Rhythm and blues (R&B) can be an extremely eclectic mix of music that covers a wide range of sounds. From soft and sultry love ballads to poignant political commentary, you’ll find varying themes as well.
The musicians below all made a huge impact on R&B and shaped today’s popular music. Here is a list of some of the top black male R&B singers of all time.
Achieving success in the 60s with a run of hits and albums, Marvin Gaye went on to revolutionize R&B and soul with his magnum opus What’s Going On in 1971. This politically-charged album spent five weeks at #1 on the R&B Charts.
Marvin Gaye left us with a wonderful legacy, and his music transcended R&B and garnered pop success. Many famous artists have since cited Gaye as one of their biggest influences, including Barry White, Tupac Shakur, Erykah Badu, Stevie Wonder, and more.
In 1987, Marvin Gaye was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Since then, Gaye has had countless other owners bestowed upon him and his body of work. From Grammys to Lifetime Achievement Awards, Marvin Gaye will be remembered as one of the pioneers of modern soul and R&B music.
With no sign of stopping, Stevie Wonder has blessed us with his amazing singer/songwriter skills since the 1960s. Winning over 25 Grammy awards and selling over 100 million records worldwide, Wonder has been one of the most successful black R&B singers of all time.
During his classical period of the 1970s, Stevie Wonder hit #1 on the Billboard Charts with several tunes, including Superstition and You Are the Sunshine of My Life. By the time the ’80s came around, Wonder was a household name and found major commercial success teaming up with Paul McCartney on Ebony and Ivory. Other #1 hits included That’s What Friends Are For with Dionne Warwick and I Just Called to Say I Love You.
Today, Wonder is still working on new projects and released his latest singles in 2020.
The King of Pop is also a prolific R&B singer. Begging his career with the Jackson Five in the 1960s, Michael Jackson become a pop and R&B icon as a child. He and his brothers found instant success when Jacksonmania took over the US. They had a string of hits, including I Want You Back, ABC, and I’ll Be There.
But once Micahel went solo with his career, he was ready to change the world. The 1982 release of Jackson’s album Thriller changed music forever. Shattering all records, Thriller is still the best-selling album of all time.
More than just a singer, Michael used his showmanship during the performance to wow the audience. With the help of music videos and MTV, Billie Jean, Beat It, and Thriller were heard in every home around the world.
He went on to hit album after hit album for the remainder of his career. While the later stages of his career were marred by controversy over his personal life, no one can deny Michael Jackson’s impact on R&B music.
As the lead singer of the Isley Brothers, Ronald Isley’s voice is iconic. With a mix of gospel, R&B, soul, and pop, the Isley Brothers took the R&B world by storm in the late 1950s. By the mid-60s, teens and parents around the US were busy singing along to Twist & Shout, It’s Our Thing, and This Old Heart of Mine.
Their music and sounds saw a huge revival when hip-hop artists in the ’80s and ’90s began to sample many of their songs. From the Notorious B.I.G. to others like Ice Cube, East and West Coast rappers gave new life to the Isley Brothers.
Deep, sultry, and soulful are three appropriate adjectives to describe the sound of Teddy Pendergrass. If you’re looking for the perfect music for a romantic evening at home, don’t hesitate to load up any of Pendergrass’ solo albums.
Starting his solo career in the late ’70s, Pendergrass’ first three outings garnered critical acclaim, and his albums Life Is a Song Worth Singing and Teddy both reached #1 on the US R&B Billboard Charts.
Standout tracks over the years include Lady Love, Turn Off the Lights, and Love TKO. While never coming home with a statue, Teddy Pendergrass has been nominated for 5 Grammys and many other music awards.
With 11 Grammy Awards and entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Al Green is an incredibly accomplished R&B singer. His smooth and relaxing voice is unmistakable, and his songs are timeless.
The 1970s belonged to Al Green. From 1972 to 1975, Green released six studios that all reached #1 on the US R&B charts. Let’s Stay Together was his first #1 Billboard Hot 100 hit. Following up this success, Green had a string of top 10 hits throughout the ’70s.
As one of the most influential R&B musicians of all time, Green was ranked #65 on the Greatest Musicians of All-time list by Rolling Stone and was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by BET in 2009.
Keith Sweat found commercial success with his signature voice during the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s. His mix of R&B, new jack swing, and hip hop fueled a resurgence of R&B throughout nightclubs and radio stations in the United States.
Nothing was stopping Keith Sweat in the ’80s. His debut solo album, Make It Last Forever, peaked at #1 on the US R&B charts. In the ’90s, Sweat saw even greater success as Get Up on It, I’ll Give All My Love to You, Keep It Comin’, and Keith Sweat all peaked at #1 on the US R&B Charts.
Keith Sweat was no stranger to the singles charts as well. Make You Sweat, Keep it Comin’, and Twisted were signature tunes of the 1990s.
