From the smooth, crooning voice of Sammy Davis Jr., to the gospel transcendence of Sam Cooke, to the cool, bluesy tones of Ray Charles, black male singers have graced the ears of music lovers for over a century.
Many black male vocalists are considered the best in the business, tirelessly perfecting their craft to bring audiences the most melodious sounds possible. Here are some individuals who take their pitch to a whole new level.
Sam Cooke was a man of many talents. Born in Mississippi in 1931, Cooke was the son of a Baptist preacher who moved his family to the south side of Chicago. Cooke and three of his siblings formed the Singing Children group, specializing in gospel music.
Cooke worked with various singing groups throughout his teenage years, including the Soul Stirrers. All the while, he honed his own style.
He embodied the soul sound with tunes like “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “Bring It On Home to Me.” His smooth, crooning sound could not be replicated. His unique style was destined to be influential, and his work touched the lives of countless artists to come after him.
Sam Cooke transformed what it meant to be a soul singer. He founded his own record label and publishing company and pursued his passion for composing. Throughout his short career, Cooke appealed to music lovers of all kinds.
His tragic killing in 1964 left a hole in soul music that could never be filled.
One of the most famed voices of the era, Ray Charles, was born in Georgia in 1930. Blinded as a boy, he never stopped striving for perfection. He would become a renowned singer, songwriter, composer, and piano player.
Charles was a pioneer in the realm of soul music. He combined various styles, including blues, jazz, and gospel, to create a unique sound that was all his own.
Influenced by legends like Nat King Cole, Charles held significant creative control over the music he produced with his record label. This allowed him to create the music he wanted to make.
Ray Charles was one of the most beloved legends of his time and influences aspiring musicians.
Lou Rawls, A Black Male Singer
Lou Rawls was born in Chicago in 1933. Raised by his grandmother on the south side, Rawls began singing at the ripe age of seven. Singing with local groups and church choirs, Rawls worked with troupes such as the Highway QC’s and the Soul Stirrers.
Rawls was a suave baritone who soon developed an unmistakable range known for its velvety tone. His classics like “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” and “Lady Love” made him one of the most beloved voices of the age.
Lou Rawls remains one of the most memorable and recognizable voices in soul music today. Rawls was known for various genres, including gospel, R&B, soul, jazz, and blues. His greatest accomplishment was combining those into a sound uniquely his own.
Marvin Gaye was instrumental in shaping the unique Motown sound of the 1960s. Born in Washington, D.C., in 1939, Gaye was the son of a minister and a laborer. Growing up in the veritable slums of D.C., Gaye started singing in church when he was only four.
In school, Gaye joined singing groups, including some doo-wop troupes. After an unsuccessful stint in the Air Force, Gaye formed a quartet with some friends, and they performed around the D.C. area. While the group had only one single, Gaye began writing his own music.
When Gaye went solo, he found initial success as a jazz singer. With hits like “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” and “Pride and Joy,” he quickly topped charts and earned a name for himself. At one point, he had the biggest deal with Motown of any recording artist.
Despite his success, Gaye’s life and career were marked by tragedy. Growing up in an abusive home with a broken family relationship, he would face an eventual betrayal by the record company that had brought him stardom.
Gaye’s life came to an unfortunate end in 1984 when he was shot twice by his father one day before his 45th birthday. Despite his tragic death, Gaye’s influence still touches soul and R&B singers to this day.
Credited as a founder of the neo-soul movement, Maxwell was born Gerald Maxwell Rivera in New York in 1973. Raised by a single mother, Maxwell began writing his music when he was 17 and subsequently taught himself how to play various instruments.
Maxwell’s first record debuted with remarkable commercial success, releasing four singles that performed well. His reputation was noted by some who considered him to be the next Prince and others who saw him as an innovator in a new type of soul and R&B.
Maxwell’s first album, Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite, was the first to go Platinum and deliver Maxwell’s critical success. Now an award-winning artist, Maxwell’s work is progressive and innovative.
His rich, smooth style has garnered him a following of fans looking for a new sound in the soul movement.
Although he was only active for 15 years, Bill Withers left his mark on the music industry. Born in West Virginia in 1938, Withers became interested in music during his nine-year stint in the United States Navy.
Withers moved to Los Angeles when he left the Navy to pursue music. He worked the nightclubs and taught himself guitar. Working as an assembler for various companies, Withers created demo tapes on his own time and with his own money.
His first album saw the hit “Ain’t No Sunshine,” which earned him a Grammy Award and over one million copies sold. He solidified his legacy with subsequent hits like “Lean on Me” and “Just the Two of Us.” He was officially a part of the music industry.
Withers had one of those voices that was coarse and full. He had a folksy style that gave his songs a genuine feel, recognizable within the first few notes.
Though his career was cut tragically short, Otis Redding is known as the voice of soul music. His powerfully emotional delivery draws listeners with smooth transitions and calming intonations.
Sometimes known as the King of Soul, Otis Redding was born in Georgia in 1941. He started singing in church at a young age and soon earned a small wage singing gospel songs for a local radio station.
In 1958, winning a local talent contest became Redding’s breakthrough. Touring with a music group garnered him the attention he needed to get Atlantic Records interested in him.
Soon he was performing on his own. Songs like “These Arms Of Mine” and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” earned him a following. European tours followed, and fairs and festivals.
Redding’s career was cut short in 1967 when the helicopter carrying him and his band crashed in Lake Monona in Wisconsin. Though he was only 26, his legacy continues to touch the lives of musicians everywhere.
John Legend, A Popular Black Male Singer
Born in Ohio in 1978, John Legend has quickly become one of the modern eras most beloved singer-songwriters. Before his debut in 2004, he worked with artists like Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Alicia Keys.
