From Aretha to Rihanna - check out the greatest women of soul and R&B
Jamie Cockburn
12:58 29th March 2012

This week, soul Queen Aretha Franklin turned 70. She also announced she would be releasing a new album, having reunited with Clive Davis, the man responsible for her early work and rise to fame.

Aretha inspired a generation of artists, and despite being a million miles from the thrusting and grinding of the likes of Rihanna, her legacy can still be seen in modern day soul and R&B artists.

Including early soul stars such as Nina Simone, Patti Labelle and Etta James to their 2012 counterparts - such as Beyonce, Adele and Amy Winehouse, check out some of the biggest and best women of soul and R&B, from Aretha to Rihanna...

  • Aretha Franklin. What can you say? A list like this would not be complete without 'The Queen of Soul'. Songs like '('You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman', 'Think', 'Respect' and 'Say a Little Prayer' have cemented her place as an all time great. Her incomparable gospel tinged powerhouse of a voice is one for all time.

  • Nina Simone This most extraordinary of artists has influence that can be felt far and wide. Not just limited to inspiring her own gender, her legacy can be felt in the music of Jeff Buckley, David Bowie and Anthony Hegarty. There are too many exceptional moments in her career to mention, but 'Sinnerman' is without question one of the most remarkable pieces of popular music ever produced.

  • Gladys Knight and her Pips have been delighting folk with her compelling soul records since the 60's, and she's not slowing down it seems. She recently released the energetic 'Just a Little', but for classic Gladys check out her awesome soul version of Kris Kristofferson's 'Help Me Make It Through The Night'.

  • Shirley Bassey The Welsh wonder blasted her way out of Tiger Bay with a voice that is now so recognisable as to be part of the make up pf this country. Bombastic singles like 'Big Spender' and her Bond themes 'Goldfinger' and 'Diamonds Are Forever' have been the subject of much parody over the years due to Bassey's distinctive intonation. But, it's more often than not carried out with huge affection for this grand dame.

  • Patti LaBelle is most inextricably linked with the 1975 smash 'Lady Marmalade' that she recorded with the group Labelle. The ever-so slightly racy number was a hit on both here and the other side of the Atlantic, and it's been filling dance-floors ever since.

  • Etta James

  • There's no mystery as to why Tammi Terrell took on that nom de plume. It's just what you do when you're christened Thomasina Winifred Montgomory. Terrell is predominately known for her Motown duets with Marvin Gaye. Exceptional cuts like 'Ain't no Mountain High Enough', 'Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing' and 'You're All I Need To Get By' make her untimely death at the aged of 24 an even greater loss.

  • Tracks like 'Walk On By' and 'Do You Know The Way To San Jose' are enduring examples of Dionne Warwick's seemingly effortless but beguiling vocal style. The veteran soul singer is only second to Aretha Franklin as the most charted female vocalist of all time, and she's still recording to this day.

  • Lead singer of The Supremes, Motown legend and bona fide diva - there's only one Diana Ross. Having forged a monumentally successful career with the girl group Ross managed to translate her talents into a solo career of equally successful proportions. Following a string of hots with The Supremes she still had it in her to create massive singles like 'Endless Love' and 'Upside Down'.

  • Turner managed to escape an abusive relationship with Ike Turner to become one of the biggest selling artists of all time. 'Simply the Best' and 'What's Love Got To Do With It' propelled her into the big league, but despite the undesirable aspects of her relationship with Ike, the music they made together was some of her best. 'Nutbush City Limits', 'River Deep Mountain High' and a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's 'Proud Mary' remain some of her most persistent and gratifying tracks and performances.

  • Funk soul sister Chaka Kahn first solo effort was the hit 'I'm Every Woman', but it was as lead singer in the preeminent funk group Rufus that she made her name. Kahn's vocals lifted the single 'I Feel For You' to another level that ensured its success.

  • Roberta Flack Despite releasing a plethora of fantastic singles, including 'First Time Ever I Saw Your Face' and 'Feel Like Making Love', Flack will forever be remembered for 'Killing Me Softly'. And it's not hard to see why - it's a song of effortlessly soulful ode to, a most likely, lesser talent. It's testament to The Fuggee's that they managed to create a cover that was at once a match for the original and equally a throughly modern take on it.

  • Minnie Riperton started her career at the legendary Chess records, and it was a hell of a place to start from. Whilst there she got to do backing vocals for the likes of Etta James and Fontella Bass. Rather than emulate these established artists, Riperton went on to make a record as singular and original as her talent. 'Loving You' pushed Riperton into the spotlight, but sadly it was short lived. Riperton died of breast cancer at 1979 at the age of 31.