Whether it was rock & roll, country, or R&B, Ray Charles could sing it. His voice is instantly recognizable and has had an incredible influence on the entire music industry. As one of the most successful musicians in history, Ray Charles is a must addition to any best-of R&B singer list.
Beginning in the 1940s, Ray Charles was a mainstay in the music industry for over 60 years. Countless musicians from every walk of life will cite Ray Charles as one of the major influences.
While his discography is vast, some of his most influential works include What’d I Say, I Believe to My Soul, and Georgia on My Mind.
One of the most awarded singers on this list, Ray Charles has been awarded 17 Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1981, he was also one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
As one of the most successful artists of the past few decades, Usher is still wowing crowds around the world. Selling over 65 million records, Usher has been at the forefront of pop and R&B music for years.
From Grammys to American Music Awards, Usher has seen massive critical success over the years. Winning 316 awards, he has eight Grammy wins, including the best contemporary R&B album and best R&B performance.
Whether he’s partying with Ludacris and Lil Jon on Yeah! or singing about breakups on You Make Me Wanna, his sound and styling are unmistakable.
Starting his career backing some heavy-hitting artists in the ’70s like Diana Ross and David Bowie, Luther Vandross saw success as a solo artist in 1981.
Throughout the ’80s, Luther Vandross received critical acclaim and won his first Grammy award in 1991 for Best Male R&B Performance. He continued his success in 1992 with two more Grammy awards including Best R&B Song, Power of Love/Love Power.
Nicknamed The Velvet Voice, Luther Vandross inspired generations of musicians, including John Legend, D’Angelo, and Boyz II Men.
Selling over 100 million records worldwide, Barry White is one of the most successful musicians of all time. His discography spans 19 studio albums, and his legacy has inspired countless musicians over the years.
Starting his career in the 1960s, White saw limited success. It wasn’t until the 1970s that White was given the spotlight. White saw massive success, hitting #1 with You’re The First, The Last, My Everything, and Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe.
His deep voice is unique and instantly recognizable. The combination of R&B, disco, and pop White delivered changed music forever.
You can’ have a list of black R&B singers without The Godfather of Soul. A true showman, James Brown was part singer, part dancer, and part bandleader.
For over 50 years, James Brown brought music to the masses and transformed R&B and pop music. Whether he’s kicking off a rendition of Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag or Say It Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud, you’ll instantly recognize a James Brown song when you hear one.
No stranger to the awards podium, James Brown has had a decorated career. With three Grammy Awards and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Jame Brown deserves all the praise for adding excitement and showmanship to R&B music.
Finding success and fame as part of the funk band The Commodores, Lionel Richie went on to be one of the most successful black musicians of the 1980s.
Going solo, Lionel Richie hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with his first single, Endless Love.From there, Richie’s second album Can’t Slow Down sold over 20 million copies and solidified him as a major player in the music industry in 1983.
Timeless tracks like All Night Long (All Night) and Hello were staples of the MTV generation. He also went on the write the 1985 charity single We Are the World with fellow R&B singer Michael Jackson. We are the World went on to win the Grammy for Song of the Year in 1986.
Today, Lionel Richie is still touring worldwide.
A prolific songwriter and musician, Hayes got his start as one of the major influences and creative forces for Stax Records. Here he would go on to record major hits like Soul Man and The Theme for Shaft.
Along with co-writer David Porter, Hayes was responsible for bringing funk and psychedelic soul to the forefront of R&B music. Their songs fused elements of soul, R&B, disco, funk, and pop to create a brand new sound.
With 21 studio albums produced, Hayes saw success throughout his career that spanned over 30 years. Over this career, he collected six Grammy Awards, including Best Music Original Song for Theme For Shaft.
While he may have lived a short life, Otis Redding had a huge impact on R&B music and popular culture. Nicknamed The King of Soul, Redding found popularity after selling four million copies of Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay in 1968.
Tragically killed in a plane crash in 1967, Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay was the first posthumous song to hit number one on the billboard hot 100. Other standout tracks include Try a Little Tenderness and These Arms of Mine.
While his career was short, his impact on music will always be remembered. He has since been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Rolling Stone ranked Redding as #21 on the Greatest Artists of All Time.
R&B has changed over the years, and there are still amazing artists transforming and evolving R&B music. The Weeknd is no stranger to a romantic R&B solo but can also front pop, rap, French house, and darkwave songs. His string of singles is eclectic, yet each is anchored by The Weeknd’s signature voice and style.
The Weeknd is no stranger to the top of the charts and has several #1 hits. Two of them include The Hills and Can’t Feel My Face. He’s also achieved critical success, winning a Grammy Award for Starboy.
