Usually, we associate the soul genre with African-American roots. Black musicians provide the bulk of the artists who sing and play soul, so it’s only natural that we picture them when we hear the soul style.
However, that’s not true for every singer! There are plenty of white soul musicians, also called blue-eyed soul singers, who make their mark on the industry. Read on to learn who they are.
1. Robin Thicke
Smooth and hip, the son of two TV actors made his mark on entertainment with style. His 2013 hit, “Blurred Lines,” is one of the most successful singles of all time, despite controversy for its sexual and misogynistic themes.
Thicke began his career as a songwriter and producer for other artists, such as Brandy, 3T, Jordan Knight, and Marc Anthony. Eventually, he shifted into solo performance, taking on the mantle of soul with his expert falsetto vocals and funky, R&B-tinged tunes.
Thicke has had multiple Grammy nominations and currently serves as a judge on Fox’s show The Masked Singer. He is the epitome of a blue-eyed soul for his sound as well as his looks.
2. Teena Marie
Though she’s no longer with us, Teena Marie undoubtedly deserves a place on this list. The girl with the massive voice could match any of her contemporaries for talent and energy, and owned the classic 80s look of loud clothing and permed hair.
Her Wild and Peaceful album dropped in 1979, but there was no photo on the cover. When she appeared on Soul Train later that year, many fans were surprised to learn she was white. Her big vocals and soulful style fit right in with the black icons of the industry.
Born Mary Christine Brockert, the singer adopted her stage name in part due to her childhood nickname, Tina. Her frequent collaborator Rick James also called her “Lady T,” which she adopted later in her career.
3. Justin Timberlake
The curly blonde who found fame as the lead singer of N*SYNC went on to have a staggeringly successful career and still performs to this day. Timberlake found his niche in the sound of R&B and soul, much like Robin Thicke.
His falsetto and vocal stylings are based on traditionally African-American genres, so it might surprise someone who hears his voice that he’s a white singer.
Incorporating some funk and hip-hop into his albums in the 2000s, Timberlake is another prototype of blue-eyed soul: passionate, expressive, and with killer dance moves on stage.
4. The Righteous Brothers
With places in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and also the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, the Righteous Brothers deserve an acknowledgment of the influence they’ve had on pop music. Their biggest hit, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin,” made waves on both sides of the Atlantic, charting in the UK as well as America.
Originally comprised of Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield, the duo performed until Hatfield passed in 2003. Medley reached out to Bucky Heard to re-establish the group in 2016, an iteration that continues to tour.
5. Elle King
The singer-songwriter’s real name, Tanner Elle Schneider, gives away her parentage: she is the daughter of comedian Rob Schneider. King released her debut EP in 2012 and her debut album in 2015, finding her first hint of success when her song “Playing For Keeps” was used as a TV show theme.
“Ex’s and Oh’s” is her most recognizable song, which has gotten significant radio airplay in recent years. King’s musical style bridges the gap between country, soul, and rock, leading some experts to label her an Americana sound. Her TV career continued when she acted as co-host for a Catfish episode in 2019.
6. Tom Jones
Jones is one of the more recognizable names on this list, so it’s probably less common to mistake him for a black singer than some others. But his booming baritone and impressive range have still confused many listeners who haven’t seen a picture of him.
With hits like “She’s a Lady,” “What’s New, Pussycat?,” and “Delilah,” Jones is best known for his ability to seamlessly shift between genres. A consummate performer, he handles pop, R&B, country, soul, and dance music alike, and has had success in multiple countries.
7. Hall and Oates
The American musical duo of Daryl Hall and John Oates has contributed music in various genres since their formation in 1970. Funk-pop single “I Can’t Go For That” and pop song “Rich Girl” cemented the band’s popularity, though they’ve seen plenty more.
In the two decades between their nascent years and their performances in the 1990s, 29 out of their 33 singles charted on the Billboard Hot 100. Numerically, they are the most successful musical duo of all time, beating out Simon and Garfunkel and The Everly Brothers.
The song “Sara Smile” has long been recognized as a staple in the soul genre. Tender vocal harmonies, blues guitar, and a prominent bassline make this tune perfect for slow dancing. If you close your eyes, you might not believe this soulful talent comes from two Caucasian guys.
8. Joss Stone
English singer Stone undoubtedly belongs in the soul genre. Her first album in 2003, The Soul Sessions, launched her to fame and she’s stayed there ever since. She has risen to prominence in TV acting as well as music as of her debut role in Eragon in 2006.
Stone’s thick, vibrato-rich voice and bluesy stylings make it easy to mistake her for a black woman when she sings. Though she often performs her own original music, she also covers standards of Motown and early R&B.
She has shattered records both in and out of her genre. Stone is one of the best-selling soul artists of the 2000s, and is the youngest British singer to occupy the peak of the UK Albums Chart. Two Brit Awards, one Grammy, and multiple placings on the Billboard charts secure her as one of the preeminent soul singers of our time.