  • Amazingly, Randy Crawford has never reached the Billboard charts in the USA as a solo artist. They may be lukewarm to her talents, but here in the UK she has achieved multiple top five hits - we are fans. She hit number two in 1980 with 'One Day I'll Fly Away', but one of her greatest has got to be 'Street Life' re-recorded and used to great effect in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown.

  • Deniece Williams is best known for her her singles, 'Silly', 'It's Gonna Take a Miracle' and 'Lets hear It For The Boy', along with her Johnny Mathis duets. However, it's her silky soul singing on 'Free' that is quintessentially Williams.

  • Donna Summer is most commonly linked with disco, but her vocal stylings owe much to the soul tradition. Her collaboration with Georgio Moroder and the disco pulses of 'Love to Love You Baby' and 'I Fell Love' link her to that genre, but the wouldn't be the tracks they are without Summers transcendent vocals. She succeeded in putting a strange, experimental and ethereal singing style into the mainstream.

  • Janet Jackson. It speaks volumes that the sister of the biggest pop star in the world can still make her mark in that shadow. Throughout the 80's, 90's and the 00's Jackson has managed to achieve hit records like 'Nasty', 'That's The Way Love Goes' and 'Together Again'. And she shows no sign of slowing down - this year she released Unbreakable to largely positive reviews.

  • Whitney Houston An artist who needs little introduction. Before her death in 2012 Witney Houston was still a world renown artist, despite years in the wilderness due to long term drug abuse. Her influence on many artists cannot be understated - what Houston achieved with her vocal style personally has spawned a generation of warblers.

  • Phyllis Nelson

  • Anita Baker'a smooth vocal style has lead to a whopping eight Grammy awards and five platinum albums. Despite all the accolades, we all still know her for 'Sweet Love'.

  • Angie Stone will release her first solo album since 2012. She's been in the business since the 70's, when she was a member of the hip hop group Sequence. Stone has managed throughout the years to stay abreast of current trends and it is her solo career where she has really shone - you need only listen to 'Wish I Didn't Miss You' to see why.

  • Sade is a pretty enigmatic artist. During the 80's her purchase as an sellable sure bet was pretty high, with her debut Diamond Life still the best selling debut by a British artist. Since that period there has been a number of hiatuses and a avoidance of publicity that stands her apart from many of her younger rivals. Try as they might no one does quietly effecting vocals quite like Sade.

  • Yolanda Adams is classed as a gospel singer, but there's no doubt her music is inflected with soul. It's a very particular kind of soul though - the highly polished kind; the acceptable kind. 'Open My Heart' is a perfect example of the kind of conservative but wildly popular music Adams makes.

  • Tracy Chapman Tracy Chapman is up there with the many a great singer songwriter, but unlike many of those she infuses her music with a hard won world weary soulfulness. Her self titled debut album has sold 20 million copies worldwide, and remains her best work. It's an incongruous mix of love songs and politically charged tracks like 'Talkin' Bout a Revoluion' and 'Across the Lines', which illustrates Chapman's multifarious talents.

  • Brandy is best known for huge hit with Monica - 'The Boy Is Mine'. More recently she has concentrated on acting, making her Broadway debut in Chicago this year. She did announce that she will release an EP later in 2015.

  • Toni Braxton will forever be remembered for that inescapable behemoth of a single, 'Un-break My Heart'. If you were alive in '96 it's is literally impossible to have escaped Braxton's dramaticly huge delivery of R n' B brokenhearted-ness.

  • Faith Evans talents are often sidelined by her marriage to The Notorious B. I. G. To witness those said talents, rather ironically, you're best bet is the tribute to her late husband, 'I'll Be Missing You'.

  • Aaliyah is another tragic case of a major talent lost too soon. She died in 2001 in a plane crash at the desperately young age of 22. It's impossible to say what Aaliyah would have gone on to achieve, but if 'Try Again' is anything to go by it would have been quite something.

  • Erykah Badu has been credited as being a key player in the rise of 'neo soul' and has had the great honour of being likened to Billy Holiday. Hyperbole aside, she is without doubt one of the most exciting soul artist of recent years. The video may have soured relations with the band, but her collaboration with The Flaming Lips Heady Fwends album, a cover of 'First Time Ever I Saw Your Face' is well worth lending your ear to.