As one of the most successful musicians of the 2010s, The Weeknd has sold over 75 million records and is one of the most streamed artists on Spotify with over 77 million monthly listeners.
John Legend had his big breakthrough in 2004 while teaming up with Kanye West, Dave Tozer, and will.i.am. The debut album, Get Lifted, peaked at #7 on the US Billboard 200 and went on to win a Grammy Award in 2006 for Best R&B Album.
A prolific singer/songwriter, Legend has gone on to produce 7 studio albums and is one of the most sought-after collaborators in the music industry. He has been featured on albums with some of the biggest players in the industry, including Jay-Z, The Black Eyed Peas, and MSTRKRFT.
Thanks to his amazing musical skills, John Legend has gone on to win major awards in music, film, and television. Legend has won golden Globes and Academy Awards for Best Original Song in 2014 and 14 Grammy Awards over his illustrious career. Other major awards include Tony Award in 2017 and Country Music Awards in 2021.
His songs were captivating, socially conscious, and inspiring. Curtis Mayfield was the voice of a generation in the 1970s. His combination of soul, R&B, funk, and psychedelic soul shaped R&B music for the decade and inspired countless other music careers.
An accomplished songwriter and guitarist, Mayfield has gone on to be one of the most accomplished musicians of our time. Always included on “best-of” lists, Mayfield has been inducted to the Grammy Hall of Fame three times for Superfly (album), People Get Ready (single), and Move on Up (single).
An inspiration to many, Mayfield’s music lives on today and has been sampled by countless other musicians, including A Tribe Called Quest, Snoop Dogg, and Kanye West. Gone but not forgotten, Mayfield’s music lives on.
Bruno Mars, at the time of writing, has over 130 million records sold. This makes him one of the most influential music of the past 20 years. While he’s only produced three albums so far, he’s already accumulated 11 Grammy Awards, including Record and Song of the Year.
Taking influence from the King of Pop, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley, Bruno Mars has a unique style and showmanship that can’t be imitated. Mars has taken the stage presence of his idols and created a live show that can showcase his performing and musical talents.
Combining pop, R&B, hip hop, and other genres, you’ll hear a wide range of sounds and styles on a Bruno Mars album. Some standout hits include Just the Way You Are, When I Was Your Man, and Uptown Funk!
D’Angelo exploded onto the R&B scene in the early 1990s. His signature vocal styles combined with massive sex appeal brought him to the forefront of pop and R&B music during the decade.
Deep and sultry, D’Angelo performed a mix of R&B, neo-soul, funk, and hip hop music on his three studio albums. His debut album, Brown Sugar, was an instant success; his second album, Voodo, reached number one on the US Billboard 200 chart.
Influenced by Prince, A Tribe Called Quest, Gangstarr, and Sly and the Family Stone, you can hear this eclectic combination on hits like Brown Sugar and Lady.
Starting his career with the boy band, New Edition, Bobby Brown went onto superstardom as a solar artist in the late 1980s.
His second studio album, Don’t Be Cruel, was a success and shot to #1 on the US, Australian, and Canadian Charts. Filled with hits like Don’t Be Cruel, My Prerogative, and Every Little Step, Brown brought his mix of R&B and dance to mainstream America.
Brown’s follow-up album, Bobby, was also a huge success and reached #2 on the US charts. While his success waned in the late ’90s, Bobby Brown had a huge impact on R&B during the time.
While he may spend more time in the producer’s booth, Babyface is also one of the most influential R&B singers/songwriters in history. To date, he has written and produced over 26 number one R&B hits. From those hits, he’s won 12 Grammy awards.
As a writer-producer, Babyface has worked with countless stars, including Whitney Houston, Snoop Dogg, Beyonce, Justin Bieber, and more. Chances are if you are an aspiring musician and you get the call from Babyface about collaboration, you’ve finally hit the big time.
But, Babyface is just as comfortable behind the microphone. He’s had a string of hits over the years, including Whip Appeal, Give U My Heart, and Love Saw It.
Bobby Womack gave us an amazing 60 years of performance. From the 1950s, Womack was one of the most influential R&B musicians of the era. From writing songs for The Rolling Stones to producing awe-inspiring solo albums, Bobby Womack is a must-listen for anyone who enjoys R&B music.
Producing 23 studio albums as well as writing songs for other musicians, Womack has a deep and varied musical catalog. His sound mixes R&B, soul, rock, funk, and doo-wop. This eclectic sound has given Womack critical success, and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009.
Some of his most iconic songs include Across 110th Street and Woman’s Gotta Have It.
Best Black Male R&B Singers, Final Thoughts
Of course, this list is nowhere near finished. Every day, new and exciting African American male R&B singers are changing the sounds and music we enjoy every day. Whether you are new to R&B or just want to revisit some of the classics, this list is a great place to start and features singers that have made a major impact on the music industry since the 1950s.