s, Love Unlimited’s influence gradually dwindled. The group lives on in the title of Barry White’s autobiography, also named Love Unlimited.
The Three Degrees
While they may not have the name recognition of other black female singing groups of the 70s on this list, The Three Degrees provided essential tracks for the soundtrack of this era. The members of Three Degrees during the 1970s include Helen Scott, Valerie Holiday, and Fayette Pinkney. Scott and Holiday still perform as Three Degrees to this day.
Most notably, this disco-soul trio recorded the theme song to the iconic dance TV show Soul Train. As women from Philadelphia, Three Degrees released the song titled “The Sound of Philadelphia.” This theme would inspire and energize the black community around self-expression through music during the 1970s.
The Three Degrees is also known for their 1974 single, “When Will I See You Again.” This ballad achieved international success, reaching the top five on the charts in seven countries. “When Will I See You Again” reached number two in the United States and topped the charts in the UK.
Best Black Female Singing Groups of the 70s, Final Thoughts
From household names like The Supremes and Sister Sledge to musical groups like LaBelle, who are known for iconic singles, these black female singing groups all made their mark. While disco ruled in the 1970s, each of these musicians put their own unique spin on the genre. All of these black female singing groups of the 70s earned their place in music history.