Legend got his start playing piano at four and singing with a church choir at seven. He dabbled in the musical arts throughout school and began writing his own music after college. Noted for his old-school sound and his smooth voice, Legend quickly became a sensation.
Still, at the height of his career, Legend is an award-winning musician who has dabbled in film production and documentaries as well. With hits like “All of Me” and “Glory,” Legend continues to make his mark on the music industry.
Leon Bridges made waves when his debut album Coming Home was nominated at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards for Best R&B Album. The singer-songwriter from Texas, born in 1989, got his start playing open-mic nights before being picked up by a record label.
His style resembles that of the traditional soul artists of the 1950s and 1960s. Part of the neo-soul movement, Bridges has a unique sound that he claims is inspired by Otis Redding and Sam Cooke.
Thanks to the help of music streaming services, Bridges has gained a stellar reputation and an avid following of fans. His retro style appeals to all those who yearn for the old days of soul.
Leon Bridges continues to make an impact on the musical world, releasing award-winning songs like “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand.”
If there was ever something James Brown didn’t do, he made sure to get around to trying it. Born in South Carolina in 1933, Brown spent a lot of time alone as a child. He started singing in talent shows when he was young, winning one in 1944.
During a stint in a juvenile detention center, Brown formed a gospel quartet where he developed his singing style. When he was released, he joined a gospel group.
Singing with groups eventually transformed into a successful solo career that saw Brown become one of the most prolific soul and R&B artists of the age. With ballads like “Try Me,” Brown launched a successful string of number one hits.
Brown did a little bit of everything throughout his colorful career, even touching the disco and funk scene and even a little bit of hip-hop. His distinctive powerhouse voice made him one of the more recognizable artists of the mid-1900s.
Sammy Davis Jr.
Born in New York in 1925, Sammy Davis Jr. got his start working in vaudeville with his father at the age of three. He learned singing, dancing, and acting before a brief stint in the military. When he got out, it wasn’t long before he was a showbusiness sensation.
Nicknamed “Mister Show Business,” Davis Jr. played a major role in breaking the entertainment industry’s racial barriers, turning quickly into one of the most beloved entertainers.
He crossed easily between big band tunes, jazz, swing, and blues. He dabbled in show tunes and even worked in traditional pop.
Sammy Davis Jr. remained a key feature of the entertainment industry throughout the extent of his career. Working with stars like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, he gained a reputation as one of the best entertainers.
Lionel Richie first came on the scene in the 1970s as a singer with the Commodores. Born in Alabama in 1949, Richie got his start writing and singing with the hit funk band. With a few hits to his name, like “Easy” and “Sail On,” Richie went on to launch a successful solo career.
Vibing between soul and pop music, Richie’s solo career turned him into one of the most successful artists of the 1980s. Known best for his moving ballads, Richie’s emotional delivery connects with audiences of all ages.
Richie is an award-winning musician with over 100 million records sold worldwide. His style and tone are made for easy listening, and his songwriting makes him one of the most beloved producers of the age.
Born in South Carolina in 1966, Darius Rucker always dreamed of being a musician. He helped start a cover band while in college, which eventually became rock/country band Hootie & the Blowfish.
Hootie’s success was in large part due to Rucker’s signature style. This led Rucker to more opportunities that he parlayed into a successful solo career. While the band never broke up, Rucker pursued his own music as well, releasing R&B and country albums.
Between Hootie and his solo career, Rucker has amassed a following for himself that stays loyal, no matter what project he’s pursuing.
Born in Texas in 1978, Usher got his start singing in a church youth choir. By 10, he was part of a local R&B group that performed around the Atlanta area. Usher had released his first album before he graduated high school.
Usher’s career has seen him perform with some of the best artists in the business. He has multiple number one hits and a fan backing that has followed him since the beginning. His cross of pop, R&B, and hip hop makes him unique and easy to listen to.
Usher is an award-winning artist who has been producing music since his teenage years. He’s also considered the man who discovered Justin Bieber, which only adds to his countless accolades.
Born in Mississippi in 1942, Carr was the R&B and gospel singer whose career was far too short. His first recordings came from a small, independent label in Memphis. The album was a hit and led to Carr’s remarkable rise to fame.
Because of personal issues, Carr struggled with touring and performing. When he was at his best, he was considered the world’s greatest soul singer. His sound was as authentic as anyone had ever heard.
Carr was a true legend. No one could sing like him, and no one tried. Despite his short-lived career, he earned his place in music history.
Sometimes known as the Reverend Al Green, Green was born in Arkansas in 1946. He started performing at a young age with his sister. Later in high school, he formed his own singing group that would go on to record a hit R&B song.
Green went solo after the success of his group’s song. His first two albums did reasonably well, but his third album – Let’s Stay Together – proved to be the album that would make his name.
Green had earned his place in soul music by 1972. His smooth sound and crisp tone made him one of the best of the “easy listening” artists.
After releasing a series of gospel albums, Green returned to secular music. He continues to make music, often singing accompaniments with other artists.
Born in California in 1971, Gregory Porter got his start singing in church as a young boy. Influenced by the likes of Nat King Cole and Bill Withers, Porter incorporates pieces of all his influences into the music that he creates.
His first albums were released in 2010 and 2012. Since then, he continues to release hit singles and albums that embody the special sound he has cultivated over years of practice.
Though still young in the business, Porter has a powerful voice that sets him up as one of the next jazz superstars. He sings with focus and conviction, making his work believable and attainable.
Best Black Male Singers, Final Thoughts
These are the voices that will melt your heart. Regardless of your mood, turning on one of these fellas is sure to make you forget your troubles. From Sam Cooke to John Legend, these are some of the best black male singers around. Get lost in some of the best music the world has to offer.