9. The Casinos
Cincinnati-based group The Casinos was a thriving doo-wop group long after the peak of doo-wop music. In 1967 their most famous song, “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,” reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. They put out another single, “It’s All Over,” which saw milder success.
The nine-piece ensemble was entirely white. With multiple lead vocals and harmonies, brass, organ, and synthesizer, the thick texture contributed to an old-fashioned sound reminiscent of the Motown soul of the 1950s and 1960s.
10. Michael McDonald
The Kenny Rogers lookalike known for his impressive falsetto is as soul as they come. His crooning vocals and musical style have one foot in funk and the other in R&B, making him a Caucasian artist who continually stretches boundaries.
As frontman of the Doobie Brothers, a band that is often assumed to be black, McDonald offers his iconic tenor and piano skills. He has also appeared with Steely Dan, Christopher Cross, and Kenny Loggins on various studio recordings and live performances.
Gayle McCormick, the lead singer of Smith, has a distinctly black-sounding voice. Raspy and full, with voluptuous vibrato, it’s no wonder that she doesn’t sound white: Her musical influences were Tina Turner and Etta James.
The Los Angeles-based group played blues-flavored rock, complete with plodding guitar and funky basslines. Their biggest hit, “Baby It’s You,” charted higher than both the Beatles and the Shirelles versions. Penned by Burt Bacharach, it appeared on the soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino’s film Death Proof.
12. KC and the Sunshine Band
The quintessential 1970s party band gave us hits like “Boogie Shoes” and “Get Down Tonight.” Though the group has some black members, the lead singer and face of the band is white.
Though their music is mostly funk and disco, they incorporate elements of soul as well. Their fashion style and high energy in performances makes them a musical staple of their era.
Singer Aimee Ann Duffy has the sort of full-figured voice that would have made her a shoo-in for Motown, had she been around a few decades earlier. As it happened, the talent born in the 1980s cites Marvin Gaye and Phil Spector as her biggest influences, which is apparent in her soulful style.
Duffy’s 2008 album Rockferry saw modest success, winning a Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album and grabbing the attention of Adele and other industry pros. She has been on a hiatus from music since 2011, performing and recording infrequently.
14. Bobby Caldwell
Though Caldwell is a performer in his own right, his career has involved writing music for other artists. His recordings are frequently sampled by R&B and hip-hop songs.
He put out several recordings in the genres of soul, jazz, and adult contemporary, the most popular being his self-titled album in 1978. Caldwell’s biggest hit, “What You Won’t Do For Love,” is a throwback to the soul era with organ, blues guitar, and string textures. Later in his career, he took on tunes from the Great American Songbook in his performances.
15. Average White Band
It seems obvious that race wouldn’t be a factor with a band name that clearly states it in the title. But if you hear their songs without knowing who’s performing, it’s not so easy to tell.
Average White Band’s music inhabited a similar space as Earth Wind and Fire, providing a funky combo of R&B, soul, and disco. Their biggest hit, “Pick Up the Pieces,” incorporates a brass section and funk guitar for a thick instrumental texture that encourages listeners to move to the groove.
Interestingly, AWB is not even an American band. The original members met in Scotland and then reconnected in London, where the bulk of their early shows took place. They quickly relocated to Los Angeles and continued to perform for almost five decades.
16. Michael Bolton
Anyone who lived through the 1980s knows Michael Bolton’s voice. Famous also for his luxurious shoulder-length hair, the crooner became notorious for his soulful ballads in the 80s and 90s. Surprisingly, his prior career was in heavy metal bands before he made a style change and went solo.
Bolton has recorded covers of “Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay,” “When a Man Loves a Woman,” and several songs by Ray Charles. His smooth voice, backed by piano or organ and a symphonic accompaniment, put out many classics in the adult contemporary genre in past decades.
Bolton reached new audiences when he made a cameo in the Lonely Island’s music video, “Jack Sparrow,” in 2011. Though he had a few greatest hits and other compilation albums in recent years, he mostly shifted his career from music to acting, playing bit roles in TV shows and other cinematic ventures.
17. Jack Sheldon
Though the name may not ring a bell for most people who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, they most likely know what he sounded like. Sheldon was the gravelly-voiced singer for Schoolhouse Rock, a Saturday morning animated series that taught kids about civics, history, science, and other academic areas.
The most recognizable version of Sheldon is the character Bill, who hangs out on Washington D.C.’s Capitol Hill and teaches viewers about the congressional process of a bill becoming a law. He also sang “Conjunction Junction,” and reprised his role in a 2002 episode about the electoral college.
Sheldon was a jazz trumpeter as well as a vocalist. He was a member of the West Coast jazz movement in the 1950s and was on The Merv Griffin Show. Besides voice acting and singing, he also appeared in various minor TV roles, such as safety public service announcements for kids and bit parts in 1960s sitcoms.
Best White Soul Singers That Sound Black, Final Thoughts
Though soul is primarily a black genre, that’s not always the case. There are blue-eyed soul singers who make their mark on entertainment with a surprising talent for the sound and style. Performers continue to break boundaries and establish new traditions even outside of the customary “look,” proving that music truly is a universal language.