  • For Monica, like many American soul singers, she began in a gospel choir. She's has continued to have a successful career after her smash hit duet with Brandy, 'The Boy I Mine' and is set to release a new album on September 18, 2015.

  • The later part of Lauryn Hill's career has been erratic to say the least. Much of the last few years have been spent upsetting fans plus a bout of incarceration for tax evasion. Despite failing to endear herself for much of the time, her output with the Fugee's and her solo record, The Miseducation of Lauren Hill, have meant that fans are willing to have their patience stretch a little further than they might ordinarily in the hope of new material.

  • 1999 was Macy Gray's year. The phenomenal success of 'I Try' from On How Life Is catapulted her into the limelight. Her unique voice and delivery made for a refreshing tack on soul music, which at this point was in danger of becoming a bland middle of the road genre.

  • Queen Latifah is by turns is a singer, songwriter, rapper, actress, model, TV producer, record producer, and comedienne. She's a busy lady. Despite her endless multi-tasking it's her records that are likely to be her defining legacy.

  • However you feel about Mariah Carey, you can't argue with the figures. Basically commercially she's a winner, and vocally her range is reportedly a full five octaves. Whether her music has added anything valuable to either R n' B or soul is a matter of opinion.

  • Gabrielle released the massively successful 'Dreams' in 1993. She hasn't released a studio album since 2007, but there are reports one is in the pipeline.

  • Over a career spanning more than 20 years Mary J Blige has established herself as a highly respected soul and R n' B singer. She's often bridged the gap between hip hop and R n' B with many notable collaborations with artists like Method Man and Nas.

  • Jill Scott is another proponent of the neo soul movement. She takes a refreshing approach to soul - check out 'A Long Walk'.

  • Amy Winehouse is an artist that comes around so rarely: she had the ability to deliver vital and exceptional music to a mainstream audience. Her masterpiece Back to Black is a work of such authentic soul and quality that we are unlikely to hear anything of it's kind for many years.

  • The inimitable Adele is back in the picture with her forthcoming album 25, and It's been a long wait for hungry fans. Named by Time magazine as one of the most influential people in the world at the tender age of 27 is suggestive that she's a keeper.

  • In 2011 Duffy announced she would be taking a hiatus from music. Considering her debut only came out into 2008 you've gotta wonder about the girls stamina. Since then the Welsh singer has made a foray into acting, and the only tunes we've had are a few tracks she contributed to the crime thriller Legend.

  • Jamelia

  • Ciara started a promising career with two successful albums, 2004's Goodies and 2006's Ciara: The Evolution. Sadly the evolution seemed to stop there. Subsequent albums failed to build on the success of their predecessors. Ciara has since concentrated on her acting career.

  • Alicia Keys Songs In A Minor released in 2001 ushered in the refreshing talent of Alicia Keys. 14 years later Keys has continued to mine her talents both personally and it terms of her collaborations, of which there are many; most notably the Bond theme with Jack White and 'Empire State of Mind' with Jay Z.

  • Jeniffer Hudson took the opposite approach to many of the names on this list and started as an actress before venturing into the music world. She released her self titled debut in 2008 and it contained the hit single spotlight.

  • The most exceptional thing about Leona Lewis is that she has managed an eight year career on the back of her time on X Factor. She's sold over 20 million records... 20 million!

  • 2003's soul sessions brought Deven Joss Stone to the public attention. Although just a slip of a thing at the time, she displayed a voice of someone beyond her years, and was ably backed by a group of seasoned musicians.

  • Multi tasking Alesha Dixon got dropped by Polydor after poor sales of fired up. No matter for the resourceful Dixon - she gamely embarked on all kinds of reality TV raising her profile massively, so no doubt it was no skin off her nose.

  • Emeli Sande is an artist that in recent years has risen to great success. She cites Nina Simone, Joni Michell and Lauren Hill as influences. Whether her career will stand up to such fine company - only time will tell.

  • While you might be forgiven for not knowing your Jill Scott from your Erykah Badu you'd have to have been sheltering from the threat of nuclear fallout to have missed the mighty Beyonce. From her beginnings with Destiny's Child, her marriage to Jay Z and her massively successful solo career she demands not be ignored. Just have a wee listen to 'Single Ladies' and you'll see why.

  • Sadly Rihanna is as well known for her abusive relationship to Chris Brown and the domestic abuse that entailed, as is is for hugely successful songs like 'Umbrella'. Lets hope the R n' B's star's music takes the limelight from now on.

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